Atomic Soldiers: Training for the Final War


Training for the Final War

During the era of atmospheric nuclear testing, hundreds of thousands of American servicemen were made to participate in nuclear tests to prepare for fighting an atomic war. Thousands more were exposed to deadly radiation while cleaning up after nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands. These men were prevented from talking about their experiences for decades after, even to their doctor.

What Hank Bolden’s “Atomic Veterans Service Certificate” looks like


Howard James “Jim” Dangerfield
Jim was a Specialist 4th Class in the U.S. Army. He participated in 29  nuclear tests as part of Operation Plumbbob at Camp Desert Rock, Nevada in 1957.

Henry “Hank” Bolden
Hank retired from the U.S. Army as Private First Class. He participated in Shot Wasp at Camp Desert Rock, Nevada in 1955. He is an active jazz musician.

Leo “Bud” Feurt
Bud retired as a Machinist's Mate, U.S. Navy. He served on the U.S.S. Boxer during Operation Hardtack, experiencing 28 thermonuclear tests in the Pacific Proving Grounds in 1958.

Paul Griego
Paul worked as a radiochemist leading a team of young soldiers collecting measuring soil samples for radioactivity during the cleanup of Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands from 1977 to 1980.

Dr. Alex Wellerstein
Dr. Wellerstein is a Professor of Science and Technology Studies at the Stevens Institute of Technology and the creator of NukeMap.

Learn more about our Atomic Veterans:

Visit Professor Alex Wellerstein's website. Dr. Wellerstein has created an intriguing tool called “NukeMap”, a nuclear weapons simulator.

Watch Morgan Knibbe’s 15-minute video “The Atomic Soldiers” from Feb 19, 2019, in the New York Times, featuring powerful interviews from 10 veterans (including Jim Dangerfield and Bud Feurt) and survivors describing their experience participating in nuclear tests.

Go to the website of the National Association of Atomic Veterans.

In 1994, the Department of Energy established the Office of Human Radiation Experiments to document the history of radiation research using human subjects. Here is a “roadmap” to the reports on the various types of research. In Chapter 10, you can read what the experts at the Atomic Energy Commission and the Department of Defense were saying in support of using troops in atomic bomb tests. One is quoted as saying that America’s atomic war-fighting capability would be crippled unless servicemen were cured of the “mystical” fear of radiation and that the tests should be used for training and “indoctrination” about atomic warfare, and as an opportunity for research. They quote Dr. Richard Meiling, chair of the Armed Forces Medical Policy Council saying, “The fear that [ionizing radiation] presents a dangerous hazard to personnel is groundless.”

The Atomic Heritage Foundation has excellent summaries of U.S. nuclear history, including one on Atomic Veterans and another on the Nevada Test Site.

Watch “Tales From the Radiation Age – Geiger Sweet, Geiger Sour” on YouTube.

Read “America’s Atomic Vets” by Jennifer LaFleur, discussing the experiences of Wayne Brooks with multiple hydrogen bomb tests in 1958.

Read Joseph Trevithick’s article “During the 1950s, the Pentagon Played War Games With Troops and Nukes” in War is Boring.

Here is a brochure from the Department of Veterans Affairs with information about who qualifies as an Atomic Veteran, and how to seek compensation.