Interview with three members of the International Alliance of Atomic Veterans
BROADCAST: May. 17, 1984 | DURATION: 00:55:47
Interviewing an American, Australian and Scottish member of the International Alliance of Atomic Veterans. The International Alliance of Atomic Veterans is a veterans' group committed to the abolishing of all nuclear weapons.
Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.
Studs Terkel You know, we know that something happened back in August 1945, something new in the world, never before as destructive, the atom bomb on two cities where human beings lived. We know that. Hiroshima and Nagasaki. How much do we know about the atom bomb tests involving American soldiers and sailors and now we know involving people of the British forces as well as Australian? There's a new group, there's a group called the Alliance, International Alliance of Atomic Veterans, these are World War II veterans and those shortly after who experienced bomb tests. And they're here to tell the story that we must know. And Anthony Guerisco, Tony Guerisco was with the American forces, you were at Bikini in 1946, and we'll hear his story. And then there's Con Von Munster of the Australian forces, you were in, there was an atom test in 1950?
Studs Terkel Six. Ten years ago, many tests in between, this was in an island called--
Cornelis Von Munster Maralinga, in fact it was on the Australian mainland. It's in South Australia on--well, it's pretty much of a desert country there, and well, the time I was there in 1956 there were four blasts, and two on the tower, one on ground level, and one was an air drop.
Studs Terkel We'll come to that as we go along, and Kenny McGinley of Scotland, a member of the British forces, and you were there in that place called Christmas Island and there was a blast or tests there in '58, was it. And, so, where do we begin? May I suggest you since you three have gone through an experience and no doubt each of knows about it physically, too, we'll come to that or an friends of yours, too. There was someone you knew, Tony Guerisco. John Smitherman.
Anthony Guerisco Yes, yes, I knew John Smitherman very well. Him and I belonged to the same Atomic Veterans Association and of course John Smitherman was the president of NAV, and of course John Smitherman had a very painful life in the 10 or 15 years prior to his death. He lost both of his legs, one leg at a time, and finally his one arm was grotesquely large because of the poisons that were settling there and finally he succumbed of--and died.
Studs Terkel Tony, as you speak of this, I remember him so well, because you were with him when he died, but I was there a couple of months before to see him, to visit him. To Mulberry, Tennessee and Nashville.
Anthony Guerisco Yes.
Studs Terkel And I hear a voice, a friendly voice welcome me into the door. I came with a guy who drove me, the dog barking. And here I see this handsome man and I walk in, I notice that he's in a wheelchair though he wheels by himself, no legs, and of course I couldn't take my eyes away from his left hand, which was elephantine in--and John tells a story, I remember this young, strong, farm boy out of Kentucky and Tennessee, young kid, 19, 20, in 1946 very patriotic, loves country and everything, and John tells the story that was being had--suppose we hear his voice, and that'll set the three of you off, I know, thinking. This is John.
John Smitherman Those bombs that destroyed two cities didn't destroy any military installations, but old men, women and children. This is what angers a lot of people. It was really old men, women, and children that they destroyed in Nagasaki and the same thing in Hiroshima. This is really a terrible thing. They still didn't know what they'd done, because they couldn't conceive the devastation of these bombs that they were dropping over there. Then seven months later, eight months later, without getting too much data, went right in and detonated two more. And they didn't have their proper equipment. They didn't have even the proper equipment, they didn't have the equipment to catch on or to gauge the beta or the alpha radiation that I was exposed to. Apparently, they didn't have--and the machinery that they had, half of it wasn't working. So, you see, these tests that they were doing certainly was not on behalf of any of the men that was involved in the military. They were used, I feel, personally, that they were all used as guinea pigs, and there was--we were out there for a reason and now, some 35 years later, Uncle Sam is beginning to gather a lot of data from these men and knowing for a fact that there's scattered sporadically over the United States not enough in one group to do any harm to the congressmen or senators they call their constituents to create a problem.
Studs Terkel What about those men, those brass, the last question. On the Mount McKinley? Were they affected by it?
John Smitherman Oh, no. They stayed under cover the whole time. They wore heavy clothing all the time. They were protected all the time.
Studs Terkel Wait a minute. The officer, brass, all wore heavy
John Smitherman Oh, yes, oh, sure, absolutely. And the people they came around and were using these Geiger counters on us to, on checkpoints. They had these big, they had their britches tied around their ankles and had, you know, we wasn't--
Studs Terkel Oh, so the press, the Geiger counter scientists and the naval brass, or military brass all had protective clothing.
John Smitherman Absolutely.
Studs Terkel But you young sailors didn't.
John Smitherman We didn't have
Studs Terkel You just had your shorts on.
John Smitherman That's right. That's exactly right.
Studs Terkel What are your thoughts, Tony, hearing this, hearing John?
