P A R T IThe Bombs
1The First Atomic Veterans
Like many millions of other Americans, Marine Corporal Lyman Eugene Quigley reacted to news about Hiroshima and Nagasaki with relief.
A tall, large-framed, handsome man with straight black hair, bushy eyebrows, and a friendly countenance, Quigley had enlisted in the Marines soon after Pearl Harbor, at the age of twenty. Leaving his job assembling electric motors in his native Illinois, Quigley went through boot camp and advanced training in California; by spring 1943 he was on a troop carrier in the South Pacific, headed to Australia and New Zealand.
As part of the 2nd Marine Division, during more than two years in the Pacific, he saw combat at Tarawa, Okinawa, then Tinian and Saipan. Quigley remained in the Mariana Islands, working in a Marines bulldozer crew, clearing away an air base for B-29s loaded with explosive bombs and--twice--with atomic weapons.
"All we knew was the war was over, and some kind of special bomb had been dropped," Lyman Quigley recollected a third of a century later. "All I was thinking was, the war was over, I'm coming back. We were so happy, we were going home. But it didn't turn out that way. Unfortunately." After the long-awaited formal surrender took place on September 2, Quigley's orders sent him not home, but toward Nagasaki.
Peace notwithstanding, U.S. wartime censors kept both Hiroshima and Nagasaki off limits to journalists until mid-September. "The war was ended, as we had reported, but the censorship was not," wrote George Weller, a Pulitzer prizewinning war correspondent. "What the command wanted covered was the [POW] prison camps of northern Japan. . . . away from where the war had been decided a month earlier."
Violating the U.S. Government's edict that declared all southern Japan forbidden to the press, Weller headed to the Japanese island of Kyushu; on September 6, 1945, he became the first known civilian Westerner to enter Nagasaki since its atomic bombardment, arriving four weeks after the nuclear assault. "When I walked out of Nagasaki's roofless railroad station, I saw a city frizzled like a baked apple, crusted black at the open core . . ."
Weller climbed a nearby hill, gaining an overview. "The long inlet of the main harbor looked eerily deserted, with the floating lamp of a single freighter smoking off the blistered, sagging piers and twisted derricks. We could see the main Mitsubishi plant, a long fallen Zeppelin of naked, twisted steel, bent like a child's structural toy crushed by a passing foot. Its form was still almost intact, though it was almost directly under the bomb. The sturdiness of the ceilings had taken the blast and blocked the ray. The workers were more fortunate than their families in the one-story bungalows around the plant. They did most of the dying."
A U.S. military inspection team was dispatched for the nuclear-ravaged cities, reaching Hiroshima on September 8 and going on to Nagasaki a few days later. "In all the areas examined, ground contamination with radioactive materials was found to be below the hazardous limits," the U.S. Army's official history states. Within two weeks after its inspection team began surveying the two Japanese cities, the War Department announced that scientists had ascertained that the residual radiation in Nagasaki did not merit concern. The situation was unprecedented, however, and understanding of nuclear-fission particles' effects was in its infancy. On September 23, U.S. occupying troops disembarked at Nagasaki harbor--forty-five days after the bombing.
"They came along in Jeeps," Kayano Nagai recounted a few years later. She was four years old as she watched the occupiers enter her home city. "Daddy told me they were Marines and lots of them were college students. They were all very nice and they had very good manners, and whenever we said 'Haro' they gave us chocolate and chewing gum." Much of Nagasaki was in ruins. Kayano's mother and an estimated eighty thousand other Nagasaki residents were dead from the atomic bombing; thousands of others were in agony.
"We walked into Nagasaki unprepared, and we were shocked as hell at what was there," Lyman Quigley remembered many years later. "Really, we were ignorant about what the hell the bomb was. We had no idea what we were going to see. We weren't given any instructions whatsoever. We were amazed, shocked--and yet stupefied." It was a grisly scene. Corpses were still being burned in the open air. "Women's hair was falling out, the men all had their heads shaved, and all of them had running sores on their heads, ears, all over."
At the time, gruesome as the panorama of suffering was, it seemed to involve only other people's problems. Quigley and fellow members of Company C, 2nd Pioneer Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, made their way up a steep hill from the docks; about 150 strong, the Marines of Company C billeted at a partially destroyed concrete schoolhouse up the hill from the spot over which the atomic bomb had exploded.
Orders from above did not include any unusual precautionary guidelines or provisions. Quigley and his buddies drank city reservoir water, and worked in the midst of the most heavily damaged area without any protective clothing or special gear. They were not provided with radiation-dose badges or any other equipment to measure their exposure to radioactivity.
Quigley was in charge of a Marine bulldozer crew razing what was left of wrecked structures, cleaning up rubble, clearing out roads, and leveling the ground. For Company C Marines the long days settled into a busy routine amidst the dusty debris--bulldozing, hauling, standing guard duty in the blast center area by day, sleeping in the makeshift camp at the schoolhouse by night. Quigley bought some silk kimonos for his sister and some young women friends back home. But there was little time or incentive for sight-seeing.
Toward the end of autumn many of the Marines were sent out of Nagasaki. On November 4, after forty-three days of working in the radioactive rubble of Nagasaki, Corporal Quigley received a Good Conduct medal ("We used to call it a Ruptured Duck," he quipped with a chuckle) and later that month shipped back to the States.
"When I got back, I had burning, itching, running sores on the top of my head and the top of my ears," Quigley recalled. The sores looked to him like those on Nagasaki's residents. He called the running sores to the attention of a doctor during a routine discharge examination in December 1945. "They listed that in my medical records as a fungus, which is wrong--I know that now." Also: "I had a warm feeling in my lips. I remember that distinctly."
On December 21, 1945, Lyman Eugene Quigley received an honorable discharge from the Marine Corps. On the surface his military service had the trappings of a traditional all-American tale. The troubling radioactive underside, with its ironic and disturbing twists, would not become apparent to him for decades.
1. Lyman Quigley, and Bernice and Ron Quigley, interviews, November 1978; in addition, authors obtained hundreds of pages of medical and military service records in Quigley's claim file at the regional Veterans Administration office in Portland, Oregon.
2. David Brown and W. Richard Bruner, eds., How I Got That Story (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1967), p. 209.
3. Ibid., p. 211.
4. Ibid., p. 217.
5. William S. Augerson, M.D., Director, Health Care Operations, Department of the Army, Office of the Surgeon General, to Harry Shaich, University of Oregon Health Services Center, February 25, 1975, quoting from Radiology in World War II (Medical Department, U.S. Army, 1965).
6. Takashi Nagai, We of Nagasaki (New York: Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1951), pp. 19-20.
7. Quigley interviews.
A Hollow Triumph
Five months previous to Lyman Quigley's return home, the President of the United States was contemplating the new vistas of atomic energy. "We have discovered the most terrible bomb in the history of the world," President Harry S. Truman wrote in his diary two weeks before the United States exploded nuclear weapons over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. "I have told the secretary of war, Mr. Stimson, to use it so that military objectives and soldiers and sailors are the target and not women and children." The atomic bomb, President Truman noted, "seems to be the most terrible thing ever discovered, but it can be made the most useful."
Truman was weighing options left in the wake of an experimental detonation of the first atom bomb on July 16, 1945. A nuclear blast named Trinity, set off in the New Mexico desert, had been a spectacular triumph for participants in the supersecret Manhattan Project, which developed the bomb.
But some Manhattan Project researchers were uneasy about the new weapon. Warnings, like the confidential Franck Report, which scientists presented to War Secretary Stimson, urged demonstration of an A-bomb at a sparsely populated spot. However, as a chief drafter of the Franck Report, Dr. Eugene Rabinowitch, remarked later, ". . . the American war machine was in full swing and no appeals to reason could stop it."
At the U.S. War Department, senior officers believed "it was very important to prove the bomb a successful weapon, justifying its great cost," observed David H. Frisch, a physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project. Frisch remembered that America's military strategists were eager "to use the bomb first where its effects would be not only politically effective but technically measurable."
Manhattan Project director General Leslie R. Groves recalled that it was "desirable that the first target be of such size that the damage would be confined within it, so that we could more definitely determine the power of the bomb." For the same reason criteria for targeted cities included absence of previous bombardments. Thirty-five years after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the U.S. Government was listing them as "Announced United States Nuclear Tests."
"Nobody really knows how many people were killed in Hiroshima: anywhere from around 60,000 to 300,000," comments Dr. Robert Jay Lifton, whose study of A-bomb survivors won the National Book Award. "The city of Hiroshima estimates 200,000. It depends upon how you count, which groups you count, whether you count deaths over time. And it depends on emotional influences on the counters. It is of some significance that American estimates have tended to be lower than Japanese."
Japan's dazed hierarchy in Tokyo had little time to assess the unprecedented, catastrophic chaos of Hiroshima. Three days later another searing flash--this one fueled with plutonium instead of uranium and detonated with a more sophisticated implosion apparatus--devastated Nagasaki. In both cities, despite Truman's diary vow, women and children were among the primary sufferers. Included were several thousand Americans of Japanese ancestry, stranded in Japan when the war began. And at least eleven American POWs being held in Hiroshima died from the bombing.
"All concerned should feel a deep satisfaction at the success of the operations," Brigadier General Thomas F. Farrell reported about the Nagasaki bombing in a memorandum to General Groves. But when the war ended a few days later at the Los Alamos atomic weapons laboratory in New Mexico, according to journalist Lansing Lamont, "more than one scientist walked cold sober into the dark of that August night and retched."
United States policymakers certainly were anxious to convey the image of a return to normality as soon as possible in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. When U.S. occupation troops reached Nagasaki in late September 1945, they were there to help calm a jittery world.
Entering Nagasaki six weeks after the nuclear bombing, about one thousand Marines and a smaller detachment of Navy Seabees were billeted in the demolished core area around the blast center. Assigned cleanup duties, they arrived as U.S. military-command press releases announced that scientists had found no lingering radiation worth worrying about in Nagasaki. Two weeks later, in less extensive operations, U.S. Army troops moved into the Hiroshima area.
