Viewpoint: Vela Carlos


Vela Carlos - Current

Viewpoint: Vela Carlos

Branch: US Army

Job: 11B, Infantryman

Location: Lojwa, Marshall Islands

When: 3/1/1978-10/1/1978

Quote: “We were trying to save the world for other people but we were the ones getting screwed…”

Viewpoint: Vela Carlos

Q – Before you were sent to the Marshall Islands, what did you know about the location or the mission?

A – My introduction to this project in the Marshall Islands went something like this. I was brought in by the sergeant major who told us that we were going to go clean ‘war debris’. That was it. That was all we knew. We were 11B’s (Infantrymen) so we thought we were going to pull guard duty of some sort (I was one of three 11Bs who went to Enewetak from Alaska) but that wasn’t the case. When we got down there, the clerk on Lojwa even questioned our presence. ‘We were just sent here.’ That was all we could offer as explanation.

Q – What was your job while you were there and what sort of protective equipment did you use?

A – We ended up working demolition. I ran a loader and a back hoe on Lojwa, worked a week over on Runit (location of Cactus Dome) and then was moved over to Engebi. We went out to some of the smaller islands to pick up debris.

Q – When did you first realize or suspect that the work environment you were once subjected to wasn’t right?

A – I had a paper mask and that was it. The uniform of the day usually consisted of cut-off fatigues, boots, and T-shirts (which we usually ended up taking off.) The heat got downright intolerable at times. And it wasn’t sand on the beach; it was coral, so there was no going barefoot. You’d cut up your feet pretty bad if you did. That coral also reflected the heat too.

We had to use water from the lagoon for making concrete. So to pump the water in, somebody had to walk out into the lagoon and hold the hoses down in the water. Working that angle in this cleanup wasn’t so bad. At least you could cool off in the water.

Working twelve-hour days, things were pretty relaxed out there. Even so, we tried staying busy. I was the sailing instructor at the rec center. There was one television out there that pulled in stations from Hawaii.

I found some skeletons when I was scraping topsoil; never knew if they were American or Japanese. We had to let HQ know about finds like that. They’d come in and box them up… once they took them away, that was pretty much the last we heard of it. We found tons of unexploded Japanese ordnance too, and when we went out diving in the lagoon, we found airplanes with skeletons still in them.

Q – What prompted you to share your experiences with the world?

A – As I said before, we didn’t know much of anything about the cleanup before we went to Enewetak. And it’s hard to say when I first thought there wasn’t something quite right about the mission. When we worked out there, we carried radiation badges. So when we turned them in, we tried not thinking about why we had them in the first place. Just before I was discharged from the military, I had to go to Carson. Cancer was brought up at that point but the topic was dropped really quickly. Ten years after I was discharged, I had to have back surgery. At that time, I was told I had the bone density of a 70-year old man. (Keep in mind, this was 20 years ago. I am not even in my 60’s today.)

Learning about the environment I had actually lived and worked in while I was stationed down there, I started searching the Internet. I found the Enewetak Atomic Cleanup Veterans survivor page and connected with one of the administrators Frank Bolton. We started talking about Enewetak and sharing our stories. Because of the various jobs we all did down there, some of us received more exposure than others but we all served together during the same period of time.

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 – If I could get a message out to the world, I’d tell them not to forget us. People talk about the threats of nuclear war in our history and they talk about the atomic era. Nobody talks about the guys who did time in The Marshall Islands. We were all out there, yet have been almost totally forgotten. The Enewetak Atomic Cleanup Veterans are a prime example for the world to see what could really happen. It has taken years, but we are proof as far as what kind of long-term effects could occur after nuclear exposure. But we’re still here. Nuclear related issues happen in other countries and this country is all over it, offering help, solutions, humanitarian aid, etc. But when things happen here, to our own people? What has happened to us?

We were in hell but didn’t know it at the time. Now, we’re dying…one breath at a time. It’s scary to look at our brothers who have passed, to look at their ages. They’re MY age. We were trying to save the world for other people but we were the ones getting screwed.

Vela Carlos - Mission

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.”

Article written by T-M Fitzgerald, a published author and self-professed Veterans Advocate.

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.

8 thoughts on “Viewpoint: Vela Carlos

  1. This is terrible! How did this even happen? By the 1970’s we knew the full effects of radiation exposure on people. How could the army assign men to clean it up and not supply them radiation suits. This is criminal.
    I have been trying to find out how many innocent people we killed and maimed testing our 40+Nuclear bombs in the Marshall Islands. I know that we made more than 40 islands uninhabitable and drove more than 10,000 people from their homes. How were we allowed to do this? And we did not have to clean it up for over 20 years? Who do we think we are?
    How could we treat members of our own military this way??

  2. Although we all volunteered for military service, we were Ordered to deploy to Enewetak. A lot of our brothers are gone or sick. Something must be done. In the last month, I have suffered a Grand Mal Seizure (I have epilepsy) and a mini stroke. Of course the VA claims it is not service connected, so until they classify us clean up survivors as Atomic Vets. We are S.O.L. Thanks for listening. God bless you all, and hang in there.

  3. I just wanted to say if you’re going to tell the story tell the truth it was very bad over there and we all deserve to get compensation and health care for it but don’t be making up things like airplanes in the lagoon scraping up bones and stuff like that because its not true the truth is we were subjected to a final amount of radiation plutonium uranium and we are dying from it so all this crap that you’re saying is it going to do us any good is going to affect us in a negative way the truth is we deserve what we get for going over there and that’s compensation but don’t create things that aren’t happening TV station there’s no TV station over there and if you got half a brain you know that there’s nothing over there but dirt radioactive dirt and we dug it up we lived in it it coated our skin every single day and we went back and washed it off with radioactive water and if you want to hear my story TM Fitzgerald you get in touch with me Steve Legrand I’ll tell you what’s up

    • I appreciate you wanting to share your stories of your time at Enewetak. Please contact Fitz in our Facebook Group to schedule your interview:

      Carlos was in error about the Hawaii TV. The TV station at Enewetak played only recordings that were flown in each week. Few had TVs so it wasn’t well known. I remember Japanese officials visiting the atoll to collect soldiers’ remains from the Battle of Enewetak that were found during the cleanup. I know there were several airplanes and boats/ships in the lagoon, but do not recall any bones reported to be found in them.

      Looking forward to reading your memories of our cleanup mission. Thanks Stephen!

    • any 1 who wnts 2 no wetok story b4 cln up contact me I was site ops mgr itt/bdx in mid 60s

    • Can’t wait to hear your adventure on the rock. I must of been on a whole different atoll. I know we all have stories from the cleanup, there is no need to call anyone a liar I know what I seen and done while I was there. Just let everyone be able to tell their story without being belittle. We are to help each other

  4. The DNA/AEC was very aware of the hazards. I was at wetok for aprox 14 mos prior to clean up and returned several times after the WTR phase out. During one visit I came across the survey team sent to eval the radiation hazards on site they were working at Runit. They were very closed mouthed about the job but after I was checked out they asked what I knew about the island. They stated that the site along with others was extreamly hot in spots. They were completely equipped with closed breathing sysem desposal suits, etc… If you are interested I can expand on the subject. Contact me via msg and I will call you.

    • I’m very interested in any background information you wish to share Rodney. Feel free to email me at GateKeeper @ AtomicCleanupVets . com (take out the spaces), or you may mail me at PO Box 501023, Mobile AL 36605-1023. Thank you!

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