Anthony Guerisco Well, it's hearing voice, hearing his voice. You know, I was with him when he died, and kind of, I can, you know I'm affected by that. John was a very honest person, and everything he's saying, of course, is true. I was at Bikini with John. I never knew him personally, but I happened to be one of 31 men who were on the island continuously, and I would see John when he would come over to Bikini on the island. His duty was to climb the towers that held the equipment, photograph equipment, testing equipment, that were up in the top of these towers. So we would see John going up these towers right in front of our vessel, which was beached up on the beach of Bikini and he would go up there like, just like a giant-size ape. He had a fantastic build on him, and he's--always wore his shorts and had his shirt off, and he looked just like a wrestler. And he was a very gentle person even then. I never, I had spoken to him, but never as a personal friend. In fact, there was one or two times when he came aboard our ship and had a cup of coffee or something called a drink. So I knew John, he understood the Atomic Veterans, and he was at Bikini, of course. We never were close friends until we were in the National Association of Atomic
Studs Terkel What about your own experiences, you, Anthony Guerisco? Start from the beginning, you were a young guy.
Anthony Guerisco Well, I was aboard a vessel, the LST 388. It was a landing ship tank-type vessel that would, during an invasion would run up on the beach and then these large, large doors would open up and allow tanks to come out, and go, you know, and be able to, you know, use them in an invasion during time of war. Well, the people aboard my ship, approximately 70 of us, we were all World War II veterans. Most of us had been right there in the Pacific in that area during the war and had gone off through the last invasion of Okinawa and we'd seen the defeat of the Japanese. After the war was over, why, I was asked to reenlist to take up the slack of the many people that were leaving, and when I did that, my first assignment after coming back and starting my next two years of duty, was to be sent to Bikini. Well, we--I went aboard this LST over there in Pearl Harbor and what they were doing was just amazing. I stood there and I watched them, I watched these huge cargo nets come in with thousands of cases of different types of things that you would be using for recreation. We didn't know where we were going. Everything was secret. After the ship was loaded and we started off to sea again, it was not unusual for us to leave port without knowing where we were going, because this was the way it was all through the war. Well, when we were about a day and a half or two days out to sea, we were told that we were on our way to an island called Bikini in the Marshall chain and that in fact we were going to take part in the making of a new--of history. That we were part of history in the making. Well, we all were very happy. We were off on a new adventure. The war was over, we didn't have to darken ship at night. We could watch movies on the fantail with the lights on and everybody could smoke if they, those that smoked cigarettes didn't have to worry about darkening ships, so it was a very happy affair. We were all very young and adventurous, and I can remember when I, when we got to Bikini because we were actually the first ship to get there. And we arrived there. Now that I can look back at the history of it and compare dates, we got there approximately the day or two days after the natives had been taken off of Bikini, which is a very sad story in itself. Well, we beached up on this island and I can remember being very impressed at the beauty of this island, because having been all through the Pacific, I'd been through practically all the chains, I'd seen this fantastic island that looked like something grown up in a flower pot, and when we got there we found out that we were going to be part of a series of atomic bomb explosions. Well, I can only tell you about myself personally. I had just had been home. I was born and raised in Chicago and I had just returned from Chicago going back, back to sea again, and I had spoken with my dad about the war and my dad and I were always very close, and we talked about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and my father had expressed to me his concern about the men and women and children that were killed in Japan, and of course I felt very, very confused about that. And, but I, like every other person I knew in the service was patriotic, we never questioned things like that, we just went on. Well, anyway, our duty on the island was to take care of the people who would come onto Bikini and as far as for recreation. And I can remember doing that, and then I can remember we had orders that we were going to be pulling off the island and taking our position to watch this first atomic bomb test after World War II, after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the one, the bombs that were used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were approximately 12 kiloton. We were going to be double that size, approximately 23 kiloton. So we took our position approximately what we estimated to be approximately eight miles away from the test. We were told to sit down on the deck, all we wore was just our regular clothes Scooby shirts, you know, light t-shirts and some dungarees and our white hats, we sat down on the deck, pulled our knees up, put our arms over our knees and put our eyes in the crotch of our arm, and we sat there, and we could hear the bombardier. We could hear him giving the countdown to zero. And when he said "Bombs Away," the last thing we were told which we had been instructed over and over, was to keep our eyes closed tightly and do not turn around and look at the bomb until we were told to do so. The first thing I knew of a bomb going off was I had this sensation that someone had turned a red light on in my head. And soon after that, we were told we could turn around and look, you're not--and as I seen this light, as this light came on in my head, I could feel some heat come across this. And then I turned up, turned around I look and I seen this fantastic fireball that was just growing and growing. It was--well, I just was not prepared for it. You know, I was expecting to see a detonation with maybe a larger amount of TNT, but you could just see this horrendous terrible expansion going on continuously, you could hear the electricity, the electronics in it crackling, and when the concussion finally came to us it moved everybody, but it was different than anything I'd ever felt inasmuch as that it felt like somebody had put their arms around me and just kind of grabbed me and just was squeezing me and shaking me. And then it just turned loose again, and then we could hear it going off in the distance and it just was like a rumble that would just never quit, it just kept rolling and rolling away.
