Atomic veterans fight for recognition, compensation

Published: Jul. 25, 2017 at 9:07 AM EDT
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An update to a story that affects veterans. Four years ago we introduced you to Garry DuFour of Dorset. Decades ago, while working for the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, DuFour copied documents that shed light on the impact of nuclear testing on soldiers. He hoped to use those documents to help affected veterans get compensation for their injuries.

Recently, DuFour was able to gather a few of these so-called "atomic veterans" together with a nuclear bomb scientist to tell their story.

In 1950, as a recent physics graduate student, Ken Ford was given the opportunity of a lifetime to help construct the first hydrogen bomb.

"At that time no one knew if the H-bomb would actually work," Ford said.

After years working on the project, they succeeded and the H-bomb was made.

"I had a vision of my own country as a very moral nation that could be trusted with weapons of almost unlimited destruction power," Ford said.

Now, he says that image has been tarnished. A group of men sitting around a kitchen table in Dorset are living proof of the destruction those weapons caused.

"The numbers on my test results showed that I had multiple myeloma," said Hank Bolden, a veteran.

In 1955, Bolden was an 18-year-old Army mechanic who was flown to Nevada.

"I did not volunteer to go there," he said. "They volunteered me to go there."

Soon after arriving, Bolden says he and eight other African-American soldiers were placed in foxholes about 3 miles from a hydrogen bomb. He says their purpose for being there was to show how the human body would withstand a nuclear blast.

"After the blast, the feeling that I had was great pressure, great heat and a tremendous amount of dust," Bolden said.

Reporter Taylor Young: Did you have any idea of the long-term effects?

Hank Bolden: No one did... no one did.

Edward Kohm is also an atomic veteran. In 1952, as a Marine, Kohm says he was ordered to stand about 2 miles away from an atomic bomb aerial drop in Nevada. He was 22.

"At the blast, we were doused in white," Kohm said. "White paint covered absolutely everything."

He says he and a group of other Marines walked to ground zero.

"This is me, I was then a corporal," he said, holding up a picture of himself in front of the blast.

Like Bolden, Kohm says he developed health issues directly related to nuclear radiation. He says those health issues were also passed down to his children.

Together, the two atomic veterans have multiple cancers and diseases and not one is getting compensation for their illnesses because of lack of proof that their ailments were caused by their exposure to the nuclear tests or that they were even there.

"Those poor souls have to prove they were atomic veterans and there are hardly any records there," said Garry DuFour of Dorset.

DuFour and the men are hoping to get the word out with an in-depth documentary. DuFour says the goal is to get the atomic veterans and their families compensation for their health problems.

DuFour is getting support from Vermont's congressional delegation. Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders and Rep. Peter Welch. He's asking anyone who was an atomic veteran to contact him -- 802-325-2925 or