The enemy Hank Bolden
faced did not come from a distant front line.
It came from the skies.
It’s a battle that’s still going on 65 years later. Bolden, who is now 82 years old, is an atomic veteran – one of hundreds of thousands of American service members used in human testing by the United States government during post-WWII nuclear tests and sworn to a secret life.
“They wanted to see how the living soldiers would resist the exposure
to radiation, ”recalls Bolden. “Before using live soldiers they were using
mannequins. But you don’t get real results using mannequins as you would
live bodies. “
A DIFFERENT TIME
While accompanying a friend to a New Haven recruiting station in 1953, Bolden was invited to join the army. At just 16 years old then and already out of high school, he admits that he “pulled down” his birth certificate to move to the age of 18, joining the approximately 200,000 underage soldiers who would have served during the Second World War and the eras of the Korean War.
After basic training in
Fort Dix was assigned to work as a tank mechanic in Texas before moving to Texas
California and becoming a surface-to-air missile mechanic.
Despite an executive order issued in July
26, 1948, by President Harry S. Truman to desegregate the armed forces, the last one
the all black units of the army were not abolished until 1954. And in 1955, Bolden
he says, racist attitudes persist even after the units have been racially integrated.
“The residual thoughts of people were firm
linger, “he says.” My outfit was 800 people strong. Thirteen of us were
black. Ten were from the South, who were more tolerant of treatment
they got racially. But the three of us from the North couldn’t tolerate it,
so I have had many fights over this. So I was the guy they wanted
get rid of.”
It would not be the only race
discrimination Bolden would witness as a soldier.
In 1955, the seventeen year old
he was suddenly ordered to the Nevada desert without explanation.
“They don’t tell you what you’re going to face,” he said. “Nobody
they knew what they were going to face. ”
What he would eventually face was a classified operation known as Operation Teapot at the Nevada Test Site. In a series of 14 bomb throws, or “hits”, military officials tried to test the effects of nuclear bombs on structures and strategies, animals and people.
All races of military personnel
participated in the Teapot operation. But upon arrival in Nevada, Bolden was
astounded to accomplish all the other soldiers in his new specially selected unit
for a mysterious assignment they were also black.
“There was this myth about black people
be able to resist, tolerate certain things more than any other race “, he
He says. “So it was a test on that too.”
AN ATOMIC NIGHT
One morning in February, Bolden
the unit was ordered in a desert trench. Unbeknownst to them, it was excavated
the expected route of the fallout, only 2.8 miles away from what it would have become
ground zero for the launch of an atomic bomb.
Even though a countdown sounded on the speakers, Bolden says, the soldiers still had no idea what they were about to face. Without protective gear in addition to the normal fabrics and helmets, they waited and looked.
“They tell you to cover your eyes”
On February 18, 1955, Shot Wasp, the first nuclear test of Operation Teapot, detonated a Mark 6 nuclear bomb dropped by a B-36 exactly at noon. A monstrous cloud of mushrooms filled the sky, reaching 21,500 feet in height.
“With radiation, when you put your arms over your eyes or hands, you actually see the bones, you see the bones in your body from the exposure. You can see your skeleton. “
After the relapse the warning came.
“You swore not to speak
“said Bolden. The soldiers were threatened with imprisonment and fines for violation
For 60 years, Bolden didn’t tell anyone. No this
family, not his wife, not his children. Not even her doctors when she spies on her
tumors have started to show. He developed bladder and posterior subcapsular cancer
cataract and in 1990 multiple myeloma was diagnosed.
“They actually gave me three and a half years
four years to live, ”recalls Bolden.
So in 1995 I should have been a statistic. “
But in 1995, Bolden was in remission. He is a citizen
the secret was coming to light.
Government figures estimate between 400,000 and 550,000 US military personnel who participated in a series of nuclear tests between 1946 and 1992. According to the Department of Defense’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency, this includes post occupation forces -Second World War of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, prisoners of war in Japan at the end of the Second World War, participants in the atmospheric nuclear tests in Nevada and the Pacific from 1945 to 1962 and participants in the underground nuclear tests in Nevada from 1951 to 1992.
