They were the nuclear guinea pigs of the Cold War.
And this is the shocking film to show how U.S. Marines were used in hundreds of experiments by the US military to test the limits of nuclear bombs between 1951 and 1957.
During many of those tests, soldiers who thought of themselves as ‘ground grunts’ and were sworn to secrecy witnessed the atomic explosions first-hand, and from close range, before the devastating health risks of those bombs were fully understood.
In Operation Desert Rock, the military conducted a series of nuclear tests in the Nevada Proving Grounds between 1951 and 1957, exposing thousands of participants – both military and civilian – to high levels of radiation.
In total, more nearly 400,000 American soldiers and civilians would be classified as ‘atomic veterans.’
Though roughly half of those veterans were survivors of World War II, serving at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, the rest were exposed to nuclear grounds tests which lasted until 1962.
In an article published last October, the Bangor Daily News, the paper notes that the government wished to keep the tests out of the public eye.
As a result, the plight of these soldiers exposed to high levels of radiation, suffering from radiation sickness, nausea, and cancers. Many of their children were born with deformities.
Former Marine James D. Tyler was one such soldier present at a bomb testing in 1957. He was told by his commanding officer to stand in six-foot ditch with fellow troops, keeping his head tucked under his arm, eyes closed.
He was 18 at the time, and participated with some 14,000 others in Operation Plumbbob. That operation consisted of 29 separate explosions as the military tested various types of warheads, in a move that is still controversial today.
Mr Tyler recounted his experience to the Daily News, and said that he was one of the lucky ones who didn’t show radiation symptoms.
The paper reports Mr Tyler has been in a bitter bureaucratic dispute with the Veteran’s Association to receive financial help for joint issues.
Operation Plumbbob released some 58,300 kilocuries of radioiodine into the atmosphere, large enough to produce thousands of cases of thyroid cancer and leukemia.
Another operation – called Operation Cue – sought to test how objects like buildings, food, clothing, and people, responded to nuclear explosions.
After the bomb deployed, soldiers would simulate operations like delivering food to victims of the attack and medically tending to them.
The fallout from that bomb reached 1,000 miles.
Close range: Some test dummies were put closer to the blast to see how they would fare
Watching the blast: Soldiers in the 1950s witnessed atomic bomb explosions from close range