Studs Terkel I'm going to ask you to go along after we hear from Con and Kenny.
Anthony Guerisco Sure.
Studs Terkel Of each of you about what effects you've experienced since then, you yourself, and also of guys you knew. [unintelligible] Let's take a break here and resume after this message, gentlemen. And so, Con, Cornelis Von Munster, you. Australia. What's your, how's it begin?
Cornelis Von Munster Well, actually, ironically, it's strange how just the little things sort of can make such an effect in your life, because I really sort of finished up going to Maralinga quite by accident and the engineering unit that I was with--
Studs Terkel Maralinga was the island where the tests were.
Cornelis Von Munster Yes, that's right. But it's on the mainland actually, it's not a separate island, but I was posted to an engineering unit in Sydney and only shortly, I was only there for about a week when one of the mechanics there, I was a diesel mechanic at the time, one of the mechanics there was posted to Maralinga. Now this young fella, he just had a baby, or rather his wife did, and she was still in hospital so naturally he didn't want to go, and he was looking for somebody to take his place, so I said, "Well, fair enough. I don't mind, you know, I was single at the time," so we sort of exchanged places with, of course, the CO's permission. So the next thing I know I was on the plane to Maralinga. My actual job there was looking after generator sets in the forward area, there's your various towers and camera towers and other monitoring sites, which each had a small mobile generator, so it was set up there, and there were four of us all together looking after these generators, refueling, keeping them clean, keeping them running, because naturally they were kept running to 24 hours a day. At the actual time of the blast I was about eight or nine mile away at a roadside centre there where we had a little workshop set up, and we were just completely out in the open, very much the same as what Tony was just saying. No real protection, we were just wearing a pair shorts and
Studs Terkel Were you told anything? What did the authorities tell you, your superiors?
Cornelis Von Munster No, we weren't really told anything very much at all. I think we were a little bit fortunate there because sort of working on the technical stuff we were working with a lot of the technicians and scientists there, so naturally you pick up a lot of things and you know, you have a bit of an idea you knew what was going on, and we knew that it was something pretty horrific that was going to happen but, you know, you're never really quite prepared for what it really is.
Studs Terkel We'll ask as we go along. You were how old roughly?
Cornelis Von Munster I was 20.
Studs Terkel You were 20. Tony, you were about 21.
Studs Terkel Nineteen. [unintelligible] Kenny McGinley, you're from Scotland, you were with the British forces. How does it begin for you?
Kenneth McGinley Well, it began for me when I sailed out on a ship, the T.T Dunera, on New Year's Eve in 1957.
Studs Terkel Nineteen fifty-seven.
Kenneth McGinley And it was a four-week trip and we arrived there roughly the end of January, but we were only told about the bomb tests approximately two weeks before we arrived there. We didn't know--we knew where we were going, but we didn't know what we were going there for. And in that 11-month space I was subject to watching three hydrogen bombs and two atomic bombs. We later found out that the medical profession were not really held responsible for our health after six months on the island, and there was a problem because the Department of Defense and the Department of Health had a disagreement about how long we should actually spend there. But anyway, the first health effects I actually had was about four days after the test, when I broke out in blisters all over my face and hands and--
Studs Terkel Four days after the test that you would--at Christmas Island.
Kenneth McGinley Yes.
Studs Terkel Blisters, you say.
Kenneth McGinley Yes. It was a hydrogen bomb in a [million?] ton range that was exploded, and I was sitting right on the beach when it exploded, along with many other of us. And I had immediate effects from it. I did receive medical treatment, and later I found out that they, there was notes entered in my medical records.
Studs Terkel We'll just keep it open now, we're talking now about three young men, young American, Tony Guerisco, 19 years old in 1946, Bikini, Marshal chain. Con Von Munster, Australian forces, ten years later, 1956. Kenny McGinley, Scottish of the British forces, 12 years later, and in your case hydrogen was added. So what were you--John Smitherman, his voice you heard, said all these young men were made to sign an oath in front of guards. They will never reveal anything of their experiences for years, and until John spoke he kept it quiet. Was that your experience too, Tony?
Anthony Guerisco No, we didn't sign an oath. A lot of men did. On my ship we were just told that we were, everything we've seen and heard, that that operation, as far as they were concerned, that was it. We were never, ever to speak to anyone about it, that the lives of American people depended on it. And it was, you know, and having been indoctrinated into the military, you know, thinking why that was it, we left the service and never did say anything, not to our mothers or fathers or anyone. When we--after the bomb was detonated, we immediately went back into the lagoon just a couple of hours after that. What we did is, we wormed our way through these target vessels that were, some of them were on fire. Some of were scorched up, some of them looked like a giant had stepped on them and just crushed the [mini?] superstructure on them. We went back into the beach, beached our craft up there again and stayed there doing our regular duties. Nobody ever warned us, nobody ever told us anything, nobody told us we should take any precautions. Some of us went back in the water and swam, just went about our regular duties.
