Viewpoint: Sammie Lee Marler
Branch: US Army
Job: MOS 91B20 Corpsman
Location: Lojwa, Marshall Islands
Quote: “Live today like it’s your last, because it may very well be. The future is now…”
Viewpoint: Sammie Lee Marler
Q – Before you were sent to the Marshall Islands, what did you know about the location or the mission?
A – Nothing. But once I got there, my job entailed a lot of different things. We were just a bunch of young guys doing our jobs. Nobody thought about the possibility of anything being or going wrong.
Q – What was your job while you were there and what sort of protective equipment did you use?
A – I’d go to different islands with the soldiers and provide medical care as needed. I set up the work schedule for four of us medics, checked supplies and also took wet bulb temperatures. About those temps, what that entailed was basically checking the temps each day. If temperatures read over 120 degrees at any particular time, only half the guys in the details would work at a time. Thirty minutes would pass and the next batch of guys would rotate in. And as far as protective gear? On Enewetak, we were shown the yellow banana suits but I was never in one. I didn’t even have a dosimeter badge.
Q – When did you first realize or suspect that the work environment you were once subjected to wasn’t right?
A – I never knew until a few years ago that the place was toxic and that was only after I watched an episode of 60 Minutes.
Q – What prompted you to share your experiences with the world?
A – I was searching through the internet and came across an article about Enewetak Atoll. I investigated a little further and found out about all the other guys. I decided to share my experiences with the world because we were all deceived. We were told that the Marshall Islands were safer than Denver, Colorado. But now, a lot of the men who served there are suffering health problems in a variety of ways, cancer in particular.
Q – If you could commandeer the cameras and the mics at the next State of the Union Address, and address the entire nation about your time and the repercussions AFTER the Rock, what would be the message you would convey?
A – We went out of our way, through a lot of hardships for this nation. We should be taken care of as veterans. As for myself, I have PTSD pretty bad even to this day. While serving in the Marshall Islands, every night you’d have twenty maybe twenty-five rats crawl up on your bunk. Lojwa was overrun with them, big as full-grown cats some of them were. I have no idea how rats survived for so long on those islands particularly when people hadn’t been there for years.
The medics and firemen all slept in the same hooch. One night, we killed over fifty rats with a spear gun. We’d throw their bodies into a 55-gallon barrel outside the hooch. When we filled one up, we fed the sharks. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep much on Lojwa. I was a mess when I got back home. At night, I’d wake up screaming thinking those rats were coming up on the bed.
I called bingo one night a week for the guys. Bingo was a big deal because they could win a lot of money. I also had a 9 member band (‘Singing Sam and the Superstuds) and we’d play at the club. As a matter of fact, Jim Androl played the drums. I was also the MC and comedian in the USO show that came. I kept the guys spirits up; helped them forget about home a little bit, so they respected that. Everyone knew me. I’m glad I could make them happy for a little while.
I am but one of a few of the survivors of the 1977-1980 Enewetak Atoll Atomic Debris Cleanup Mission that took place in the Marshall Islands.
A major focus of this group has been to help one another with information and moral support during some of the challenging times we’ve encountered following our time in service at Enewetak.
A secondary focus/goal is to urge Congress to change current law and recognize Cold War Era soldiers of the Enewetak Cleanup Mission as “veterans who participated in radiation-risk activities during active service.”
By obtaining this second goal, individuals experiencing health complications resulting from radiation exposure at Enewetak Atoll will be eligible to apply for benefits that have previously been set-aside for other Atomic Veterans who have already been recognized and acknowledged for their service by RECA.
We urge our supporters to encourage their politicians to support legislation which will include Enewetak Atoll Atomic Cleanup Participants in the U.S. Government’s definition of a veteran “who participated in radiation-risk activities during active service.”
Request for Interviews: Over 8,000 people participated in the 1977 – 1980 Enewetak Atoll Atomic Debris Cleanup Mission. I’ve already interviewed nearly 25% of the Atomic Cleanup Veterans who have reconnected with our group. If you participated in the mission, please contact me, T-M Fitzgerald so you can schedule your 30 minute interview too. I’ve been told I’m easy to talk with and I am not shy to say I feel honored every time I meet another Atomic Cleanup Veteran.