What they endured in ensuing decades closely resembles the ordeals of a wide range of American radiation victims, consistently ignored and denied at every turn by the very institutions responsible for causing their problems. Accorded no place in official histories, many of these U.S. veterans suffered privately, with debilitating and often rare health afflictions as they reached middle age. Some developed terminal illnesses affecting bone marrow and blood production--the kind of biological problems long associated with radiation exposure. Others found that at unusually early ages they were plagued by heart attacks, severe lung difficulties, pain in their bones and joints, chronic fatigue, and odd skin disorders.
The ultimate question of the controversy about these veterans is whether they later suffered significantly higher rates of diseases compared with average occurrences among other American males of their age. Were serious illnesses among those veterans merely random--or were they part of a pattern of extraordinarily high ratios of particular diseases linked to their stints in postbomb radioactive rubble?
Normally among American men in their late fifties one would find multiple myeloma bone-marrow cancer at an average rate of about one-half case per one thousand, according to standard medical incidence tables. So ordinarily perhaps one case of multiple myeloma might be expected to develop later among the one thousand U.S. Marines routinely present within about a mile of the atomic blast center point of Nagasaki during the last week of September 1945. We have found five cases of multiple myeloma among those particular Marines--an extremely high incidence of the terminal bone-marrow disease.
Additional blood-related afflictions--such as Hodgkin's disease, myelofibrosis, and leukemia--have been documented by the veterans, and their widows. And other painfully insidious illnesses became common.
9. Robert H. Ferrell, ed., Off the Record: The Private Papers of Harry S. Truman (New York: Harper & Row, 1980); diary entry July 25, 1945, published in The Oregonian (Portland), October 12, 1980.
10. Richard S. Lewis and Jane Wilson, eds., Alamogordo Plus Twenty-Five Years (New York: The Viking Press, 1971), p. 4.
11. Ibid., p. 254.
13. U.S. DOE, Announced United States Nuclear Tests, July 1945 Through December 1979 (Las Vegas: DOE Office of Public Affairs, 1980), p. 5 (hereafter cited as Announced U.S. Nuclear Tests).
14. Robert Jay Lifton, "The Prevention of Nuclear War," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, October 1980, p. 38.
15. Approximately six hundred survived and returned home, mostly to California and Hawaii. Although U.S. citizens, none were able to gain medical assistance from their government for persistent health effects of being subjected to nuclear attack. See San Francisco Chronicle, May 12, 1979, p. 30; also, American Atomic Bomb Survivors. A Plea for Medical Assistance (San Francisco: National Committee for Atomic Bomb Survivors in the United States, 1979), available from Japanese American Citizens League, 1765 Sutter St., San Francisco, CA 94115.
16. "Government documents and the testimony of former servicemen indicate that the United States has been concealing information about the deaths of these men for 34 years," historian Barton J. Bernstein concluded in 1979. The American government maintained its long silence about the POW deaths, the Stanford University professor contended, "so as not to weaken, impair or damage the reputation of U.S. leaders and to block any moral doubts at home about combat use of the atomic bomb." (United Press International, dateline San Francisco, reporting on July 23, 1979, press conference by Barton Bernstein.) See also New York Times, August 21, 1979.
17. Anthony Cave Brown and Charles B. MacDonald, eds., The Secret History of the Atomic Bomb (New York: Dial Press, 1977), p. 534.
18. Lansing Lamont, Day of Trinity (New York: Atheneum, 1965), p. 268.
19. Interviews with several dozen American veterans of Nagasaki cleanup. Also, U.S. DOD, Hiroshima and Nagasaki Occupation Forces (Washington, D.C.: Defense Nuclear Agency, 1980); U.S. DOD, Radiation Dose Reconstruction U.S. Occupation Forces in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan 1945-1946 (Washington, D.C.: Defense Nuclear Agency, 1981).
In some respects the U.S. servicemen's atomic cleanup experiences in Japan resembled events more than thirty years later in the South Pacific. In the late 1970s, about three thousand American GIs--some wearing surgical protective masks--obeyed orders to clean up Eniwetok atoll radioactivity left by scores of nuclear tests at those islands. The three-year, $100 million cleanup project was backed by Defense Nuclear Agency officials eager to show that islands in the radiation-covered atoll could be made habitable. (See Steve Rees, "84th Eng Bn Exposed to Cancer Causing Elements on Clean-up Mission: But Why?" Enlisted Times, August 1979, pp. 5, 19.)
20. White House Domestic Policy Staff Assistant Director Ellen L. Goldstein to Committee for U.S. Veterans of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, December 18, 1979; available from Committee, P.O. Box 14424, Portland, OR 97214.
A Legacy Comes Home
In the fall of 1946--a year after the atomic bombings of Japan--Lyman Quigley settled down in Portland, Oregon, where he went to work for the city transit company operating streetcars and buses. Very soon he began suffering acute abdominal attacks. "I'd wake up and be doubled up in pain at night. It kept getting more and more severe. I got haggard-looking. I can't describe it to you. You'd have to go through it to know what it is. Excruciating." In December 1951 doctors removed Quigley's appendix. The severe stomach pains, however, persisted. He later developed stomach tumors.
One day, in March 1953, Quigley's lungs hemorrhaged suddenly, bleeding for over a week. A scar formed on a lung. He was thirty-one by then--married, and a father. "The doctors told me they couldn't figure out what was going on. This is when I first got a suspicion." More than twenty-five years later his memory was vivid about the day in the summer of 1953 when he spoke to his doctor about the bulldozer work in Nagasaki's radioactive rubble. "The doctor starts to diagram on the blackboard about the atom and the half-life and all this stuff. And all of a sudden he turns to me and says, `I wish you wouldn't come see me anymore.'"
In the late 1950s a painful lump grew out of Quigley's head. Surgery removed the tumor, diagnosed as a lipoma (tumor of fatty tissue). Later doctors took out "a tumor about the size of a hen egg" from the back of his knee. Pain and weakness in his legs persisted. By this time Quigley was having trouble breathing; he was diagnosed as having "chronic obstructive lung disease." At the age of forty-three, he suffered a heart attack--the first of five.
Missed work and medical bills outstripped insurance coverage by many thousands of dollars. "We borrowed on the house, borrowed money on the car, borrowed money on the insurance policies we had," Quigley recounted. In the early 1970s worsening health problems forced him into retirement. Monthly Social Security disability payments of about $300 and a Teamsters union pension of $140 did little to ease the financial strain. His wife of a quarter century, Bernice, started working in hospitals to counter the awesome financial toll.
In the autumn of 1978 Lyman Quigley received visitors at his house in northeast Portland. Pain-racked but determined, he sat next to a kitchen table piled high with correspondence from the Defense Department, Veterans Administration, and nongovernmental scientists. Thirty-three years after going ashore in Nagasaki, for Quigley, atomic and personal histories had become inextricably meshed.
He was a quintessential American man, raised in the Depression era, proud of his military service. His political views were mainstream; his favorite magazine, Reader's Digest. What set him apart was his belief that an unreported part of history had been telescoped into his own body, his organs and cells--and, he feared, perhaps into the genetic heritage passed on to his children, Ron and Linda, now in their twenties.
"When my father first started putting facts together and came to the realization that his illnesses might stem from exposure to radiation, we found that this was more frightening than the unknown," Ron remembered. "It was not only frightening but also it was financially and emotionally draining for me and my family. . . . I can remember times my father would isolate himself in another part of the house for two or three days at a time, he had such pains in his heart, his legs, his chest, and shortness of breath, so much so that he was unable to participate in family activities or even simple things such as getting the mail or sitting outside for a short time."
For a score of years, with increasing intensity, Lyman Quigley had read everything he could get his hands on about atomic fallout and radiation effects. In Radiation, an authoritative book by Ralph E. Lapp and Jack Schubert, he found documentation that the Nagasaki reservoir water he and fellow Marines had drunk so freely was probably radioactive. About a mile from Nagasaki's nuclear blast center, "there was a fall-out at the Nishiyama reservoir area, where a total dosage of as much as 100 roentgens may have been delivered"--a serious dose of radiation if absorbed into the human body.
Quigley had attempted to file a claim for service-connected benefits with the Veterans Administration in the fall of 1973, contending that his severe health deterioration resulted from radiation exposure while a Marine in Nagasaki. The VA official he spoke with dissuaded Quigley from filing a claim, saying there was no chance of approval. Two years later Quigley went back and insisted on filing a claim. In January 1976 the VA issued a denial.
After a hearing in Portland the following year the VA sent him a ruling dated March 10, 1978, reaffirming the rejection. "Service-connection for residuals of radiation exposure involving the heart, lung, stomach, head and knee is not warranted," the VA decision declared. "His present disabilities have been determined to be of nonservice-connected origin."
In Nagasaki "radioactivity decayed very fast and was all gone within five weeks of the blast," said a scrawled VA memo in Quigley's claim file. In a 1976 letter, Dr. John D. Chase, then chief medical director of the VA, wrote: "Navy records indicate that ships did not approach Nagasaki until so long after the atomic blast that any residual radiation which might have existed would have been negligible."
But by now Quigley understood that the Nagasaki bomb exploded with plutonium, known to lodge in human lungs and other internal soft tissue; plutonium diminishes so slowly that it will take twenty-four thousand years for half of its deadly alpha radiation to decay. Other radioactive isotopes left by an atomic bomb include strontium 90, a "bone-seeking" form of radioactivity remaining highly toxic for many decades, and cesium 137--which is assimilated by muscles.
Lyman Quigley pursued a hunch. He suspected that his was not an unusual case among veterans, now scattered throughout the United States, who had traveled up that Nagasaki hill with him as part of Company C, 2nd Pioneer Battalion, 2nd Marine Division.
After three decades it was not easy to track down Marine buddies from the Nagasaki cleanup days. Adding to the logistical obstacles for Lyman Quigley, life had long since become almost steady pain. Utilizing old address books, yellowed letters, and telephone directory assistance, by the end of 1978 he had located five men of the Company C Marines.
In the small town of Sparta in the eastern Tennessee mountains, Junior Hodge--who was with Quigley on the bulldozers in Nagasaki--had been living with chronic anemia for the past twenty years. "Seems like all my strength is going out of me," Hodge told us. One of his testes had become enlarged, while the other, with a small growth on it, had almost disappeared. "I ain't got much money, and I can't afford to go to doctors," he drawled mournfully. Hodge's chronology of stomach and lung afflictions was virtually identical to Lyman Quigley's.
