Pentagon ‘willfully neglects’ airmen exposed to radiation in hydrogen bomb accident 50 years ago

Victor Skaar, a retired Chief Master Sgt. who was stationed at Moron Air base in Spain in 1966, said that on the morning of January 17, there was an aircraft accident involving nuclear weapons.

A B-52 and KC-135 were refueling and they crashed. Four bombs were aboard the B52. This was during the Cold War, and even years later the airmen who were there, said they were told, ‘you just don’t talk about it’.

There had been wreckage strewn over a large area and a  large-scale cleanup operation was launched.

All of the responders started heading south toward a small village called Palomares, on the Mediterranean Sea. There was lots of talk of heavy radiation – but the servicemen were not specifically told that during the cleanup effort. They combed the area looking for bombs, but  were given no protective clothing or respiratory equipment.

Later, some of the men were told to go into the salt water to clean themselves off — after techs used special equipment to determine if they’d been exposed to radiation.

Frank Thompson, a 22-year-old trombone player in the Air Force at the time, now has cancer in his liver, lung and kidney.  In an Opinion article in the Buffalo News , it states:

“Thompson is saddled with high medical expenses – $2,200 a month for treatment. Treatment would be free at a Veterans Affairs hospital if the Air Force recognized him as a victim of radiation. It doesn’t.”

Dr. Lawrence Odland led the initial efforts to test radiation levels of the military responders and had been doing research at Wright-Patterson AFB. He was featured in the New York Times article about the hydrogen bomb accident.

Odland recalled, “It was obvious there was plutonium involved”.  He recommended doing  a long-term analysis, but his bosses did not give him the green light. The Air Force never conducted a comprehensive study of whether radioactivity prompted elevated cancer rates in the 1,600 responders–  the Times reported.

No one from the Air Force has acknowledged the fact that there was even a possibility the responders could have been exposed to dangerous levels of radiation – family members of the victims say.

Many of them went to the VA to get treatment, but were denied. They also found documentation missing from their military records –specifically from their time in Palomares.

‘Why did the Air Force deny the existence of being there’, one of the vets asked. Clearly it was some sort of cover-up. he said.

In 1967, the Atomic Energy Commission issued a classified memo detailing the military’s refusal to continue monitoring the responders at Palomares — better known as the “sleeping dog policy.”

The casings of two B28 nuclear bombs involved in the Palomares incident are on display at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The casings of two B28 nuclear bombs involved in the Palomares incident are on display at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Nolan Watson, who was also at the crash site, was diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2002. In 2010, more cancer showed up in his remaining kidney. Recent abnormal blood tests suggested leukemia, the Times reported.

Nona Watson, Nolan’s wife,  told the NYT:  “They’re waiting for them to die”.

The airmen say they’re not looking for financial gain at this point in their lives — they  just want the Air Force to accept responsibility.

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