Many of these “atomic veterans” have succumbed before their own
the stories have become public, their bodies are full of tumors. In
1990, the veil of secrecy began to lift.
After setting up the Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments to investigate 10-year experiments, President Clinton made a formal apology to American atomic veterans on October 3, 1995. By order of the president, Congress would repeal the nuclear radiation agreement law. and secrecy, allowing atomic veterans to talk about their experiences without fear of fines or treason charges. And financial compensation has been opened to all qualified atomic veterans.
“Those who led the government when these decisions were made are no longer here to take responsibility for what they have done. They are not here to apologize to survivors, family members or their communities whose lives have been overshadowed by shadow of these choices So today, on behalf of another generation of American leaders and another generation of American citizens, the United States of America offers sincere apologies to those of our citizens who have undergone these experiments. the government is wrong, we have a moral responsibility to admit it, “said President Bill Clinton on October 3, 1995
But the television address has been obscured. The same happened
day when OJ Simpson’s verdict was issued in a live classroom feed, taking
on televisions and news cycles across America.
As a result, many skilled veterans had no idea of the ban
the secrecy had been lifted, nor that they could claim benefits. Bolden no
find out until he researched the Internet, he says, in 2015.
“I was once so angry and so aggravating with the government that I thought I would be murdered to keep me from talking,” he says.
When Bolden attempted to apply for subsidies, he found that the burden of proof was placed on his fellow atomic veterans. The government would give compensation from the date a complaint was filed, but not retroactively, and only if the veteran could prove that he had participated in the tests – which proved to be an almost impossible task after millions of military documents were destroyed in a 1973 fire against the National Staff Registration Center. As many as 18 million documents were burned, including 80% of all army personnel discharged between 1912 and 1960.
“They hoped for it
would have died sooner or would have been one of those guys who surrendered ”
says Anthony Bolden, Hank’s son. “No thanks. Hank doesn’t have it.”
After paying her
own pocket for a polygraph lie detector pouch, Hank eventually claimed
approved, setting a precedent for other atomic veterans whose records were
Photo: Hidden story: the atomic veterans of America
Hit a high note
“The love of music has
I’ve always been there. “
After his honorable discharge
from the army, Bolden went to work as an engineer before deciding to pursue a
career as a jazz musician who works while his family grows. Tell the story
while cradling the tenor saxophone that has been at his side since 1967. The “Rolls
Royce “of tools, he says.
The brand is Selmer. IS
in a strange coincidence, the model is a 6 sign. It is the same name as the shot
Wasp atomic bomb design.
But this is where the
the similarities end. The bomb was his nightmare. Music, his dream and his
outlet to work through the trauma of what lived in Nevada
“It’s like the blood inside
my veins. It takes away all my other thoughts, “he says
Bolden is finally
he receives compensation from the government and is now using it to help make his dream come true.
He returned to school, studying jazz performances at Hartt University of Hartford
“They are like the relic
here with all these kids, you know, “he chuckles.
Professor Javon Jackson
says that the 82-year-old is leaving a unique mark on the prestigious program.
“He has a lot of emotion,” says Jackson. “He is a very bluesy, very full of feeling, a natural player. His life, wisdom and the things he has acquired allow him to play the way it sounds.”
The vast majority of
Today, the American atomic veterans of the atmospheric test era are gone. About
400,000 veterans were present during these tests, according to the veterans
Administration. Survivors’ numbers vary, from around 10,000 to 80,000
Bolden believes he is one of only two surviving African American atomic veterans who are recognized and receive compensation from the government. He is on a mission to reach as many survivors as possible and help them request the long-awaited recognition and compensation.
And he’s sharing his story, he says, to make sure the plight of American atomic veterans is no longer ignored.
“When people like me pass by, this won’t be part of the story unless someone makes sure it’s kept alive.”