In Pittsburgh, Quigley tracked down John Zotter; in Toledo, Ohio, Willard Good; in Berwyn, Illinois, Philip Leschina; across town in Portland, William Gender. In addition Quigley located the mother of Floyd Crews, who had been part of the Company C bulldozing detail; he had died in 1972.
Quigley took extensive notes and accumulated medical records and affidavits. A pattern was emerging, with some strikingly similar ailments among the seven of them. Hodge, Good, Gender, Crews, and Quigley suffered severe lung difficulties, at times requiring surgery and in all cases causing chronic breathing problems for decades. Consistent intestinal attacks, often within a few months after leaving Nagasaki, became long-term realities of life for Hodge, Zotter, Gender, Crews, and Quigley; each of those men also experienced persisting painful conditions in their legs. And a pronounced chronic infestation of unusual weeping skin sores or ulcerations had been suffered by Hodge, Zotter, Good, Gender, and Quigley.
Willard Good had begun treatments in the mid-1960s for polycythemia vera, an excess of red blood cells found in one out of every 250,000 Americans per year. In 1976, at age fifty-three, Good went on early retirement from his job as a shipping clerk in Toledo.
Most of the men spoke of feeling run down by the time they reached middle age--as though they were much older than their chronological years. Time after time medical specialists had been puzzled about their afflictions.
By mid-1979 Quigley had reached a total of fifteen men--or their next of kin--who had been stationed with him at that roofless Nagasaki schoolhouse. Dispersed all over the United States and unaware of each other's postwar medical woes, most of the men experienced agonizing health problems at an unusually early age. Six suffered heart attacks, four of them fatal, before the age of fifty. Serious lung ailments, ongoing acute stomach pains, bizarre skin afflictions, aching weakness in leg bones--each of these physical difficulties, occurring at young ages, was reported for about half of the fifteen Company C veterans tracked down.
Little more than an hour's drive from Quigley's Portland home, in the southern Willamette Valley town of Lebanon, lived Company C veteran William Hoover. "Bill had been lucky, or so he thought," Juanita Hoover reflected a year after Quigley had located her husband. But rapid-fire events ended the Hoovers' feelings of good fortune. In quick succession, Bill Hoover's wife recalled, "he had a tumor removed from his hip and a skin cancer from his ear--also a testicle operation. Then on October 15, 1979, he discovered he had lung cancer. He had surgery immediately. It had grown so rapidly it had attached itself to the sac around the heart. They removed two thirds of his right lung." Hoover nearly died on the operating table.
The fifteen former Marines' health histories that Quigley documented represented about a tenth of the total number of Company C servicemen who had been with him in Nagasaki. The fifteen had been a fairly random sampling, and had turned up a conspicuous pattern of early onset of particular diseases. What's more, Quigley pointed out, he had begun to do what the U.S. Government had always been in a far better position to accomplish, with its resources and access to records; but the government had never tried, refusing even to lend a hand to Quigley's efforts.
For Lyman Eugene Quigley--a veteran of Tarawa, Okinawa, and other bloody battles in the Pacific during World War II--the most tenacious foes turned out to be severe health impairment teaming up with a recalcitrant U.S. Government. The new evidence he had uncovered didn't seem to make any difference to the Veterans Administration, which turned down his claim again. "I got a willpower to live," Quigley said as he leafed through stacks of negative replies under official United States Government letterheads. "I ain't giving up yet. I'm not ready." He continued his research work, until a fifth heart attack killed him in spring 1980 at the age of fifty-eight.
A few hours after the funeral Bernice Quigley drove across Portland to meet a group of Japanese atomic bomb survivors who were visiting the city as part of a speaking tour. As she talked to them, she learned that a number of her late husband's ailments, including odd purple spots that would come and go and reappear on his legs, were quite familiar to the Japanese visitors who had lived in Hiroshima and Nagasaki when the atom bombs fell. For Bernice Quigley, newly widowed, an insidious irony had completed a painful full circle.
Fifty miles east of Portland along the Columbia River, former U.S. Marine Ralph Sheridan Clapp settled down to raise a family after the Second World War. But ever since the autumn of 1945 his life had never been the same. "Before I was in Nagasaki, I had a friend who said I was more like a gazelle than a human being." By the end of his few weeks of Nagasaki cleanup duties, according to Clapp and affidavits from ex-Marines who had been in that city with him, severe breathing problems began. As the years passed, Clapp spent more time in hospitals for oxygen and diagnostic tests.
In early spring 1979 we visited Sheridan Clapp at the Barnes VA Hospital in Vancouver, Washington. Clapp sat up in bed, his voice wheezing but resolute. "It's kind of ironic to go through a war like that with no scratches, hell in a half-acre, and then wind up like this," he said. Clapp had seen combat in Okinawa, but it was another legacy that preoccupied him at age fifty-seven. "I think, really and truly, the American public needs to be told. We went in there green as grass. We were just kind of cleaning up in Nagasaki, one thing or another. You're drinking water and all that, why hell it's all contaminated; it'd have to be."
Turned down for Veterans Administration service-connected benefits, Clapp had developed a thick VA claim file containing the same official assurances--often word for word--as those received by Lyman Quigley. "Why?" Clapp asked during an interview; looking around the noisy hospital wing, he responded to his own question: "It must be all the big money behind nuclear."
Chronic respiratory illness was not the only reason for Sheridan Clapp's hospitalization in the first months of 1979. Doctors had discovered a perplexing blood condition, requiring extensive tests as one after another of the most common blood diseases were ruled out. During the spring a medical verdict finally came in: Clapp was afflicted with a life-threatening lack of blood coagulant "factor VIII"--a condition so rare that no more than one hundred cases had been reported worldwide in the previous three decades, according to the hematologist treating Clapp, Dr. Scott H. Goodnight, Jr., of the Oregon Health Sciences Center.
For Clapp the agony was intense--all the more because he was weary of hospitals, and what he perceived as political motives for VA rejections of claims by American veterans exposed to radiation while in military service. "This country had better get itself in gear if we're going to survive, that's all I've got to say," he told us during a hospital visit in March 1979. "All the doggone money in developing those nuclear plants. I can't understand what they're thinking about. I'm against any further development of it at all. Absolutely none." On April 20, 1979, Sheridan Clapp picked up a blunt pencil and wrote a letter mentioning plutonium and ending with the words: "Stop these people. Sincerely, Sheridan Clapp." He died five weeks later.
Sheridan Clapp left behind a widow whose grief combined with outspoken anger. Two years after her husband's death there was a little less audible pain in Delores Clapp's voice, but the outrage had grown stronger. "Sheridan lost his life for his country just as sure as if he had died on a battlefield," she said, sitting in the living room of the house their family had shared in Hood River, Oregon. "If he hadn't been in Nagasaki, he'd be here today to enjoy his grandson. I feel so strongly about this. If it were just a matter of money, the government's refusal to admit the truth wouldn't be so important. But it's the principle of the thing."
21. Quigley interviews.
25. Ron Quigley, Newsletter, Committee for U.S. Veterans of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, summer 1979, p. 5.
26. Jack Schubert and Ralph E. Lapp, Radiation: What It Is and How It Affects You (New York: The Viking Press, 1957), p. 219.
27. VA claim determination letter to Lyman Quigley, March 10, 1978.
28. VA "Report of Contact," October 26, 1978, Quigley file, No. C-20-303-320.
29. VA Chief Medical Director John D. Chase, M.D., to Congressman Robert B. Duncan, December 27, 1976.
30. Junior Hodge, interviews, December 1978.
31. Quigley, John Zotter, Willard Good, Philip Leschina, and William Gender, interviews, November 1978 to June 1979.
32. Stephen Chandler, M.D., Portland hematologist, interviews, April 1979.
33. Quigley and other fifteen Company C Marines he located, interviews, November 1978 to June 1979; plus correspondence and medical records.
34. Atomic Veterans' Newsletter (National Association of Atomic Veterans, 1109 Franklin St., Burlington, IA 52601), fall 1980, p. 6.
35. Quigley interviews.
36. Bernice Quigley, interviews, July 1980.
37. Ralph Sheridan Clapp, interview, March 1979.
39. Authors obtained both Quigley's and Clapp's complete claim files of record at the VA regional office in Portland.
40. Clapp interview.
41. Scott Goodnight, interview, April 1979. Dr. Goodnight said Clapp's "factor VIII" inhibitor condition had been diagnosed as being a noninherited type, which greatly accentuated its rarity.
42. Clapp interview.
43. Clapp to authors, April 20, 1979.
44. Delores Clapp, interviews, May 1981.
Beginning in the late 1970s, the federal government publicly solicited toll-free phone calls from former GIs who were directly involved in A-bomb tests between 1946 and 1962. But Hiroshima and Nagasaki veterans were intentionally excluded from the scope of the telephone data-gathering program. At the Defense Department two of the project's top officials each admitted personally responding to about half a dozen such calls or letters.
"We were able to reassure them that they didn't get any significant exposure," said Lieutenant Colonel Bill McGee at the Defense Nuclear Agency (ironically acronymed DNA), a branch of the Pentagon devoted to governmental assessments of atomic weapons impacts. McGee and other DNA officers would not tell us how many contacts regarding Hiroshima-Nagasaki cleanup their agency received.
At the Veterans Administration headquarters a few blocks from the White House, in January 1979 we inquired about claims for service-connected benefits based on Hiroshima or Nagasaki residual radiation exposure. VA Board of Veterans Appeals chief member Irving Kleinfeld said that "we probably know of a couple of cases" of VA claims in that category. Kleinfeld added he seriously doubted any other VA official would know anything more about it.
In the VA's central public-relations office the story was about the same. When asked whether any claims based on Hiroshima or Nagasaki residual radiation exposure had ever been filed with the VA, public-information official Stratton Appleman replied: "We've had none for the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bomb."