Studs Terkel Con, you or Kenny. Do you have any experience of that sort?
Cornelis Von Munster Yes, oh, we did have, yes. Actually, we at Maralinga, we were required to sign this secrecy document. I can't remember the exact wording of it, it's gone back a bit too far but, you know, we had to actually go through a security area where we came off the train, and we were issued with a pass, of course, that you're [only allowed?] to be on the range. And we had to sign this thing there.
Studs Terkel How long, I'm curious, because John said he was so scared, you know, and he indoctrinated, that almost until recently he kept quiet, didn't even tell his mother or his wife until finally he realized he was had. What about you, Kenny?
Kenneth McGinley Well, regarding any document, I can't recall seeing one, but if I had known that the chief of staff's committee who met on the 20th of May in 1953, that their intention were to use us as guinea pigs because we have now in our possession, and it's actually being released in America now, the intentions of the British government, which were, and quoting from that, "The army must discover the detailed effects of various states of explosions on stores, equipment and men with or without protective clothing. So if I had I known what I was getting in for, having not been warned or anything, this is what the intentions they had for us. And I think that it really criminally irresponsible in their intentions.
Studs Terkel We'll keep this open, now I was just thinking that we haven't talked about the effects. We know the effect it's had on some veterans. We know. Suppose you pick up with that, Tony, and this is open. What about yourself?
Anthony Guerisco Well, I'll tell you the experiences and what effect it had on me. When I seen this, the first detonation, I was so awed, it's hard to put into words, but my immediate thought was with the people at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And I'll tell you I felt very, very saddened and very ashamed of what our government did at those two cities. When we went back in there and we seen these ships that have been our homes, ships that we had served our country on, ships that we lived and fought on, there was many of the men who were no longer on these ships but were now going to board them trying to put out fires, trying to keep them from sinking, who were just very, very bitter. Very bitter. They didn't like the idea of taking a proud aircraft carrier or a proud battleship out there that they had lived on and been their home for so long, and they had fought, had seen their friends, some of them die aboard these ships, trying to save the ships during a time of war, and then to see them taken out there, and they had to actually deliver these ships out there to this target area and get off and then watch them destroy it. So you know, I know when they came ashore and I would talk to a lot of these sailors, and we had soldiers, we had Marine, Air Force there, you know, they said, "You know, what's going on? You know, what are we doing here?" You know, this was supposed to be a program that's called "Atoms for Peace". That was what they titled the program, "Atoms for Peace", and we said, "If this is 'Atoms for Peace', what's going to happen here once they start using these things during a war?" It was very frightening.
Studs Terkel I was thinking of the effects physically, you know.
Studs Terkel Were you affected in any way?
Anthony Guerisco Yes I was, but not until after the second detonation.
Studs Terkel The second, there were two.
Anthony Guerisco There was two, right.
Studs Terkel There was one they called "Abel," and one they called "Baker."
Anthony Guerisco Right. The second one was the Baker detonation, which was the same 23-kiloton, it was a plutonium bomb, and it was a very, it was a shallow water detonation, and this one here was the one that really did the damage to the target array. It was approximately 100 or 125 ships made when they detonated the second one, we were two miles away from that one, looking straight at the explosion, and we seen aircraft carriers and battleships going up in the air like little toys. Some of them would come down and just went right straight to the bottom and never came back up again. Others came down in two pieces. Well, within hours again we went back into the lagoon again, beached our craft back up on the beach, went about our duty. We didn't know that it's, that a--well, first of all, what's very important to understand about Baker and the reason it was so deadly was that this plutonium bomb, when it exploded, the scientific community in the military had stated, and we have, this is all open records now that we have discovered, that in order for this to be a perfectly safe detonation, what had to happen was that the water column and the clouds carrying these millions of tons of water would have to go a minimum of 10,000 feet in the air so the prevailing winds could blow it off. The official records says that the water column and water went approximately 6,000 feet. I think that's not quite right. I think it was from three to four. But in any event, all this water came back down into the lagoon, and the plutonium that was in the water that had attached itself to the salt in the water, was in the lagoon, it fell on the ship, it fell on the island, a seven-foot tidal wave of radioactively plutonium-contaminated water went across the, completely across the island, when we went back on there, back on the island unknowingly we were walking around in alpha and beta particles in very highly contaminated plutonium. Within two to three days after the second detonation, I became violently ill. I was vomiting, I was very sick. I was very ill, I was, I had a fever. I had dizziness, nausea, I was--had all the symptoms of having a severe case of influenza that would just knock you right off your feet. I was urinating blood. I was--I broke out with a rash over my body that was, it was like welts, like somebody had, you know, beat me with a strap, and I had illness that lasted for approximately five or six days, two days being very, very severe. We didn't have a pharmacist mate. I requested to go to see a doctor. There was evidently, there was a terrible concern about men at that time, and I think there was a lot of other men were ill, and probably that's why I never did get to see a doctor, but I did see a pharmacist mate, which is equivalent to a doctor aboard our ship, and he wasn't feeling very good himself and didn't feel like, look, you know, it wasn't--
Studs Terkel And what's happened since? Have you had any effects since?
