Atomic Cleanup Veteran – Pete Moreno

 

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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.”

Shortly after Pete Moreno reconnected with our group of Enewetak Cleanup Vets, he started posting photos and sharing stories about The Rock with the rest of us.

Pete is a great story teller from the Navy. Some of our memories aren’t as vivid as his memories. Just listening to his stories bring back the “feel” of the place almost to the point of smelling the salt air in those breaking waves he talks about.

Once he started talking about Enewetak, the more he remembered and shared. I had a difficult time deciding which of his recollections to share with you today. I finally decided to save some of his stories for other articles. In the meantime, here are a few of his tales about his experiences at Enewetak Atoll.

Pete Moreno – February 5 2014

I don’t think most folks could understand the hardship and deprivation of working on Eniwetok. I worked with the Clear Water Beach Clean-up Team. We often worked on the other Islands away from Lojwa and Eniwetok. We were a small group about 10 to 12 and as junior rate we got all the dirty work on the islands which meant dragging metal debris off the reef onto the beach in the blazing sun day in and day out. We often ran outta water and would go without till we got back to one of the base camps. Since there were no cooking or mess kitchen we either ate Nam era rations out of a can or whatever we brought with us. Often we didn’t get a chance to shower for a week or more the combination of sand and seawater would give me rashes and irritations in places I don’t want to mention. Our corpsman would give us basically nothing for these we just usually used grease that came off the top of the food cans. It had a plug of grease or wax and when you melted in the sun and applied It like a salve. I learned to buy hemorrhoid suppositories and melt them in there capsules and apply that to really rashed up areas. It helped. Then the grossest duty we had was burning shit in the halve drums with diesel. Yeah that really happened. We had other more mundane stuff to do also and usually it required heavy lifting and long hours in the baking sun.

I recall often of spending all day in the sweltering sun being baked and sunburned my skin turned into basic shoe leather consistency and I turned dark very dark. We usually worked shirtless and a heavy wet dungaree shirt was just too much work as the seawater and sand turned them into a painful sandpaper like thing that would just irritate the hell out of your armpits and neck. So we often just worked in our dive shorts a boonie hat, gloves and our jungle boots with the drain holes. I remember long rides back to Eniwetok on the Boston whaler and believe it or not it got chilly as on the boat we all crammed into it or get left behind. We would be wet. irritated from the seawater and shivering and hanging on as times we would hit a squall and the pelting rain combined with the seawater spray made the damn ride a very eye burning stinging bitch. Wet hungry tired and cold by the time we got back to the rock all I wanted to do was hose off and hit my rack and do it all over the next day. I don’t know how many crossed the lagoon in the deep water entrance where the concrete ship was beached on the reef but you could get some pretty good size rollers there. It made for a rough ride and would slam that Boston whaler pretty hard on the downward side. Our chief was a crazy son of bitch and had wrecked the steering the Whaler when he hit a reef head and jammed the twin outboards up. So we rigged up tiller and once of us usually me would steer the twins and someone would operate the throttles. Crossing the channel over those rollers made for some scary ass times.

I recall one time it was getting dark and we were crossing the inlet and the rollers where coming fast and high. They were at least twenty foot swells and there were coming in fast and tight. When we hit the first one the whaler shot up and when we crested the next roller was right in front of us and we started down the first and slammed in the next one so hard I thought we were going to swamp. All the scuba tanks and dive bags went sliding forward and knocked the guy on throttles off his feet and couldn’t get throttles backed off in time and we hit the next swell, goddam like scared the hell out of me and the damn boat about half filled with water. Full of gear and mad assholes yelling and fighting to get the boat straightened out. Shit I was never so happy as to when we got to calm after passing the swells. That was a scary ass crossing and we usually after that approached from the other side. We had some very interesting crossing squalls, rain storms same thing and high wind bursts. We had no compass or maps just dead reckoning which in the lagoon wasn’t a big deal but a couple of time at night you couldn’t see shit. No moon meant dark ass nights some of the darkest nights I have ever experienced when it was cloudy and no moon. Sometime the ol couldn’t see your hand in front of your face thing came into play. All in all I am glad I finished my duty there and chalked it up to experience.