The VA's public-relations machinery was apparently telling other curious journalists much the same thing. In North Carolina, on January 21, 1979, The Charlotte Observer published an article about area resident Clifford Helms, fifty-four, a Navy Seabee veteran with paralysis and kidney trouble who had recently filed for VA benefits linked to his cleanup assignment at Nagasaki. The Observer article, written by staff reporter Bob Drogin, stated that "Helms is the first veteran to claim disability based on exposure to radiation from the atomic bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, according to Al Rayford, a Veterans Administration spokesman in Washington."
Rayford later denied ever contending that Helms's claim was the only one due to Hiroshima or Nagasaki radiation. Informed of the denial, Drogin responded with a written statement: "Al Rayford unequivocally told me Clifford Helms was the first and only vet to claim disability based on exposure at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. My notes are clear on this. Moreover, I specifically asked him this question several times because it seemed so unlikely to me."
We also called second-level VA officials, some of whose names had appeared in Lyman Quigley's bulky claim file. The trail led to Robert C. Macomber, chief of the Veterans Administration rating-policy staff, a career VA employee who said he had never been asked such a question before by a reporter. As a matter of fact, Macomber said, he happened to have more than two dozen Hiroshima-Nagasaki claims right next to him in his office.
For several hours over the phone Macomber patiently went through the files, omitting only claimant names, identification numbers, and addresses to protect confidentiality. Macomber estimated that approximately fifty such Hiroshima and Nagasaki residual radiation claims had been filed with the VA nationwide, with about twenty of those still at regional VA offices and not yet forwarded to headquarters for appeal. All those claims, he said, had been turned down.
James (Jack) McDaniel volunteered for the Marine Corps when World War II broke out--then a tall athletic young man barely in his twenties. A few years later he was among about two hundred Marines quartered in a bombed-out waterfront hotel near the Nagasaki blast center. (As far as they could tell when they met thirty-three and a half years later, for a few days Sheridan Clapp had been in the same semidemolished hotel on the waterfront.) Like the rest of the U.S. troops assigned to cleanup there, he did not receive any precautionary instructions, radiation monitors, or protective gear.
When discharge came in southern California, just about the only thing on McDaniel's mind was getting back to his wife a thousand miles north. He found employment as a diesel mechanic in the woods of the Pacific Northwest, remaining on the Weyerhaeuser Corporation job for more than twenty years in southwestern Washington. He enjoyed much about his life, working in lush forests and appreciating wonders of nature in the countryside around his home near the small town of Toutle.
But as time passed, McDaniel's health deteriorated drastically. In 1975 doctors diagnosed Waldenstrom's macroglobulinemia, an extremely rare cancer of bone marrow involving overproduction of blood protein.
"I don't know if I'll be able to work the next four years to retirement. I'm going downhill fast," McDaniel said in early 1979. He spoke wistfully of the past--"I had the consistency of a horse, I was strong"--and of the government he had trusted for so long: "They don't want to admit they were wrong to send us in there without any warning, without any preparation, without any protection."
McDaniel had recently applied, unsuccessfully, for Veterans Administration benefits based on his stint in Nagasaki; the main concerns he expressed had to do with the future financial security of his wife. In the opinion of McDaniel's hematologist, Dr. Richard B. Dobrow of Vancouver, "the question of [VA] compensation will probably be answered politically, not medically."
Despite intense pain accompanying his chemotherapy, McDaniel traveled to Washington, D.C. to speak at a press conference in June 1979. At the Commodore Hotel, near the Capitol, in the morning he met other press conference participants. Among them were two people who understood, as few Americans could, what he was going through: Virginia Ralph, whose ex-Marine husband, Harold Joseph Ralph, had died in 1978 from multiple myeloma, a brutal form of bone-marrow cancer; and Harry A. Coppola, a former Marine also suffering from multiple myeloma. Coppola, McDaniel, and Mrs. Ralph's husband had all been in the core bombed area of Nagasaki in late September 1945.
Seated in the hotel lobby, McDaniel reached into a manila envelope and pulled out photos he had kept of Nagasaki's devastation, taken where he was billeted; Virginia Ralph pulled out her husband's photos of the Nagasaki rubble where he had been stationed. They were virtually identical pictures, taken from what looked like the same spot.
Virginia Ralph, who had lost her husband in a protracted and terribly devastating death, sat next to Harry Coppola, who had the same disease's terminal agonies to look forward to in the near future. Alongside them, Jack McDaniel was losing ground to a deadly cancer of the same family of blood cells in his marrow. Atomic legacies were emerging in people's very bones.
Mrs. Ralph was accompanied by her twenty-one-year-old son Mike. Sorrows of losing a husband and father, in such a terribly painful way, were still fresh after nearly a year since Harold Joseph Ralph's death. For Virginia Ralph, a farm wife forced into the workaday world of secretarial chores in Streator, Illinois, to provide for her children, the runaround from federal agencies was infuriating. Along with the government's blanket policy of turning down all claims for U.S. veterans of Hiroshima and Nagasaki cleanup, she found it particularly galling that their own government never bothered to do any systematic study on the health of those veterans--and would not even admit that such a study was appropriate. "Actually, no one cared," Mrs. Ralph charged. "And now, the U.S. Government is stonewalling." She reflected on her husband's inexorable, anguishing drift toward death at age fifty-four: "The last two years are better forgotten. The last ten days of his life were a nightmare for all of us. I would do anything in my power to spare another family what we have experienced."
She and her son, Mrs. Ralph later recalled, "were saddened by the news that two more veterans had been found who are also suffering from bone-marrow cancer, but we were so happy to meet these two grand fellows, Jack McDaniel and Harry Coppola. Knowing very well how this illness affected my husband's strength and how this illness plays tricks on human beings, I was amazed at their bravery. I was so thankful to have them with us."
Slowly the group walked across the mall area on the west side of the Capitol dome, to the Rayburn House Office Building. Cosponsored by The Progressive magazine and Colorado Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder (D), the press conference took place in the ornate grandeur of the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee room. "Far be it from me to bad-mouth my country, or the military. I still love it like I did when I joined the Marines," said McDaniel. "I can't understand in my hillbilly mind why I get a flat no. I want to know why we receive no assistance from our Government. Why no help?"
Virginia Ralph found that her journey to Washington for the press conference in early June 1979 rekindled a flame of optimism. "For two-and-a-half years previous to the Washington trip," she remarked later that summer, "replies from our U.S. Government and the VA to all of my correspondence left me with the feeling of someone who has had his hands tied behind his back with his face pushed up against a brick wall. The trip to Washington offered hope! My hands are unleashed and the wall is beginning to crumble. In view of all we know, the U.S. Government cannot shun its responsibilities much longer."
But the reconciliation Virginia Ralph hoped for was not to be.
Until the summer of 1979 federal agencies had never faced any widespread publicity raised about the U.S. veterans who went into the postbomb wreckage of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Washington press conference gave unprecedented visibility to the issue, and some federal officials began to devote more time and resources toward responding.
In late July 1979 at the Pentagon the Associated Press interviewed Defense Nuclear Agency Lieutenant Colonel Bax Mowery, and reported that the agency "has been trying to identify the estimated 250,000 servicemen exposed to radiation in the A-bomb tests and the two bomb blasts in Japan." It was the first published report that the U.S. Government was expressing any interest in learning more about the American soldiers of Hiroshima and Nagasaki cleanup.
But such statements were not to be confused with a substantial change in practices and attitudes. "These guys are getting old enough so that they're just getting sick from being on the good old earth," a November 1979 issue of Newsweek quoted a Defense Nuclear Agency officer as saying about U.S. veterans of Hiroshima-Nagasaki cleanup. "Somebody has convinced them to blame it on radiation." At the Veterans Administration and White House, officials responded to questions from journalists with the refrain that there was no reason to be concerned.
The intensifying media coverage included editorials in a number of newspapers criticizing government handling of the issue. The San Jose Mercury editors lamented the lack of forthright federal action; the St Louis Post-Dispatch went further--running a series of editorials lambasting the government's conduct with increasing venom: "Either the Veterans Administration has difficulty understanding statistics or it is engaging in some callous stonewalling on the deaths and disabilities suffered by servicemen who were sent into Nagasaki and Hiroshima for cleanup operations. . . . Rather than admit it was wrong, and possibly heighten public doubts about its nuclear policies, the Government has chosen to dodge responsibility and ignore the suffering."
Under the headline "Old or Dead Before Their Time," the Seattle Post-Intelligencer editorialized that "grim new evidence comes to us no thanks to the U.S. Government, which, for a third of a century, has swept aside, ignored and apparently suppressed information on the long-lasting effects of radiation exposure. . . . One would have thought that the Government would have kept records on the health of these veterans. Such has not been the case. For the past 33 years, the Government has asserted that radiation levels at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were safe during the cleanup. This seems a shabby artifice."
Concluded the Post-Intelligencer editorial: "We believe the Government now must take responsibility for the risks of the Nagasaki and Hiroshima cleanup. The disability assistance that these veterans could gain in the few years remaining to them is a small enough amount to pay for three decades of misery and denial."
On Capitol Hill, few members of Congress were willing to step forward. When Junior Hodge, for instance, sought help from his representative, Al Gore, Jr., the ex-Marine veteran of Nagasaki bulldozer assignments got no help as he lay ailing in eastern Tennessee. An aide to Congressman Gore noted that the Tennessee Valley Authority's nuclear power plants carry enormous political clout back home. "I know nuclear weapons fallout isn't exactly the same thing," the aide told us, "but it's close enough to nuclear power that we'd rather stay away from it publicly."
A few members of the U.S. House of Representatives did speak out. Among them the earliest was Patricia Schroeder. In addition to appearing alongside Nagasaki cleanup veterans at press conferences, Representative Schroeder fired off a strong letter to Veterans Administration director Max Cleland on August 9, 1979.
Terming the VA's treatment of veterans who had cleaned up after the wartime atomic bombings "unconscionable," Schroeder's message to the VA top administrator was blunt: "I am shocked and appalled by your lack of responsiveness to these servicemen who, without adequate precautions or protections, unknowingly subjected themselves to high levels of radiation and are now paying the fatal price." Schroeder went on to suggest that the VA "initiate a comprehensive study" probing the health of U.S. veterans of Hiroshima-Nagasaki cleanup, along with "testing and medical examination of all surviving servicemen, who officially or unofficially, were present at the blast sites within one year after the bombing."
