Alarms sounded on United States Air Force bases in Spain and officers began packing all the low-ranking troops they could grab onto buses for a secret mission. There were cooks, grocery clerks and even musicians from the Air Force band.

It was a late winter night in 1966 and a fully loaded B-52 bomber on a Cold War nuclear patrol had collided with a refueling jet high over the Spanish coast, freeing four hydrogen bombs that went tumbling toward a farming village called Palomares, a patchwork of small fields and tile-roofed white houses in an out-of-the-way corner of Spain’s rugged southern coast that had changed little since Roman times.

It was one of the biggest nuclear accidents in history, and the United States wanted it cleaned up quickly and quietly. But if the men getting onto buses were told anything about the Air Force’s plan for them to clean up spilled radioactive material, it was usually, “Don’t worry.”

“There was no talk about radiation or plutonium or anything else,” said Frank B. Thompson, a then 22-year-old trombone player who spent days searching contaminated fields without protective equipment or even a change of clothes. “They told us it was safe, and we were dumb enough, I guess, to believe them.”

Mr. Thompson, 72, now has cancer in his liver, a lung and a kidney. He pays $2,200 a month for treatment that would be free at a Veterans Affairs hospital if the Air Force recognized him as a victim of radiation. But for 50 years, the Air Force has maintained that there was no harmful radiation at the crash site. It says the danger of contamination was minimal and strict safety measures ensured that all of the 1,600 troops who cleaned it up were protected.

Interviews with dozens of men like Mr. Thompson and details from never before published declassified documents tell a different story. Radiation near the bombs was so high it sent the military’s monitoring equipment off the scales. Troops spent months shoveling toxic dust, wearing little more protection than cotton fatigues. And when tests taken during the cleanup suggested men had alarmingly high plutonium contamination, the Air Force threw out the results, calling them “clearly unrealistic.”

This scene is becoming all too familiar.   These poor men have been ignored for almost a half-century.  A young man is a trombone player and ends up with terminal cancer.  Where is the justice?  All these men apparently want is to be acknowledged.  It would also be a nice tough for the VA to pay for their treatment.

Instead, there is continual denial because there is simply no “official’ record of their involvement with this major catastrophe.  No wonder people still question Roswell!  The military as a long history of denial and the arrogance of thinking they know what is best for everyone else.

My experience has been that the brass are often a huge bunch of blow-hards.

Come on Air Force, ‘fess up and take care of these men who served their time!

5 Thoughts to “More military medical cover-up”

  1. Steve Thomas

    Closer to home, look into the PCB-contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune NC, and the struggles faced by Veterans and their families, to get compensation for the illnesses suffered over the years.

    I was stationed there, during this period. For a short time, I lived in the barracks, drank and bathed in this water. My 2nd tour, I lived off-base, and was stationed on another part of the base, where the wells weren’t contaminated. Unfortunately, you had both servicemembers, and their dependents in on-base housing, who had long-term exposure to these chemicals.

    I was involved in the “remediation” but didn’t know what it was all about. All we knew was we had to go out to “ranges” and “LZ’s” where 40 years of crap was shot-up and buried, with oils and other chemicals just leaching into the soil.

    The elevation at camp Lejeune is low (sea level), and the water-table very high. When the combat-engineer’s dozers dug deep enough (15 feet or so), we hit water. There were old transformers, armored vehicles, trucks, jeeps, all kinds of stuff buried there, with crank-cases, transmissions, cooling shrouds all filled with chemical fluids. 40 years of water contamination.

    All kinds of documented health-issues have arisen. Yet the DoD, and the VA refuse to acknowledge that not only servicemembers, but their dependents also, were exposed to this.

    It’s one thing to be exposed to hazards in the conduct of war. War is by its very nature, hazardous. It’s quite another thing to refuse to acknowledge that harm was done to service members and their families, by the policies of the DoD.

    1. I agree, Steve.
      Many of us on this blog have a very dear friend who also has had bouts with a rare cancer that is undeniably related to his military service in Europe. Several members of his former unit have died from the same thing. My details are sketchy but I expect George will come along and fill in the blanks for me.

      Finally Agent Orange is now admissible as the cause of cancers and other ailments. My brother in law finally got a diagnosis but then he died within a couple years.

      We put so many people in harms way. The American people need to prioritize the health benefits for those who serve in the military and be willing to pay for them without going all T-Party on our politicians.

      Not that they are military but I am still seething over the 9-11 responders and volunteers in that clean up who can’t squeeze a dime out of anyone over their chronic health ailments.

      I hope you have no ill effects from any of your exposures.

    2. Now I am thinking about all those poor bastards who were involved in nuclear testing without any safety devices….
      I wonder how many of them lived to a normal life expectancy?

  2. George S. Harris

    Good morning Moon,
    Would have answered sooner but have been out of town. First of all, I regret you have called this a “Medical Coverup”. While I’m no longer close enough to the Sanctus Sanctorum to know, I would be the medical folks had nothing to do with these cover ups-Spain or Camp Lejeune. These types of decisions are made by folks much higher up the food chain.

    In the case of Spain, Dr. Lawrence Orland, who originally thought there was not an issue despite high levels of radiation noted in urine samples, tried to get the Air Force to establish a “Plutonium Deposition Registry Board” but the idea was shot down. Here is what the “New York Times” reported about Dr. Orland’s efforts:

    “Convinced that the urine samples were inadequate, Dr. Odland persuaded the Air Force in 1966 to set up a permanent “Plutonium Deposition Registry Board” to monitor the men for life.

    Experts from the Air Force, Army, Navy, Veterans Administration (now the Department of Veterans Affairs) and Atomic Energy Commission met to establish the program shortly after the cleanup. In welcoming remarks, the Air Force general in charge said the program was “essential” and following the men to their graves would provide “urgently needed data.”

    The organizers proposed not notifying troops of their radiation exposure and keeping details of testing out of medical records, according to minutes of the meeting, out of concern notifying them could “set a stage for legal action.”

    The plan was to have Dr. Odland’s staff follow the men. Within months, though, he had hit a wall.

    “He is not able to get the support from the Department of Defense to go after the remaining people or set up a real registry because of the sleeping-dog policy,” an Atomic Energy Commission memo from 1967 noted.

    “The sleeping dog policy? It was to leave it alone. Let it lie. I didn’t agree. Hell no, I didn’t agree,” Dr. Odland said. “Everyone decided we should watch these guys, take care of them. And then from somewhere up high they decided it was better to get rid of it.”

    Dr. Odland did not know who gave the order to terminate the program, but said since the board included all the military branches and the veterans agency, it likely came from top-level officials.

    The Air Force officially dismantled the program in 1968. The “permanent” board had met just once.”

    As a veteran, those affected are eligible for care but maybe not compensation at this point in time, which is wrong in my estimation. However (there) is always a “however”) they will be far down the queue for care. Pressure needs to continue to be brought on the VA and the Congress to correct this grave mis-justice.

    Here is a very important link as to what the VA is doing about Camp Lejeune: http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/camp-lejeune/index.asp

    Oh, BTW, there was a panel the looked at those folks involved in the nuclear testing but I don’t know what ever happened to that. I don’t subscribe to the Wall Street Journal but if any of you do, here is link to an article that I think is about studies that were done. http://www.wsj.com/articles/decades-after-nuclear-test-u-s-studies-cancer-fallout-1410802085

    1. Then who makes these determinations?

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