I was on the rock from Oct. 77 and left march 78. six months of that stuff.

Compared to some of the places on those little islands the Lojwa base camp was civilization. I ate once there at the chow hall. Once.

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Let me tell you the one about the time we set the Fueling pier on Medren on fire.

Well, it went like this. We were assigned to demolish the old fueling pier on Medren. The EOD divers and our divers were to blow the steel pilings under the pier and save as much of the wood on the pier as possible. The wood was to be given to the native Marshallese for their use. The pier if any you remember was considered deep water. The pilings went down about 90 feet and where thick steel girders. The divers would go down and place explosives and cut the girders. They would then collapse or were supposed to anyway. Being attached to the wooden pier structure they did not break away like it was thought they would. So plan B they came up with. Use explosives to cut all the metal connections from the wooden structures. The old pier was built to last and it didn’t want to come apart easily. Myself and another guy by the name of John Jewett had to get this part, take the wire from a crane and coil it up in the middle of little wooden boat and ferry it out to where the divers where working cut the rope and the wire would play out uncoiling itself and slide off the boat. Then the divers would attach it to piling and they would drag the thing up. It went ok for awhile. Anyway as you construction guys know all cranes have a headache ball.

So backing up a bit the EOD guys brought out a bunch of C-4 and started setting up shape charges all along the pier where the steel was connected to pier. Usually underneath and away from the wooden parts. There were also about three different size pipes running along the length of the pier and we were told to cut these pipes using C-4, we set the charges and about three hour later we where ready to set off the shot. So the EOD guys gave everything the once over checking the connections and they set off the shot. The damn pier didn’t even budge. Now we had a very unstable structure that we had to finish dismantling. So this was toward the end of the third day of working on this old pier and it was getting dark so we all piled into Maggie 8 and headed back to Eniwetok. Being Saturday night we didn’t have to work the next day as we got every other Sunday off to relax. Nothing like 12 to 14 hour days and a day off every other week. Anyway we had a cookout for that night sliders and frozen steaks defrosted on the grill. It was later that night while drinking unlimited amounts of beer and consuming as much meat and food as we could an Air Force guy pulled up in his truck and got out and asked us if we knew about the fire over on Medren. So we all walked over to the shoreline and sure enough there was big ol red glow over on Medren. It was the pier! That didn’t really bother me too much as we had been busting our asses tearing down that ol bitch and it burning itself up. I realized that Medren was basically a powder keg surrounded by a lot of dried up material just waiting to go up in smoke.

The pier burned itself up in about two or three days and nearly all the wood was consumed. What was left were jagged chunks of steel, chunks of wood hanging on by steel wire and junk. This we had to cut with even more C-4 and eventually we were told to leave it alone as we had gotten behind schedule. The Army Colonel was not too happy about all this as the Marshallese Chief had been promised all that wood and he would have to be compensated some other way. We did however have to finish pulling up the steel pilings we had cut. Thats a different story. I bored you long enough.

Oh I didn’t mention that there was a big ol blue fin tuna hanging out under the pier all by itself. This was actually on the first day of blasting. This fish was killed and chopped up for sushi. I ate a bunch of it myself. Anyway just for shits and giggles I had John take a picture of me and that big ol fish with me holding a little of freshwater tackle fishing pole. A zebco no less. I didn’t really think anybody would have really thought I actually caught that tuna on it, that fish weighed close to two hundred pounds! It was a big fish certainly the biggest I had ever seen. Also a turtle was killed in the same blast and I still have that shell. It is drying out and cracking but its still a beautiful shell. But I got ragged on for that picture. Seems some people just don’t have a sense of humor. We all sweated that one out a bit as that pier wasn’t supposed to burn. There was no way to tell which charge set that fire off and I did feel bad that we had deprived the Island Chief firewood or building material. I don’t know if he or his people were ever compensated and sometimes I think how those people are faring in that tiny far away place. To me it would seem such a lonely existence but thats just me, I like to think they are prospering and healthy. Though I think circumstances and time tell me different.

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 Pete Moreno’s personal experiences and opinions provided by Pete Moreno an Enewetak Atomic Cleanup Veteran and Facebook Group Member.

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