"Now that the latency period for these bone and blood cancers and diseases has expired, we can no longer excuse the Government's gross miscalculation which has resulted in these disorders," she added. "We cannot rectify the damage that has been done. We can, however, admit our mistakes and try to make these terrible afflictions which Marines have come to bear slightly less painful."
VA director Max Cleland responded to Representative Schroeder two and a half months later, in a letter dated October 29, 1979. "At the outset," Cleland replied, "I should like to assure you that there is no effort whatsoever on the part of the Veterans Administration or, so far as I am aware, on the part of any other government agency to obfuscate or withhold the truth about any untoward biological effects of exposure to nuclear radiation."
In Nagasaki, he contended, "one hour after the bomb burst, the radiation present from the fallout was about 10 rads . . . By way of comparison, an x-ray examination of one's gastrointestinal tract can deliver 5 to 30 rads, depending upon the circumstances of the examination. The 10 rads appearing one hour after the burst very rapidly decreased to a fractional amount . . . Radiation levels at Hiroshima declined at a similar rate."
The facile comparison to external penetrating X rays did not take into account an atom bomb's fission products, some of which inevitably give off alpha and beta radiation for years or centuries after a nuclear explosion. Even a tiny particle--lodging in lungs, bones, muscles, or other vulnerable human tissue after being inhaled or swallowed--would continue to irradiate from inside the body, with potentially deadly consequences.
Cleland continued: "The Department of Defense advises that a combined United States and Japanese team made a complete survey of the fallout radiation levels at both Hiroshima and Nagasaki from October 3 to 7, 1945, about two months after the bombings. Radiation levels were measuring up to 0.015 milliroentgen per hour from Hiroshima and 1 milliroentgen per hour for Nagasaki."
It all boiled down to no reason for alarm, Cleland insisted. "I again stress that we at the VA have no desire to 'cover-up' or otherwise prejudice the good-faith claims of our veterans. We are dealing, however, with a matter of ongoing scientific inquiry, and the medical knowledge presently available simply does not support a conclusion that malignancies or other diseases which have afflicted or are afflicting veterans are causally related to their proximity to Hiroshima or Nagasaki after the nuclear explosions. Your interest in veterans' benefits is appreciated, and I hope I have allayed your concern that we at the VA are in any way reluctant to address this complex and controversial issue."
A few months after expressing optimism that the government would change its tune at last, Virginia Ralph sounded sadder but wiser. "It's a great cover-up," she said. "They're afraid to admit anything, because then people who are living near nuclear reactors would worry that 30 years from now the same thing will happen."
45. Lieutenant Colonel Bill McGee and Colonel D. W. McIndoe, U.S. DNA, interviews, January 1979.
46. McGee interview.
47. Irving Kleinfeld, interview, January 1979.
48. Stratton Appleman, interview, January 1979.
49. Charlotte Observer, January 21, 1979.
50. Al Rayford, interview, February 1979.
51. Bob Drogin to authors, March 1979.
52. Robert Macomber, interviews, January 1979.
54. James McDaniel, interviews, March 1979.
55. Richard B. Dobrow, M D., to VA regional office in Seattle, February 22, 1979.
56. McDaniel interviews.
57. McDaniel's claim file, 75-1022, obtained from VA Seattle office.
58. Dr. Dobrow, interview, April 1979.
59. Death certificate of Harold Joseph Ralph, state of Illinois, August 18, 1978.
60. Authors were present at June 8, 1979, meeting at Commodore Hotel.
61. Virginia Ralph, interviews, March-July 1979.
62. Virginia Ralph, Newsletter, Committee for U.S. Veterans of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, summer 1979, p. 3
63. Denver Post, United Press International, June 9, 1979.
64. Ralph, Newsletter, Committee, p. 3.
65. Los Angeles Times, Associated Press, August 1, 1979.
66. Newsweek, November 26, 1979.
67. Mercury (San Jose), September 26, 1979 and May 6, 1980.
68. St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 1, 1979.
69. Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 17, 1979.
70. Aide to Congressman Al Gore, Jr., interview, September 1979.
71. Patricia Schroeder to Max Cleland, August 9, 1979.
73. Cleland to Schroeder, October 29, 1979.
77. Newsweek, November 26, 1979.
The Ordeal of Harry Coppola
While certain government agencies were digging in for a protracted struggle, so were some of the victims. A group called the Committee for U.S. Veterans of Hiroshima and Nagasaki formed to take up the fight. Its membership included several hundred veterans and relatives who believed their families' lives had been forever harmed by cleanup participation in the two Japanese cities. One of the first activities of the new organization came in August 1979, when Virginia Ralph and Harry Coppola traveled to Japan on its behalf.
For Coppola--in the throes of an increasingly painful terminal disease--the journey to Nagasaki was his first visit to that city in nearly thirty-four years. Until recently there seemed to be no particular reason to return. A Bostonian of Italian descent, a patriotic Marine with official discharge papers listing combat in battles at Iwo Jima and Bougainville, a bakery worker and then a union house painter who saved a little money and moved to Florida--for three decades Harry Coppola almost forgot having been sent into Nagasaki's atomic blast center area in September 1945.
But in 1978 Coppola learned that he was dying of a cancer in his marrow--multiple myeloma--the cause of unexplained pain and frailty of his bones that had plagued him since 1974. He did not have long to live, according to Dr. James N. Harris, a West Palm Beach specialist. Broward County medical examiner Dr. Abdullah Fatteh, based in Fort Lauderdale, reviewed Coppola's records and concluded it was "probable that Mr. Coppola's condition of multiple myeloma is causally related to the atomic bomb radiation exposure in 1945."
Coppola filed a Veterans Administration claim for service-connected benefits for himself, his three sons, and his widow-to-be, based on a connection between the Nagasaki duties and his terminal illness. As in all such cases the VA's answer was an unequivocal no.
Later, after his predicament received national publicity, Defense Nuclear Agency officers tried to undercut congressional concern by telling people at Michigan Congressman Robert W. Davis's (R) office that Harry Coppola had not been in Nagasaki in 1945. But Coppola's Marine Corps discharge papers list his military service as including "Occupation of Japan--September 22, 1945, to October 6, 1945." And an affidavit by Masuko Takaki, who was a young girl living in Nagasaki in the fall of 1945, recollects Coppola's presence as a patrol in the central A-bombed zone of the city at that time. "I remember specifically," the affidavit declares, "because my father invited him to our home several times for dinner, and I remember he gave my father American cigarettes. I also recognized his pictures in Japan's newspapers during his visit August 6, 1979, and made an effort to have a reunion with him."
Coppola was part of a squad of a dozen crack machine-gunner Marine MPs arriving in Nagasaki shortly before the larger detachment of Marines and Seabees. He would never forget becoming "nauseous as hell" two weeks after getting to Nagasaki; he and another Marine with the same symptoms in the MP squad were quickly removed from the city and put on a Navy ship bound for the States. After a voyage during which he lost large amounts of hair, Coppola was discharged two days after arriving at Oceanside, California. "They rushed us right through," Coppola remembered. "Other guys there were waiting for weeks to get discharged--they asked me, 'Who do you know, a congressman?'" Coppola's impression was that "they wanted to get rid of me fast."
It was to prove far more arduous to return to Japan in 1979 than it had been to arrive the first time.
"I'm going to Japan because the truth must be told," Coppola said in a written statement. "I've already gone to Washington, D.C., and the Veterans Administration doesn't want to help me. I'm feeling very bitter that my own government, that i fought for proudly, refuses to admit that the Nagasaki bomb is killing me. After what I've learned, what I've been going through, I'm against all this nuclear crap."
A few days later, with Coppola beginning to tour Japan, the Associated Press reported his intention to "seek financial aid in Japan to pay his medical costs." AP quoted Coppola as saying: "I know it's a lousy thing to do--to ask the country where we dropped the bomb, but the United States has turned a deaf ear." Owing to expenses of his bone-marrow cancer, Coppola said, "I've blown my life savings, about $29,000, and I'm still in debt."
Ostensibly a beneficiary of the nuclear bombings, at the age of fifty-nine Coppola had become living--and dying--symbolic evidence refuting the illusion that the effects of an atomic weapon can be confined to its intended victims.
"I really didn't know how they were going to accept me. I knew we were going to go on a speaking tour and all that, but the rest of it I couldn't anticipate. I didn't know what the hell to expect." Emotion ran high, as the Japanese hosts and American visitors saw in each other common anguish. Coppola was besieged by scores of journalists; at times he was accompanied by Masuko Takaki, now a middle-aged woman who succeeded in her efforts to "have a reunion" with the former Marine she remembered from those dinner-table visits.
When Coppola reached Nagasaki for ceremonies on the thirty-fourth anniversary of the atomic bombing of that city, a huge amphitheater holding eighteen thousand people awaited his address. "When I got through with the speech, they gave me an applause until I left the arena. And every five or six feet I would give them a bow. And they all stood up. It was something; it was deafening, the roar that they gave me. Because I told them, in that speech, that Truman was livin' in hell, I told them that he shouldn't've dropped the bomb there. He didn't drop it on military targets, he dropped it right in the middle of two cities, with women and children."
Sitting in the living room of his modest home outside of West Palm Beach, expecting his death would not be much longer in coming, memories of his second trip to Japan were bittersweet for Coppola. "They were very good to me. They offered me free medical service, they offered me everything there, live there free. But I figured what the hell, I don't want to die in Japan, I'd have to leave my family, go there, I'm not getting cured on it." His wife, Anna, leaned over the armchair and patted his shoulder. "Multiple myeloma means many, I'm loaded with it, they're not going to cure me. And I was told they could never really arrest it; they were trying to control it, but it'll never be arrested. But if I'm going to die, I says, I want to die home--I'm not going to die over there. That's the only reason why I didn't take 'em up on it. But they can't understand why the United States Government won't help me on this."