Anthony Guerisco Well, yes I did. Again, when we left Bikini to go to another island, what they tried to do we found out was to decontaminate the bottom of our ship. They tried to send us to another island called Pohnpei and have us come back to Bikini again, and on the way to Pohnpei I got ill again along with others. When we left Bikini, they loaded our ship up with 475 tons of radioactive equipment that we took back to Pearl Harbor, and when I--by the time I got to Pearl Harbor I was ill again. They sent me aboard a hospital ship this time. I went over there, they examined me. They took a sperm test to see if I was sterile. I asked them why I should be concerned about being sterile, they said, "Well, if anything was to happen to you at this bomb test you were at, you would probably be sterile."
Studs Terkel It's interesting, isn't it, they knew something, didn't they?
Studs Terkel I'll ask Con and, now I was going to pick up, we'll come back to you today and what symptoms you, which I know you do have. We come to Con and to Kenny. You know, Kenny mentioned a moment ago the blisters that happened suddenly. Con, did you? What about your case?
Cornelis Von Munster I didn't have any immediate after-effects like that. My after, the after-effects, well, I think that the radiation I was exposed to really took place over a much longer period and probably not quite as intensive, because I feel myself that most of the radiation I received was not actually during the blast, but it was in the days immediately afterwards going back into the area, recovering equipment and working on the equipment and these sort of things. And, well actually, the first, really, problem that I had would have been about a year after the test, when I suddenly developed a very bad pain which first of all, our unit medical officer said, "Oh, it looks like you've got an appendix that's going to have to come out in a hurry." So they shot me straight off into hospital and run a lot of checks on me and I was never, ever operated for an appendix. I was just left there for about two weeks. And the whole thing seemed to settle down again. But well, I've never really been 100 percent since then. This pain still occurs occasionally. Not real bad, but it's there, and because my digestive system is, well, it's working, but it's not real good.
Studs Terkel You think it's connected with the experience.
Cornelis Von Munster Well, I think it probably is, yes.
Studs Terkel Of course, we know that more and more medical studies are indicating it. Kenny McGinley, blisters broke out immediately. Then what happened?
Kenneth McGinley Well, when I returned, actually, right to the UK, I met my girlfriend in December it was actually when I returned, and I collapsed in church. It was actually at Midnight Mass when we went to church together, and I was took away that night, and there was, [took?] internal hemorrhaging. I was taken to a hospital, I was still in the forces at the time, I was home on leave, furlough, and the doctor just was, there was no explanation for it through X-rays. Then two months after that, the same thing occurred again, when I was with my, back with my unit again, internal hemorrhaging again, so I was given pills, and that was it, and only kept in overnight, and sent back to [chit? jit?] in the morning. My system, as Con has just said, very similar to his one, mine is very, very--the [unintelligible] has been devastated, actually. And going on to the sterility state, I've been married 24 years now and, my wife and I have no kids at all, but I have, we have adopted a wee girl.
Studs Terkel Sounds very much like someone Tony knows. Warren Zinc. You know, Warren Zinc and his wife Irene I believe.
Anthony Guerisco Yes, two lovely, lovely people.
Studs Terkel Love children, never had, and Warren attributes it as indeed his doctors do, too.
Anthony Guerisco Yes.
Studs Terkel So what about you today, Tony?
Anthony Guerisco Well, well I would like you to say one thing.
Studs Terkel Sure.
Anthony Guerisco Again, when I was discharged, again I came back to Chicago to continue my life. I wanted to get back to school so I took a job just temporarily driving a cab until I get back in school, and again I had the same illnesses again. I was taken out to Hines Hospital in Illinois and I again was in the hospital, but I had persistently, I've had things happening to me. First of all, I had urological problems happening with my bladder, my kidney, and my prostate, which now have been worsening and I've been told now that, you know, it's something I'll have to live with for the rest of my life. I have a degenerative spinal condition involving muscles and nerves and spontaneous fusion of the entire spinal column. Plus I have a pulmonary disease that I've had, and I've lived with these diseases and illnesses now for 25 years and I'm now on Social Security disability. I'm unable to work. I feel that, I feel that having served my country during World War II and in the Pacific I feel like a lot of other Atomic Veterans that you know, I survived the Japanese only to fall victim of our own government. What's really the sad thing about it is that there's a nuclear policy set in place in this country that says that as long as we have these nuclear bombs and we're doing this nuclear testing, as long as the nuclear industry is as strong as it is, and it is very strong, and as long as the government is working hand-in-hand with the nuclear industry selling radiation, this government is not going to recognize that there are radiation victims, or let alone that they're the one that created the victims.
