I started my career in the Army at 17 with the US Army Engineers at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. In 1976, I Honor-graduated Basic Training and AIT School as a 62G10 Quarry Specialist, drilling and blasting mountains. For my reward, of hard work, they kept me there as an Engineer Instructor. In 1977, I received orders to go to Hawaii…WOW! How cool is this: New in the Army, go to Hawaii, and a promotion to E4. That was the proverbial “treat” prior to the shock of the reason for such a SWEET assignment! I was told we were going to open a quarry at Schofield barracks that has not run since WWII, as the cover story for my transfer. I was assigned to Alpha Company, 84th Engineer Battalion, Schofield barracks, Quarry Section.
The reality of it was the task of being sent to a remote place to run equipment on a “paradise island” in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. This paradise was 2400 miles SW of Hawaii, called Enewetak. After being voluntold, not volunteered, I was going and a quick physical exam (ie-“How many fingers am I holding up?”…Seriously!). So, I answered the correct amount, and was told, “Ok, you can go!”
I boarded a plane to a NUCLEAR NIGHTMARE, with no training in radiation safety, whatsoever. Being told that I’d get more radiation at the boardwalk at Coney Island than here, I did as I was told, not aware of the radiation hazards awaiting me. I was based at the Lojwa base camp, a non-decontaminated island. My first assignment walking around Runit Island was picking up metal and other debris while following a Radiation Detection Vehicle, nicknamed IMP. Putting whatever was marked into a sandbag; carried it around each day and then put it in a bunker. It was called, “Nuclear Police Call”, meaning, “Pick up whatever you’re told!” Totally ignorant of the dangers I faced and barehanded, I was handling contaminated, radioactive debris. This debris was actually made up of Pu 239, Co 60, Beryllium and other radionuclides present.
My next job was operating the batch plants that were already setup. I was to make them operational, making concrete with contaminated soil. This soil was to be used to line the bottom of a nuclear bomb crater (CACTUS). After connecting all the power and troubleshooting it, I made hundreds of loads of radioactive concrete. In the extreme heat, wearing an anti-C suit, protection was deemed impossible and deadly. My uniform consisted of jungle boots, cutoff shorts, t-shirt, jungle hat and yellow rubber rainboots with a paper filter mask on my face, which was only worn until so soaked with sweat that I had to remove it frequently (there was no replacing, no time).
After my tour there and back into regular Army life, I thought about this and wondered what I did while there. In 1983, I found out, because I became a Nuclear-Biological-Chemical (NBC) Weapons Specialist, Senior NCO course, Fort McClellan, Alabama. Then off to a missile battery in Germany for me with real-life scenario events with real-time threats of nuclear war possibilities, inspecting nuclear weapons and advising my Commanding Officer of precautions in the case of an NBC weapons attack. I found people everywhere reluctant to believe what I did for the Army in the PPG Enewetak Atoll.
After continuing my education in Science, I studied in-depth about effects of radiation exposure: the effects, health, and discovered why my body was slowly falling apart. EXPOSURE was/is at the root of it all! The nuclear project I was assigned to was a futile mission with NO POSITIVE RESULTS. I made radioactive soil into a solid radioactive chunk, just as dangerous moved from one location to another. The term “cleanup” is a misnomer; relocation is ALL we did…taking dangerous debris and concentrating it in one location.
My mission to assist the “Marshall Islands Atomic clean up”, to gather data, change the age old saying of Insufficient data and help secure the legacy, Provide the people of the Republic of the Marshallese Islands with data they can trust! so they can make their own decision about the use of their land and resources. I vow to help the Marshallese in any way possible, all victims Civilian Employees, Local Islanders, and all military participants of the project named “Enewetak Atoll Cleanup (ECUP)”.
Using my training and education to return to Enewetak Atoll, I plan to continue my mission to Provide Credible Data, real time data. Data that give a precise analogy of what hazards are present or and Ideas to deal with these hazards, My goal is simple, look at the atolls, study them and let these people of the RMI use up to date Information, results of marine life, vegetation, and the aspect of growing and maintain a garden to determine if the can safely grow their own food again, and hopefully secure the area around the Group of atolls from over fishing and removing their sustainable food source, providing local jobs, and possibly creating a place for generation to follow the impact of Nuclear Weapons tests on the earth and hopefully prevent these horrible things from ever being tested again.
Johnny R. Deardorff Former US Army Engineer/Nuclear-Biologic-Chemical Weapons Specialist Assistant Research Manager to “Marshall Island Atomic Cleanup”, Atomic Clean up personnel Advocate