Travel became still more difficult for Coppola, subject to frequent, torturous attacks. "Sometimes I feel like I'm in hell," he said, describing the pain searing his bones that all too often left him feeling "like someone cut your leg off." People told him they found it hard to believe, from looking at him, that he was so close to death. "An apple can look shiny, beautiful on the outside. But inside, it's rotten."
Despite the increasing agony Coppola was eager to participate in activities planned for Washington, D.C., in late September.
Over the summer several dozen American veterans had signed a petition, addressed to President Jimmy Carter and Max Cleland, requesting fundamental changes in VA policies. "Some of the U.S. servicemen who were with us in Nagasaki cannot sign this petition, because they are dead--from premature heart attacks, blood disorders, bone marrow cancer or other ailments," the document said. "As time passed, it has become clear that our illnesses, and those of our buddies, were connected to the time we spent in the atomic blast center of Nagasaki in the fall of 1945, as we functioned under orders there."
On Sunday, September 23, 1979--exactly thirty-four years after the Marine occupation troops entered Nagasaki's harbor--Harry Coppola, Virginia Ralph, and several other veterans and widows of Nagasaki cleanup walked through Lafayette Park to the northwest gate of the White House. Coppola, dressed in a suit and tie, and wearing a Veterans of Foreign Wars hat in the bright sunshine, handed a pile of signed petitions to William Lawson, executive director of the White House Federal Veterans Coordinating Committee.
The next morning, thirty-four years to the day after U.S. Marines and Seabees first awoke to begin their cleanup assignments in Japan, VA administrators and a White House aide sat down to discuss the aftermath of those duties with Nagasaki veterans and relatives from New York, North Carolina, Florida, Illinois, and California. There was appreciable tension in the national VA headquarters office suite. What followed were three hours of dialogue and often heated debate.
"We have very little choice but to accept the evidence given to us by the Defense Department as authoritative," John Wishniewski, deputy director of the VA Compensation and Pension Service, informed the delegation. "We have been assured by the Defense Department that the levels of exposure at Nagasaki and Hiroshima were very minimal."
"I have got multiple myeloma, and you say to send new evidence in," Harry Coppola retorted. "Well, I have sent new evidence, medical evidence, by some of the biggest doctors in the country . . ."
Coppola added that while the VA's director "is living high off the hog, big salary, I am looking for--I am ready to eat dog food! I am living on Social Security! And now I submitted that evidence, now you say `Go back to your military records.' Well I have asked for my military records, and half the stuff isn't in there. I went to a Japanese [language] school in Guadalcanal to learn how to speak Japanese, it is not in my record. I got wounded with shrapnel in the back on Bougainville, it is not in my record. I got wounded in the leg at Iwo Jima--it is not in my record. I am not even on the record that I was patrolling in Nagasaki! What records are you talking about? I applied for disability on this, got a form letter that says `It is not in your military records.' But I have cancer . . . "
For Margaret E. Powers, widow of a Nagasaki cleanup veteran, the trip to Washington from her home in Castleton-on-Hudson, New York, was propelled by the same kind of long-standing frustrations. Her husband, ex-Marine William S. Powers, had died at the age of forty-eight, from gastrointestinal bleeding due to cancer, in 1965. Soft-spoken, her pent-up bitterness spilled out after a VA administrator offered assurances that the agency was interested in learning all it could about such veterans.
"Do they know the names of these Marines?" Mrs. Powers asked, turning to other visitors in the VA suite. "They never kept track of who was in there or for how long, the VA, did they? I mean, how do they know where to locate these men? Maybe they don't even know that this is going on . . . I only found this out myself, and I have been a widow for fourteen years, and my husband was in there on the day that they went, September 23, and he was there [in Nagasaki] for three months before they sent him to Sasebo, and they were cleaning up the area with bulldozers and whatnot, and still discovering bodies under the rubble, and getting sick just from the smell of the place. Now they weren't too concerned about it then, about sending these boys in there."
Virginia Ralph added that the VA was refusing to accept responsibility for disabilities that cropped up decades after military service ended. "If a man is shot in the leg, or shot in the head, or loses an arm in service, immediately he is taken care of, because there is visual evidence. But when a man is exposed to radiation which is a silent invader, there is no way to detect that he has radiation illness. He may be lethargic; my husband had dizzy spells, the doctor said, `It is something you must learn to live with.'
"But when his rib cage deteriorated, when the bones fell apart, when he was in his final stages, that is when the doctors at the VA hospital, every doctor that came in to take his history, the first question was, `Have you ever worked in radiation?'" Ralph, a farmer, never had--except in Nagasaki. "It sounded to me as though the VA thought that my husband's illness struck overnight. This is false. I don't think it is handled individually, because I have seen several denial letters, and they have the same paragraph: `Your husband received insignificant radiation.' `Your husband received slight radiation.' In the case of plutonium, what is insignificant radiation? . . . What is slight radiation?"
Back home in Florida, Coppola spoke with a steady stream of interviewers. "I can accept dying, we're not here for good," he told a Tampa Tribune reporter. "But I cannot accept the Government giving me a screwing."
As 1979 drew to a close, the bone-marrow cancer grew still more excruciating. In anguish over her husband's worsening condition, Anna Coppola confided: "I don't know how a person can stand so much pain."
Shortly before Christmas The Miami Herald quoted Coppola in a front-page article: "Does the Government want me dead? They hope I die tomorrow. Then my case is closed, and they've gotten rid of one royal pain." The same month, Howard Rosenberg, a staff associate of columnist Jack Anderson, called the Defense Department for reaction to the national publicity often spearheaded by Coppola's flamboyant accusations and unswerving persistence. Chatting with an officer at the Defense Nuclear Agency, Rosenberg asked whether the publicized charges were angering the nuclear military brass. Replied the Pentagon official: "We don't get mad, we get even."
In the spring of 1980 Coppola's appeal to the Veterans Administration was denied. The VA justified its decision by declaring that "service medical records do not reveal treatment for any condition which could be considered a result of radiation exposure and do not show any evidence of any early manifestation of multiple myeloma. The condition is not shown to have become manifest to a degree of at least 10 percent within one year of the veteran's release from active military service."
As the Palm Beach Post noted in an editorial, "Coppola was outraged by this rationale, and rightly so." The lag time between radiation exposure and multiple myeloma is known to run a quarter of a century or longer. Coppola responded, "I'm a very bitter man against the government. When my country needed me in Guadalcanal I was there. On Bougainville I was there. On Guam I was there. I was there in Iwo Jima; I gave machine-gun coverage while they put the flag up on Mount Suribachi."
Out of his original Marine battalion of one thousand men, he recalled, only a dozen or so had survived the war. He had felt blessed to be among them. But American-made radioactivity seemed about to succeed where Japanese troops had failed--and the Veterans Administration's refusals felt like salt in the festering radiation wounds.
Meanwhile, protests came from other quarters. Delegates to the 1979 national convention of the International Woodworkers of America approved a resolution observing that "the U.S. Government has failed to take responsibility for aiding veterans and their families--suffering from severe illnesses and financial hardships as a result of exposure to residual radiation from the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki." The labor union's resolution proclaimed that "we support the rights of these veterans and their widows to receive compensation from the Veterans Administration for service-connected disability." A few months later the White House received a petition signed by dozens of prominent Japanese scientists and civic leaders, urging aid for Coppola and other U.S. veterans who had been sent into Hiroshima and Nagasaki in autumn 1945.
During the spring of 1980 Harry Coppola was in hospitals much of the time. "In the last week I almost died two times, and I know time is running short," he said, speaking into a tape recorder, his voice still strong though audibly short of breath. "No human should suffer the pains of hell like we're suffering."
By the time Harry Coppola died from multiple myeloma bone-marrow cancer on June 16, 1980--three months short of his sixtieth birthday--he was one of five ex-Marines whose multiple myeloma had been publicly linked to their presence in the core atomic blast area of Nagasaki in late September 1945.
78. Diagnosis summary by James N. Harris, M.D., August 16, 1978.
79. Abdullah Fatteh, M.D., Ph.D., Office of District Medical Examiner, Fort Lauderdale, to John F. Romano, Esq., West Palm Beach, June 17, 1979.
80. Aides to Congressman Robert Davis, interviews, June 1980.
81. Discharge statement for Harry A. Coppola, signed by commanding officer E. W. Autry, Captain, U.S.M.C.R.
82. Affidavit by Masuko Takaki (1512-5 Waifu, Kikuchi City, Kumanoto-ken, Japan), September 1, 1979; available from Committee for U.S. Veterans of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
83. The U.S.M.C. honorable discharge certificate for Coppola is dated November 9, 1945.
84. Harry A. Coppola, interviews, March 1979 to April 1980.
85. Press release by Coppola and Committee for U.S. Veterans of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, July 26, 1979. Working to get his passport in time to participate in ceremonies marking the thirty-fourth anniversaries of the atomic bombings, Coppola called his congressional representative, Daniel Mica. Coppola told us that Mica advised him to be careful not to say anything against the U.S. Government while abroad; to do so, Coppola recounted Mica's telling him, might be considered a violation of federal statutes.
86. Los Angeles Times, Associated Press, August 1, 1979.
87. Coppola, interview, March 1980.
90. Coppola, interview, September 1979.
91. Petition presented to White House on September 23, 1979, and to VA national headquarters September 24, 1979; available from Committee for U.S. Veterans of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
92. Transcription of tape-recorded meeting, September 24, 1979.
97. Tampa Tribune, November 28, 1979.
98. Anna Coppola, interview, December 1979.
99. Miami Herald, December 7, 1979.
100. Howard Rosenberg, interview, February 1980.
101. "Statement of the Case--In the Appeal of Harry A. Coppola," VA regional office, St. Petersburg, March 28, 1980.
102. Palm Beach (Fla.) Post, April 21, 1980.
103. Coppola, interview, April 1980.
104. International Woodworkers of America, 1979 Resolution No. 6; available from IWA national headquarters, Portland, Oregon.
105. Petition to White House by Japanese scientists; available from Committee for U.S. Veterans of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
106. Coppola to authors, tape-recorded message, April 1980.
A Toll in Blood
Alvin N. Lasky, a St. Louis business executive, was "doing mostly cleanup and guard duty" in Weapons Company, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division--"billeted on the industrial site of the harbor" immediately next to the core blast site in Nagasaki. Lasky was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 1974, and was unusually successful in continuing to live with the usually terminal illness.
