Atomic Cleanup Veteran – David Roach



We are but a few of the Survivors of the 1977-1980 Enewetak Atoll Atomic Debris Cleanup Mission in the Marshall Islands.

Our main focus is to help each other with information and moral support during challenging times.

Our secondary focus is to urge Congress to change the current laws and recognize soldiers of the atomic cleanup mission as “veterans who participated in radiation-risk activities during active service.”

Enewetak Atoll Atomic Cleanup Mission Veterans were composed of a joint task force of Army, Navy, and Air Force personnel.

In one of our earlier articles, David Roach commented on our struggles with dealing with the VA and his experiences at Enewetak Atoll.

His comments need to be repeated here in an article of its own. Here are his comments from February 8, 2014.

I was there a little over three months, mid Aug. 78 thru Nov. 78. I was stationed on Lojwa and went out to one the Islands, by boat, each day, usually Runit, to do radiological monitoring as a member of a FRST (Field Radiation Support Team) team.

You are 100% correct Tina-Marie. It is most certainly a “Love Us and Leave Us” arrangement we have with the US Government, Department of Veteran’s Affairs. Many years ago I was told I was an “Atomic Veteran” and I had benefits available to me. I was told, “All you need to do is ask for them”. I believe that was 1996 or 1997 when I first started exploring this wonderful thing we call the “World Wide Web” now simply known as “The Internet”. I remember doing a search on Enewetak and all kinds of things popped up on my screen. I stayed up all night reading about a staggering amount of Cancers associated with the work we did there. I even saved all the websites to my favorites and didn’t do anything about it. Unfortunately, I did not print out everything I found at the time and those blogs and websites are no longer active. I did not go out and apply for benefits or ask for hand outs. Quite honestly, I didn’t think I was entitled to anything. I didn’t feel like I really did anything for my country. I just did my job. Since then I have had a multitude of medical problems. No, I have not been diagnosed with Cancer but I have a host of other problems I am learning are associated with the type of work we did and my daughter has reproductive system disorders, also known to be caused by the material we were exposed to. Currently, I am on a leave of absence, from my job, while I am on long term disability.

Last year I applied for benefits from the VA and got a form letter telling me I wasn’t entitled to any because I didn’t claim them sooner and I was placed in “category eight” meaning I would NEVER receive any medical benefits from my military service. I went to the VA Hospital itself and applied and the intake Coordinator told me I didn’t have any rights to file a claim for. I told him I was an “Atomic Veteran”, as I had been told, incorrectly I now understand, he said “Yeah, good luck proving that!!” I explained to him I have every piece of paper given me at the time, I have the original orders, I was even given a Humanitarian Service Medal for the work I did there. Then I was sent over to see one of the service organization people to help me fill out the correct paperwork. Although the office was officially closed, she was still there and talked with me as I explained my situation to her. She took out a form and wrote on it “EXPEDITE: HOMELESS VET”. I protested I did NOT want that title and that I had a place to stay and a chair to sleep in. No, it wasn’t mine, but I was allowed to use it. She handed me the form and said fill this out, bring it back and I will help you. I tried to explain to her ALL of my service records had been mysteriously lost. I even had to go to my congressman to get a copy of my DD214 in 1981 WHILE I WAS STILL ACTIVE RESERVE!! I further explained I just moved to Southern CA to be close to my children but all of my papers were in boxes in storage and I did not have access to them. Well, I just found them and as it turns out, I have copies of every piece of paper ever given to me. Now I will need to go back to the VA and apply for benefits again and given them copies of my copies. I most certainly will not give the VA my original copies of anything. I will keep you guys posted on the results of further action.

I was told I needed to apply to the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, formerly known to us as the Defense Nuclear Agency. I did as I was told and was laughed at by the ladies there. They said I was too young and that to qualify I had to have been part of the testing that ended in 1958 or a POW housed around Hiroshima or Nagasaki. She then told me I could apply as a dependent, if my Father was there. I explained again I was there cleaning up all the destruction we (the United States) did to the Marshall Islands. She said she would send in the paperwork for it. Several weeks later, I received a packet from the DTRA stating I did not turn in my dosimeter (a device each of us was issued when we got to Enewetak and had to turn in before we left Enewetak. As such, I have no record of any exposure to Ionizing Radiation. I know each of us were required to turn in a 24 hour urine specimen so that it could be tested for radioactive matter to be determined by The Occupational and Environmental Health Lab (OEHL), Brooks AFB, San Antonio, TX, 78235. The Film badges, otherwise known as pocket dosimeters, were sent to the Blue Grass Arsenal, somewhere in Kentucky.

There is another irony to this situation. I was stationed at Brooks AFB myself and when I was awarded the Humanitarian Service Medal for my work in Enewetak, every person in the OEHL at Brooks AFB received the same medal simply because the urine samples went there!! Realistically, when you are testing any biological material, you were the exact same PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). That PPE consists of a gown, gloves, mask or face shield and is the same thing they wore everyday while we were 2700 miles southwest of Hawaii on a rock with temperatures that reached a high of 147 degrees, on one day. Yes, we monitored that too.

Let’s hear some more stories guys!

We urge our supporters to encourage their politicians to create legislation which will include all Marshall Island Atomic Cleanup Veterans in the U.S. Government Veterans Administration’s definition of a veteran “who participated in radiation-risk activities during active service.”

Article written by Girard Frank Bolton, III. 1977-1979 participant with C Company and HHC S-3 (Operations) 84th Engineer Battalion (Combat Heavy) (Fwd) Enewetak Atoll, Marshall Islands.

Testimony of David Roach’s personal experiences and opinions provided by David Roach an Enewetak Atomic Cleanup Veteran and Facebook Group Member.

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