Studs Terkel So we have to come to this, don't we? The respective governments. We know John Smitherman's and so many thousands of others who have the same experience that John has had and that you have had, Kenny, in Christmas Island and you, Con, in Maralinga, our government--we'll come to British and the Australian in a moment. Let's take another break here and resume after this message. There's a denial that the illnesses these thousands suffer from, that their personal doctors attribute to that experience has no connection with their being there. Is that the government's position, the Veterans' Administration, the others?
Anthony Guerisco Well, that's the government's position. You see, we know now from records that have been uncovered that have to do with the Stafford L. Warren collection. Stafford Warren clear back in 1946 was a colonel in charge of the radiological monitoring system at Bikini and set the, he set the stage for all monitoring that had to be done throughout the world as far as monitoring safely the exposure to men. What we have found out that clear back in as early as 1946 at Bikini Atoll that our government, the American government, knew quite well what the dangers were. They knew quite well that the risk that the men were being put in, they knew quite well that there would be effects from the radiation, and they knew even how about how long it would take before these effects would arise.
Studs Terkel We'll come to the question what benefits do you get, if any, because there's no admission there. They knew of it. What about the Australian government and veterans such as yourself?
Cornelis Von Munster Well, we are in the same position. We get, really, no benefits at all, because there is normally in the Australian Veterans Affairs laws that the only veterans that are actually covered by Veterans Affairs are those that actually serve overseas or in prescribed areas. Now, Maralinga never ever was such an area. So we are, actually, not covered at all. The only thing that was changed there was in 1972 when the Labor Government came into power, and the Veterans Affairs Act was changed then so that after 1972 all soldiers are covered, but now we're left this gap from about 1949, I think it is, to 1972 where the people serving in between that area in that period of time are not covered by anything.
Studs Terkel No admission of any connection.
Cornelis Von Munster Oh, no, not at all.
Studs Terkel Kenny McGinley, what about the British?
Kenneth McGinley Oh, the British government, they continue very similar, actually, to the American government. But I think we're looking at only two governments here. I think we're looking at the American government and the Great Britain government for maybe an obvious reason, because after World War Two there was two documents: the Feres Doctrine and the Current Proceedings Act 1947, Section 10. Now, these two statements were to ensure that no servicemen could sue their respective countries. And I think these are brought in because they knew that there would be atomic veterans in the future. I believe they had plenty of time to think of this between 1918 and 1938. That's 20-year lapse. Why all of a sudden just in that two-year period were these two statements made by Great Britain and America?
Anthony Guerisco Well, yeah, it seems you know, we really should explain what that means. The Feres Doctrine was a law and also in the same type of law in the United Kingdom. This law what it did in fact was eliminate veterans as being first-class citizens. By that I mean we were completely cut off from the judiciary system. We have no rights in the courts. In other words, if we want to go up to the court and say, "Listen, you know, we've been paying $50,000 for, of our own hard money because we've been paying for our own treatment because of radiation-related illnesses that the government caused, and now we would like to sue them to have our $50,000, at least that much paid back to us." We cannot do that because the government is protected by the Feres Doctrine, which says any personnel who served in a country cannot sue their country.
Studs Terkel Because here you have a case, don't you, with we know there are thousands of veterans, American and U.K. veterans, Australian included, because we know now the evidence is overwhelming that the illnesses many people have, blood illnesses, leukemia, others, John Smitherman and a whole variety of others down the line and, Vic Talley's friends and Warren Zinc and Joseph Stasiak as well as colleagues in Australia and in the British forces directly connected. We know that. But there is no admission by any of these governments of it.
Anthony Guerisco Exactly. You see, for them to admit that there are victims, they would then point the finger at themselves as being the true culprits, as being the true people who are responsible for what's happened here. And like I say, when you're in the business of selling radiation like we are--like we, I'm speaking about the United States and the nuclear industry, you're not going to, you're not going to even mention victims, let alone, you know, admit that you're the one who is causing these victims. You know, recently we've seen our president, President Reagan, just went over to the communist China and has made a deal for Bechtel to go in there and build 10 to 15 nuclear power plants. Well, if you've got a salesman going over there to China to make a nuclear deal for the nuclear industry to sell radiation, you're not going to turn around and say radiation hurts people.
Studs Terkel Of course, we're also talking about an atomic blasts, although Kenny felt hydrogen as well. We know today the bombs, the missiles are thousandfold more powerful than that, we're talking about the, how far it's gone. What is your group? Now we come to the group, don't we?
Anthony Guerisco Yes.
Studs Terkel To the International Alliance of Atomic Veterans, the first time there's been an international group together who had this common experience.