Richard W. Bonebrake, a member of B Company, 1st Battalion, 2nd Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, was ordered to patrol in the center of Nagasaki's nuclear-blasted area. In October 1977, living in Williamsport, Indiana, where he worked as a bank clerk, Bonebrake learned he had multiple myeloma, and began the long struggle with chemotherapy.
George Proctor, also a 2nd Division Marine sent into Nagasaki's central area for cleanup, was forced to quit his job as a construction worker, suffering through several years of multiple myeloma before dying from the disease in October 1979. His widow, Agnes Proctor, living in Elwell, Michigan, recalled her husband's accounts of experiencing severe nausea and aching joints even while still in Japan during the occupation. His claims to the VA for compensation were rejected.
Multiple myeloma was not confined to the five former Marines we located. Anthony Thomas Sirani, an Army radio operator attached to the 2nd Marine Division, arrived at Nagasaki's central zone on September 23. At age fifty-five, in December 1979, Sirani died from multiple myeloma at Nassau Hospital in New York. The disease also emerged among U.S. naval personnel accompanying the Marines assigned to begin occupation cleanup duties in Nagasaki, and among Army veterans engaged in similar cleanup tasks in Hiroshima starting the second week of October 1945.
"How much longer can the Government ignore such statistics as 10 times the national average for such a rare disease?" demanded Congressman Robert Davis. A constituent of Davis's--Napoleon Micheau of Escanaba, Michigan--contracted multiple myeloma three decades after Army cleanup chores in Hiroshima. His plight prompted Davis to issue a statement, in spring 1980, decrying "the tragedy of the Defense Department's refusal to cooperate in locating the military personnel involved in the cleanup operations in Hiroshima and Nagasak."
The Department of Defense, however, was doing no more than stonewalling. In a letter sent to Illinois Representative Thomas Corcoran (R) on March 18, 1980, Defense Nuclear Agency director Vice Admiral R. R. Monroe contended that "medical science has, to date, identified only a `borderline' relationship between exposure to radiation and the onset of multiple myeloma."
Later, in a report dated August 6, 1980, DNA officials replayed the same theme: "Medical science believes multiple myeloma has a borderline relationship with exposure to ionizing radiation. That is, there are some indications that exposure to radiation may increase the risk of this disease, but science cannot yet be sure."
Amid recent research scrupulously ignored by the Pentagon was a survey by the Government Accounting Office. Coordinated by Boston blood specialist Dr. Thomas Najarian and made public May 31, 1979, it indicated that veterans who were exposed to atomic bomb testing may have become far more susceptible to multiple myeloma as a result. In releasing the survey results, Dr. Najarian noted that the disease has an incubation period of twenty-five to thirty years--a time span precisely corresponding to the experiences of Nagasaki cleanup Marines Coppola, Ralph, Lasky, Bonebrake, and Proctor.
Meanwhile the Hiroshima-based Radiation Effects Research Foundation was reporting that Japanese survivors of the atomic bombings faced a risk of multiple myeloma 4.7 times higher than normal. It had taken at least twenty years for the excessive multiple myelomas to emerge.
And, in 1981, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study linking radiation to increased risk of multiple myeloma. University of Oxford researcher Jack Cuzick pinpointed "a clear excess of myeloma among persons exposed to radiation." The British scientist had compiled information available from two decades of research around the world.
In addition to multiple myeloma many other rare bone-marrow diseases plagued the Nagasaki veterans. When doctors found that former Marine Lyle Wohlfeil's bone marrow was being destroyed by myelofibrosis, "they kept asking him if he was ever connected with radiation," recalled his widow, Marilyn Morris, who settled in LaGrange, Illinois, after remarrying. Wohlfeil had been in the autumn 1945 Nagasaki cleanup, and went on to become a realtor. He succumbed to myelofibrosis, a severe scarring of the bone marrow, in 1968; he was fifty-four. Having heard VA officials discount the possibility that Nagasaki's residual radiation could have been harmful, neither Wohlfeil nor his widow filed with the VA for service-connected benefits.
VA national headquarters records show that a claim was filed in March 1968 on behalf of another veteran who died from myelofibrosis--and who had arrived at the Nagasaki atomic blast center on September 23, 1945, serving there five weeks. Nagasaki-based VA claims also document deaths from such radiation-connected illnesses as Hodgkin's disease, granulocytic leukemia, and oat-cell carcinoma of the lung.
In late 1979 Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder acquired photocopied summaries of sixty-four Veterans Administration claims filed by veterans and widows contending residual radiation had caused severe illnesses among the veterans of Nagasaki and Hiroshima cleanup. We obtained copies of the documents, which made staggering reading. There were a dozen cases of leukemia, plus various forms of organ cancers and several instances each of blood-related diseases like myelofibrosis, Hodgkin's disease, and bone-marrow cancer. A number of claimants mentioned chronic bizarre skin afflictions. All the claims had been submitted before any national publicity on U.S. veterans of Hiroshima-Nagasaki cleanup. Quietly the VA had been systematically rejecting all of them.
There were good reasons to believe that the sixty-four claims acknowledged by VA headquarters represented a tip of the iceberg of claims filed by Hiroshima and Nagasaki cleanup veterans. The two dozen that VA rating-policy staff chief Robert C. Macomber described to us in January 1979 included a number that never turned up in the stack of claims that VA administrator Max Cleland later provided to Representative Schroeder. And some of the claims submitted in the late 1970s were not included in that stack of documents sent along to the congressional office. Chicago Sun-Times journalist Claudia Ricci reported in December 1979 that "of 13 veterans of Nagasaki and Hiroshima whose cases have surfaced here, 10 have died, nine of them from cancer." A Chicago widow, Margaret Ryan, recounted a discussion with physicians who discovered her husband, James--a Navy veteran who had been in Nagasaki after the atomic bombing--was suffering from myeloblastic leukemia: "At the time, the doctors asked if he was ever in Japan. We were in shock. `Yeah, I was there,' he said. `Well, you have the same kind of leukemia the Japanese had.'" Ryan's application for VA benefits was rejected in the spring of 1977, a year before his death.
William Shufflebarger was twenty-two years old while a Marine stationed in Nagasaki at the end of September 1945--"just a few blocks from the devastated area of the city," as he described the location. Living in Oak Lawn, Illinois, thirty-five years later he was battling Hodgkin's disease, and cancer of the lymph nodes.
Severe breathing problems have been frequently cited by America's veterans of assignments to clean up after atomic warfare. Sam Scione, of Warwick, Rhode Island, a Marine veteran of Nagasaki cleanup, was the subject of an article published in the Disabled American Veterans' magazine in March 1980. As a result of the article Scione heard from 180 veterans involved in the occupation of Hiroshima or Nagasaki; nearly half--eighty-three--reported severe respiratory maladies.
107. Alvin Lasky to authors, August 20, 1979.
108. Diagnosis summary by Virgil Loeb, Jr., M.D., St. Louis, January 8, 1979.
109. Richard Bonebrake, interview, May 1980; also, Chicago Sunday Sun-Times, May 25, 1980.
110. Agnes Proctor, interview, May 1980; also, Chicago Sunday Sun-Times, May 25, 1980.
111. Marie Sirani (widow of A. T. Sirani) to Virginia Ralph, February 6, 1981.
112. Death certificate of Anthony Thomas Sirani, New York State Department of Health, December 22, 1979.
113. Diagnosis summary by Robert E. Ryde, M.D., Escanaba, Michigan, July 24, 1979. Ilene and Napoleon Micheau to authors, June 28, 1979.
114. Press release, Committee for U.S. Veterans of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, May 18, 1980.
115. R. R. Monroe to Congressman Thomas Corcoran, March 18, 1980.
116. Hiroshima and Nagasaki Occupation Forces.
117. The Oregonian, Associated Press, June 1, 1979. See also, letter by Thomas Najarian, M.D., and Benjamin Castleman, M D., New England Journal of Medicine, May 31, 1979, p. 1278.
119. M. Ichimaru, et al., Multiple Myeloma Among Atomic Bomb Survivors, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 1950-1976, Technical Report No 9-79 (Hiroshima: Radiation Effects Research Foundation, 1979).
120. Jack Cuzick, Ph.D., "Radiation-Induced Myelomatosis," New England Journal of Medicine, January 22, 1981, pp. 204-210.
121. Marilyn Morris, interview, March 1979.
122. Robert Macomber, interviews, January and February 1979. Regarding radiation and lung cancer tissue, see Archer et al., "Frequency of Different Histological Types of Bronchogenic Carcinoma as Related to Radiation," Cancer, Vol. 34, no. 6, 1974, pp. 2056-2060.
123. VA claim files obtained from Schroeder's office, November 1979.
124. Chicago Sunday Sun-Times, December 23, 1979.
126. William Shufflebarger to authors, April 30, 1979.
127. Log of informational phone calls and correspondence compiled by Dora and Sam Scione.
A Continuing Dispute
For the most part federal officials responded to the emerging controversy as they always had--by denying the danger of the radiation exposure. A December 1979 White House letter to veterans and widows maintained that maximum doses "received by any U.S. serviceman in either city, in an absolute worst case, is less than one rem. The estimate assumes the man arrived with the first unit in September 1945, remained until the last unit left in July 1946, and worked eight hours a day, seven days a week, for nine and a half months, in the highest-intensity portion of the very small fallout field (a few hundred meters in diameter). Since, in the actual situation, no one approximated this worst-case pattern, DNA believes the maximum dose any individual received was markedly less than one rem." The letter added that this dose was far below that allowed for radiation workers, and lower than common medical X rays.
By the middle of 1980 the Department of the Navy was sending out a new batch of letters designed to soothe veterans of Hiroshima or Nagasaki who had contacted a wide range of federal agencies with their concerns. "The Department of Defense and the U.S. Government continue to be deeply interested in the welfare of veterans and determined to insure that issues such as these are fully investigated, with wide dissemination of the results," Navy Captain J. R. Buckley wrote. Furthermore, Captain Buckley informed veterans receiving his letter, "It is reassuring to note that the likelihood of exposure to any radiation was quite low, that there was no possibility of any occupation force member having received a significant dose, and there is no cause whatsoever for concern over an increased risk of adverse health effects."
