The Atomic Duty of Private Bill Bires
October 20, 2003 8:22 AM   Subscribe

The Atomic Duty of Private Bill Bires. 'This is a short history of Pvt. Bill Bires' military duty with Co."A" 231st Engineer Combat Battalion from Ft. Lewis, Washington. Co. "A" was assigned temporary duty at the Atomic Test Series, Buster-Jangle in the Nevada desert, in the fall of 1951.'
'Co. "A"'s military duty at the test site was unique. While the rest of the battalion built the tent city known as Camp Desert Rock, Co. "A" was sent further into the desert to construct the displays of military equipment and postitioned them around the Ground Zeros for the atomic tests. '
'Thousands of troop observers from all parts of the country were brought forward from Camp Desert Rock to witness these atomic detonations. After the explosions, some were marched or bussed even closer to Ground Zero to see the effects of these explosions on military equipment. They then returned to Camp Desert Rock ... '
posted by plep (11 comments total)
By Wednesday evening everything was in a state of final readiness for the big show.

Fascinating stuff, disturbing in its first-hand, matter-of-fact manner. Cheers, plep!

Why were so very many signs needed?
posted by MiguelCardoso at 8:39 AM on October 20, 2003

and the dude has never had to spend a dime on a nightlight.
posted by quonsar at 9:09 AM on October 20, 2003

"The Government's program for monitoring the health effects of the tests was inadequate and, more disturbingly, all evidence suggesting that radiation was having harmful effects, be it on the sheep or the people, was not only disregarded but actually suppressed."

Much more ore about the testing in the 50's, at home and abroad can be found in "KILLING OUR OWN" by Harvey Wasserman & Norman Solomon.
posted by ahimsakid at 9:18 AM on October 20, 2003

Is this anywhere near Black Rock Desert, NV? Lots of glow in the darks there.
posted by stbalbach at 9:21 AM on October 20, 2003

Very interesting. That happened in 1951, so like 6 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One would guess that the doctors already had enough samples of what radiation did to japanese people , yet they sent their own soldiers to certain radiation overexposure not mentioning population.Guess somebody already tought about calling them "heros" , giving them a couple medals , erecting some monument here and there hoping that this fuckup is quickly forgotten. That's old news but it's always revolting.
posted by elpapacito at 9:23 AM on October 20, 2003

Excellent link, plep. I wrote an article about this site for Wired News in 1997, and interviewed Bires. (Alas, the external links in my article are dead now, I believe.)

Bires' final quote in the article seems particularly germane now, re: use of depleted-uranium munitions in Iraq:

The government treatment of atomic vets hasn't improved in recent years, Bires claims. "I was at the VA office yesterday," he says, "and it's the same game: stonewalling. It's a really shabby way for the government to treat these guys who were drafted. They couldn't kill me with an atom bomb, so then they sent me to Korea, and that didn't kill me. Now they hope a bus hits me when I walk out the door. They're waiting for us to die."
posted by digaman at 9:24 AM on October 20, 2003

While we are at it I may as well post a link to disturbing yet real pictures of people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
posted by elpapacito at 9:36 AM on October 20, 2003

Funny how they warned the general public about the Soviet threat of atomic war while quietly subjecting members of our own military to more radiation than was used in WW II. And, as elpapacito points out, it's not like they didn't already have clear evidence of its harmful effects.

Most people who join the military have at least an expectation of being put into harm's way, but I'm sure most of them don't expect that harm to be coming from our own government.
posted by tommasz at 11:11 AM on October 20, 2003

Folks should be aware that thousands of civilians downwind from these nuclear tests experienced increased incidence of cancer and other diseases. None were informed of the dangers of these tests beforehand.

Poisoning the sacred land, water, and air: your tax dollars at work.

For a moving account of one downwind family's suffering across generations, read Refuge, by Terry Tempest Williams.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 5:01 PM on October 20, 2003

There's actually widely available footage of one of these experiments: Check out Atomic Cafe for a taste. (a frikkin' beautiful piece of found-footage documentary if ever there was one - and now available with pristine DVD quality!)
posted by kaibutsu at 1:38 AM on October 21, 2003

17,000 people exposed to atomic tests. Here's a set of links to stories from the Adelaide Advertiser about the 1950s British atomic tests in the Australian outback, which were conducted about the same time as the Nevada tests : Mums, babies had picnics during tests, advice for surviving the bomb, Aborigines died in test site bunker, nuclear dust settled across 1950s Adelaide, hidden documents on A-bomb tests and more ... A shocking tale, indeed (and one in which both the UK and Australian governments were complicit).
posted by plep at 3:12 AM on October 21, 2003

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