Kenneth McGinley Well, in the last year we actually the first stages into motion. I was approached, as I was chairman of Great Britain I was approached by the American Veterans Association and I did answer back to say that I'd be more interested in everybody sitting at [house and and all?] at first and receiving as much information as possible and discuss it at a later date, Mr. Guerisco came to London this year, and we thought it was an opportune time to really go for an international association with Australia, Canada, America and ourselves of course, and we think that now we've gained so much ground over the past few days and so much experience. We know what we're speaking because we are the people that actually took part in these devastating tests, and nobody is listening to us individually, in our own countries for such a long, long time that by one voice speaking for the four countries, I believe that we can speak not falling on deaf ears to our own countries, but somewhere even higher than that for individual countries.
Cornelis Von Munster Actually, also in addition to what Ken was just saying, you know, there's been so much more research done here on the medical side that you know, I think we can probably be of great service to our own people by bringing back, you know, whatever information we can gather here and also taking up contact with various institutions such as CARS so that we can let our medical people in Australia know where they can get, really, the information that they need.
Anthony Guerisco Yeah, well, you know, I think it's important that we tell you as an international alliance, the international alliance--we've, of course we address the concerns and needs of Atomic Veterans, their widows and their genetically affected children. But I think the main, one of the main reasons that we're all here today you know, that we have Canada and the small group we have now, we're making inroads into New Zealand and France and hopefully Russia and of course the Fijians, because the Fijis were very well involved in what we're doing. What our concern is now is nuclear testing, and one of our main reasons for being here, along with the concerns and needs of the Atomic Veterans is to talk to the American people as we go across our country here and explain to them the insanity of nuclear testing. We are the living and maimed example of what nuclear testing is. I mean, if you want to talk about multiple myeloma cancer of the bone marrow, if you want to talk about polycythemia vera, here we are, we're just small people that really never even understood or how to even pronounce these words. We now know what they are, we know what they do, we know of the danger of them. We know that they're radiation-related, and our concern is that with the nuclear testing that is still going on in this country and around the world, and I might add there's been over 1400 detonations that have been detonated on this precious planet of ours, our concern now is global fallout. And our concern is for our children, our grandchildren and your children and your grandchildren, and of course the people that are coming, hopefully that will be born after us. You know, it's almost too late for the Atomic Veterans. If help was to start right now, you know, to take care of Atomic Veterans, for those of us who have been suffering and will be undoubtedly dying, service-connected disabilities would be very comforting for our widows, and it would help our children to some extent. For us it's not going to make any difference, you know. If you're dying of polycythemia vera or a leukemia cancer, I don't care if you put a million dollars in front of a person. It's, you know, it's not going to make you get up and walk around. So what we're doing is we want to warn people of nuclear testing. We're telling people that now is the time to call for a comprehensive nuclear test ban, a verifiable test ban, to sit down and start talking, really talking seriously about a test ban to see if we can bring a halt to the insanity that now threatens each and every one of us.
Studs Terkel Kenny.
Kenneth McGinley The three cities so far that we've been to, Con and I, the response and kindness and hospitality has truly mean unbelievable. New York was fantastic. It was an experience for me, living in our small island and then going to New York. To Boston was really a great response there. I went to Atlanta, Georgia and I thought that was a beautiful place, truly beautiful. The one thing that I did see there which really touched me in the heart was there was so much poverty in that area that was unbelievable, and the taxi driver stated to us "I'm sorry to bring you through this area, but I have to come through this area." I have never seen poverty like that in my life, and I served in Germany shortly after the war, and I've seen the DP camps and other places, but I'm sorry, in 1984, to me, that should not be tolerated in this beautiful country. I'm very sorry, I was really--I was disgusted, actually, and there are many kids that I spoke to when I was in Atlanta. I says, you know, "Do you have to put up with this?" And they says, "Well, it's just a way of life. We've got to accept it." But I thought, goodness, spending all this money, people are talking about three, four billion dollars about nuclear weapons. I think it could be a lot better use. Please excuse me for saying that, but that's the way I feel about it.
Studs Terkel Con.
Cornelis Von Munster There's always, you know, of course the old argument where they say, "Well, where do you begin?" But, you know, it's really so simple. It only just needs one country to take the initiative and say, "Well, right. We will stop testing now. We invite you to do the same and follow us." And I'm sure that you know, from one thing this will grow. Verification of this is no problem at all. I mean, we've got the technology now. We can see a firecracker going off a half a mile away, and it will be detected no problem. The technology is there to verify these things. What really, you know, what really is the problem?
Anthony Guerisco I think the problem is that we're dealing with an industry that is so large and is so powerful that I just question whether we have the ability to even slow it down, let alone stop it. I'm speaking about the nuclear military industrial complex.
Studs Terkel Yet, you see, yet, Kenny and Con and yourself talk about reactions, when you reach out to people, the reactions you get. We know the opposition is--
Anthony Guerisco Sure.
