Service members watch Operation Ivy’s atomic test, code named King, on Enewetak Atoll on Nov. 15, 1952. Credit: Courtesy of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Nevada Field Office

For decades, members of the military who participated in the U.S. atomic testing program have pushed to be recognized for their service. Hundreds of thousands were involved in atmospheric tests, mostly in the Pacific and in Nevada between 1946 and 1962.

Bills were introduced earlier this month in both the House and Senate that would create a service medal for these atomic veterans.

Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., introduced a measure calling for an “Atomic Veterans Service Medal, to honor retired and former members of the Armed Forces who are radiation-exposed veterans.”

The 2017 House National Defense Authorization Act also includes a provision to create a service medal for atomic veterans.

This isn’t the first attempt by members of Congress to create such a medal. Previous bills never made it out of committee.

Recognition would mean a lot to veterans who say they feel like they were used as “guinea pigs” in more than 200 atmospheric and underwater atomic tests.

“We did it for the country, not just ourselves,” said Frank Farmer, who participated in a series of tests in the Marshall Islands in 1958. “If it was for me, I wouldn’t have gone over there, but it’s for the country. When you sign up, you sign your life away, and they should be able to recognize people for that, regardless of what era they were serving in.”

A May report by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting examined atomic veterans’ struggle for compensation and recognition. Our reporting included a documentary published with Retro Report and an interactive map of atmospheric tests.

Jennifer LaFleur can be reached at jlafleur@cironline.org. Follow her on Twitter: @j_la28.

Jennifer LaFleur

Jennifer LaFleur worked at The Center for Investigative Reporting until September, 2017. Jennifer LaFleur is senior editor for data journalism for Reveal. Previously, she was the director of computer-assisted reporting at ProPublica and has held similar roles at The Dallas Morning News, the San Jose Mercury News and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first training director for Investigative Reporters and Editors. She has won awards for her coverage of disability, legal and open government issues. LaFleur is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.