The Defense Nuclear Agency prepared a lengthy "fact sheet" titled Hiroshima and Nagasaki Occupation Forces, releasing it to the media on August 11, 1980. The thirty-page Pentagon report did not stray from any previous positions. "The maximum radiation dose any member of the U.S. occupation forces in Japan could have received--considering his external dose, his inhaled dose, and his ingested dose--was less than one rem. . . . the health risk from a dose such as this is negligible--so small statistically that it cannot be expressed in meaningful terms."
The hot-off-the-press Defense Department document clearly impressed the Associated Press reporter on the Pentagon beat, Fred S. Hoffman, who promptly turned the DNA "Public Affairs Office" handout into article form without seeking any contrary points of view.
While conceding that "unquestionably there would have been occasions during the Nagasaki occupation on which patrols or other groups entered the areas of residual contamination to carry out specific missions," the Pentagon report stated that the troops closest to ground zero generally remained out of the blast center area. Many Nagasaki cleanup veterans and widows found the depiction infuriating.
Virginia Ralph responded by pointing out that "no mention is made of the school building where Lyman Quigley was quartered, nor the bombed-out waterfront hotel where Jack McDaniel stayed nor the bombed-out warehouse where Joe [Ralph] was billeted."
The Defense Department's description of the Marines as aloof from cleanup activities in the ground zero area did not jibe with remembrances of the ex-Marines themselves. Nor was it consistent with the results of a painstaking search of U.S. military archives, in 1979 and 1980, by a Hollywood-based independent documentary filmmaker, Trell W. Yocum.
Sifting through scene-by-scene descriptive logs accompanying thirty-two reels of footage lodged in the U.S. Marine Corps Histories Division, Yocum cross-referenced the information with interviews of ex-Marines who participated in the Nagasaki occupation. Yocum confirmed that a few companies of U.S. Marines totaling several hundred of the men who arrived in Nagasaki on September 23, 1945, were billeted in the immediate area of the atomic blast hypocenter--in direct contradiction to the claims made by the Defense Nuclear Agency thirty-five years afterward.
The Pentagon's retrospective report, complete with tidy hand-drawn maps, portrayed the 2nd Marine Division occupation troops closest to the hypocenter as members of the 2nd and 6th Regiments billeting at Kamigo Barracks seventy-five hundred yards south of the hypocenter, and at Oura Barracks five thousand yards southwest of the hypocenter.
But by matching up official maps, Marine Corps archival footage records, and independently conducted interviews, Yocum confirmed that at least three Marine companies from those regiments were actually billeted within a mile of the hypocenter. The partially destroyed schoolhouse occupied by Lyman Quigley and other Marines in the 2nd Pioneer Battalion's Company C "engineers" unit was approximately one thousand yards from the atomic blast's ground zero, according to Yocum's research for his film The Other Victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. (In a scientific consultant's report distributed in 1981, DNA quietly acknowledged the 2nd Pioneer Battalion's constant involvement in hypocenter-zone cleanup, and noted the battalion was used "to rehabilitate two athletic fields in the `bombed' area of the city.")
Throughout, the well-publicized 1980 "fact sheet" from the Pentagon strove to assert that scientific research had found insignificant levels of residual radiation at Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Thus, the official story went, troops were ordered into an area where no threat to health existed.
But four months before the DNA released its report, The Washington Post had unearthed a declassified survey from the National Archives on residual radiation levels in Hiroshima and Nagasaki that had been completed in 1946. In an article published April 13, 1980, the Post stated, "The once-secret reports are bound to increase the controversy that has developed over whether U.S. troops sent to Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945 absorbed enough radiation to cause cancers that appeared after 20 years or more." The Post noted that two teams of U.S. Government researchers, surveying the outskirts of Nagasaki two months after the atomic bombing, found radiation "that was twice the level now considered safe for nuclear workers and over 10 times the radiation safety standard for the general population."
Left unacknowledged were the lethal qualities of minute alpha particles capable of lodging in human bone marrow, lungs, and other organs. The Defense Nuclear Agency preferred to focus attention on gamma--external--radiation doses left in the wake of Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear attacks, while parenthetically claiming that plutonium and other forms of alpha-particle radiation were virtually nonexistent. It was not a bad assumption--if those veterans hadn't been breathing.
"The U.S. Defense Nuclear Agency estimate of the radiation dose received by these Marines is not accurate," concluded Dr. Ikuro Anzai, a Tokyo University professor and secretary general of the ten-thousand-member Japanese Scientists Association, who conducted a detailed study of the issue. Anzai was concerned with alpha-radioactivity intake: "Though, by my calculations, the external exposure would have been relatively small, the internal radiation dose received by the bone marrow of these men could have been exceedingly high. This was due to plutonium deposited in the water and soil of Nagasaki."
Dramatic substantiation of that view came on October 10, 1980, at a medical symposium held in Tokyo. Not only was plutonium released at the time of the bombing; it is still there.
"Thirty-five years after the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, large amounts of deadly plutonium still lie buried under the city, a professor of medicine says," United Press International reported. "Professor Shunzo Okajima, a specialist in the effects of the atomic bombings in Japan, told a radiotherapeutics conference . . . that unusually large amounts of the radioactive substance were detected 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) east of the blast's center in the city's Nishiyama district."
"Radioactivity levels in the Nishiyama district were far higher than I had expected," said Professor Okajima, who had just completed a study of radioactivity in Nagasaki's soil. "I don't expect immediate effects on human beings," he added.
But, UPI recounted, Okajima "cautioned that extreme care must be taken with plutonium, which is believed to cause lung cancer. . . . The professor said he was alarmed because 76 percent of the plutonium was concentrated within 10 centimeters (4 inches) of the surface."
All but two paragraphs of the nine-thousand-word Defense Nuclear Agency report issued August 6, 1980, skirted the specific health problems among United States veterans of Japan atomic bomb cleanup. As had been government policy before, the DNA report--dated precisely thirty-five years after the day in history when the atomic age was introduced to the world--still espoused the U.S. Government's theoretical conclusion that no appreciable health risks were involved.
The report's few sentences commenting on actual subsequent health ills among Nagasaki cleanup Marines illustrate how far down the road of misinformation the Pentagon had gone.
"One specific health risk deserves mention because it has received some recent publicity. This concerns a type of bone marrow cancer known as `multiple myeloma.'" Conceding that "four veterans of the Nagasaki occupation have been diagnosed as having multiple myeloma," the report claimed, "This does not appear to represent an abnormal incidence of this disease. The following statistics from the National Cancer Institute are pertinent. If you start with 10,000 males age 25, in 1945 (which approximates the Nagasaki Marines); then today, in 1980, about 7.7 deaths from multiple myeloma should have already occurred, based on normal statistics." The report concluded, then, that "the four multiple myeloma cases that are known are less than the number that would have been expected for a normal, non-radiation-exposed group of this age and size."
In those few sentences the Pentagon had thoroughly distorted the situation. Use of the ten thousand Marines figure was misleading in the extreme, grossly inflating the statistical "data base" against which the multiple myeloma cases would be compared. By the Defense Department's own account the vast majority of those ten thousand Marine occupation troops remained several miles from ground zero in Nagasaki. But the five--not four--cases of multiple myeloma were all among the approximately one thousand Marines billeted in the immediate central area, within a mile of the hypocenter in late September 1945. In effect the Pentagon's DNA report was multiplying the epidemiological data base ten-fold by including the Marines stationed at the 6th Regiment's Oura Barracks three miles to the southwest and the 2nd Regiment's Kamigo Barracks more than four miles to the south of the hypocenter.
With the correct data base of one thousand, according to medical incidence tables cited by all sources in the dispute, the occurrence of multiple myeloma among the five Marine veterans was between 6.5 and 10 times higher than normal. And for all we know, Harry Coppola, Harold Joseph Ralph, Alvin Lasky, Richard Bonebrake, and George Proctor were not the only ones among the Marines at the blast core area that first occupation week who later developed multiple myeloma. The five of them represented the minimum, not the maximum of actual incidences of the rare bone-marrow disease.
Federal officials have refused to make detailed records available for systematic research on the cleanup veterans. Thanks to government intransigence, the full dimensions of the health toll probably will never be known.
U.S. servicemen sent into Nagasaki and Hiroshima amid residual radiation were the first Americans to confront the specter of invisible radiation from atomic weaponry. They were by no means the last. After 1945 nuclear bomb explosions proliferated--and so did their victims, in uniform and out.
128. Ellen Goldstein to Committee for U.S. Veterans of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, December 18, 1979.
129. Captain J. R. Buckley, USN, to Maurice E. Wilson, Portland, Oregon, October 22, 1980.
130. Hiroshima and Nagasaki Occupation Forces, pp. 25, 29-30.
131. San Francisco Chronicle, Associated Press, August 12, 1980.
132. Fred Hoffman, interview, August 1980.
133. Hiroshima and Nagasaki Occupation Forces, p. 22.
134. Ibid., p. 21.
135. Virginia Ralph, interview, August 1980.
136. Trell Yocum interviews and correspondence (7471 Melrose Ave., Hollywood, CA 90028), December 1979 to February 1981.
137. Hiroshima and Nagasaki Occupation Forces, pp. 16, 21.
138. Documents were obtained by Yocum from Motion Picture Film Video Tape Depository, Quantico, Virginia, aided by Support Branch, History and Museums Division.
139. Radiation Dose Reconstruction, p. 23.
140. Hiroshima and Nagasaki Occupation Forces, pp. 25, 29-30.
141. Naval Medical Research Institute, Measurement of the Residual Radiation Intensity at the Hiroshima and Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Sites, NMRI-160A (Bethesda: National Naval Medical Center, 1946).
142. Washington Post, April 13, 1980.
143. Trell Yocum interviewed Dr. Ikuro Anzai in March 1980.
144. United Press International, dateline Tokyo, October 10, 1980.
147. Hiroshima and Nagasaki Occupation Forces, p 28.
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