Crystal white sand, clear blue water and coconut palm trees. Add tropical weather, and you have an atmosphere more suited for a cruise-liner destination than a carcinogen. Yet for thousands of veterans who participated in atomic cleanup operations in the late 1970s, Enewetak Atoll was no Fantasy Island.
“Invisible bullets entered our bodies, and we carry them with us daily,” says Paul Laird, a three-time cancer survivor from Otisfield, Maine. The 58-year-old Army veteran operated a bulldozer on Enewetak for the 84th Engineer Battalion in 1977. “We were told to do a job. You either did the job or you faced Leavenworth (federal prison).”
Video by Lucas Carter/The American Legion. Photos provided.