I served in the U.S. Navy Air Force during the Korean War as an aviation electronics technician. In May 1955 I took part in atomic testing. "Operation Wigwam" was the world's only deep-water atomic bomb detonation.
The device used in this test was a 31-kiloton "plutonium core" atomic bomb that was detonated on May 14, 1955, approximately 500 nautical miles southwest of San Diego under joint sponsorship of the Atomic Energy Commission and the Department of Defense.
This particular test involved 6,700 military personnel, 120 scientists and engineers, 25 Navy ships, five Scripps Institution of Oceanography scientific research vessels, and 36 Navy and Air Force reconnaissance, photographic and radiation-monitoring aircraft, with the purpose to determine the effects of an atomic explosion on submarines.
I was assigned to one of three converted C-54 Air Force cargo planes equipped to photograph the detonation. I was in the plane closest to the detonation. My job was to monitor all of the instruments used to measure levels of airborne radiation. All of the instruments that I monitored went off scale.
All personnel also wore film badges for detecting radiation levels. I never heard results of the radiation levels we were exposed to.
The U.S. was involved in nuclear, thermonuclear and hydrogen weapons testing from July 16, 1945, to late November 1992. During this 47-year period, there were a total of 1,149 U.S.-sponsored nuclear weapon test detonations, some in joint venture with the United Kingdom.
Although a little more than 900 of the tests were below ground, more than 200 resulted in the atmospheric dispersion of ionizing radiation particles, and there were more than 450,000 military personnel and 45,000 civilian scientists who witnessed and participated in these nuclear event activities.
At present I serve as Washington state commander of the National Association of Atomic Veterans. There are approximately 50 of us in Washington. I help anyone filling claims to Veterans Affairs for health effects caused by exposure to airborne radiation. Many have suffered known cancers associated with exposure.
- Pete Besas, Birch Bay
Reach DEAN KAHN at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2291.