Studs Terkel And the Cold War plays a role in the fears of them and their fears of "them," quotes, and their fears of "us" in quotes, you see? That the military in all these countries you name are pretty powerful, and yet, don't you sense a strong movement? Or do you? I'm not wishfully thinking, I'm asking. Kenny?
Kenneth McGinley I think there's a high possibility that we're sending the wrong people to do the negotiating. I think--I don't [unintelligible] closed doors, maybe they just get in, shut the doors and have a good booze-up and then just sit there for a couple of days. I don't think they're actually going [near?]--they're going near with a very negative attitude place in the first place, so I think we should have people who have more sensibility then to go and speak to the people. We would go.
Studs Terkel Well, you'd be perfect. I think you'd be the negotiator, seems to me.
Anthony Guerisco What the international alliance will be working with and through is, is sue the United Nations and to the World Court if we have to. We figure that you, know, our country trusted us with all these secrets you know, they said you know, keep these secrets, go out here and do these, you know, learn about this, these nuclear weapons, and, you know, we did that. We were very faithful to our country and now we feel that, perhaps it's time to come back and serve our countries again. And the way we feel that we could do that and we're hoping that many people will feel the same way we do, and that is that we are some of the very trusted patriots that went to war, and we feel that perhaps it would be time to take some of the negotiating towards disarmament, I'm speaking about nuclear disarmament and away from some of the bureaucratic specialists that we have to do this negotiating and, perhaps include Atomic Veterans to sit in at these hearings. We feel like this, why should two or three men, professional bureaucrats, go into a room shut the door with a question and speak about a question that involves millions and millions of people and go in there and speak about this, about disarming nuclear weapons, reducing nuclear weapons, continually come out with nothing, and we feel that perhaps there ought to be an Atomic Veteran or two sitting in and listening to these negotiations, and perhaps finding out exactly who wants to do something and who doesn't.
Studs Terkel And I think you'd find great support to the idea, that not yet tried, of having Atomic Veterans themselves, you three, one more, our last break, and then we'll conclude. One last go-around from each of you, these are three founding key members of the International Alliance of Atomic Veterans. I imagine you're in touch with thousands of yours different countries. Kenny McGinley of Scotland, just any reflection that comes to your mind as we say goodbye for now.
Kenneth McGinley Well, I know that we're got a very good leader in Mr. Guerisco heading this project, found it all, and I want to say that I'll stand by his ideas 100 percent. We've worked on them for long enough, and I think this is the ideal time to pursue our aims, and it's 100 mile per hour all the way, and you know, God's looking after us all the time, I believe.
Studs Terkel Con Von Munster of
Cornelis Von Munster Just to reinforce what Ken just said, you know, after we finish this pilgrimage, as we like to call it that we are doing now, which will be finished on the 28th at the Nevada test site, well, we'll certainly be taking the message back to our own countries as to what we've done here and what we feel can be done. And we'll just have to take it up from there and keep the ball rolling.
Studs Terkel Tony Guerisco, United States.
Anthony Guerisco Well, of course, like Con said, we are, this is a pilgrimage back to the Nevada test site. We're also going to have people with us from as far away as Japan, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. The Marshallese Island are sending people there to take part in this with us. We're going to have the downwind victims of St. George, Utah. Just all radiation victims from around the world. And I would, to close off with the message that I would give to everybody today is, you know, it's not unpatriotic to question what's happening to us here. It's not unpatriotic to ask, you know, do we have to continue to do this? The nuclear test that we have, that we're doing now, we shouldn't be afraid to question, is it affecting our atmosphere? Is it affecting our children? Because I think that Einstein had it correctly when he said that the answers and the questions of the nuclear issues that surround all of us today must be taken to the village square. In other words, people have to start questioning their governments of what they are doing and how is it going to affect them.
Studs Terkel This is what it's all about, isn't it? Who are the experts?
Anthony Guerisco Right.
Studs Terkel The actual people, you are the experts. All of us. There is a phrase here, "Hibakusha" used, it means it's the symbol of survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and those affected by it. The paper crane is the symbol, survival. We are all, in a sense, "hibakusha."
Anthony Guerisco Certainly true.
Studs Terkel And thank you. You three, of course, are owed a debt, seems to me, by the people of the world, all three of you and all your colleagues. Tony Guerisco and Con Von Munster and Kenny McGinley. Three different countries and I'm sure that more will be included, and thank you very much and good luck on your pilgrimage.
Cornelis Von Munster Thanks very much.
Anthony Guerisco Thank you very much for the opportunity of being here.
Studs Terkel Tomorrow's program is our annual Bastille Day show. I realize tomorrow is the 12th, Bastille Day is on a Saturday, but we have a live program on the 13th. This sounds complicated, but let it go. Tomorrow on the 12th, two days ahead of schedule, our annual July 14th Bastille Day program. Until then, take it easy, but take it.