Veteran, Published Author & Veteran Advocate for Enewetak Atomic Cleanup Veterans and Company
In 2013, after dropping from the radar of another, unrelated Veteran’s site, TM Fitzgerald, or Te Fitz, (Little Sister, as she’s affectionately known) was ‘found’ by another Veteran/fellow Army Engineer Gary Pulis. Already knowing that Fitzgerald was not only a military Veteran but also a published author, Pulis introduced her to the world of Enewetak Atomic Cleanup Veterans.
I served my country one generation following these men, having trained for my initial MOS/job as a Heavy Construction Equipment Operator at the same military installation many of these men had trained in the early 1970s. When they were doomed with the impossible task of ‘cleaning’ radioactively contaminated materials from the once pristine tropical paradise of Enewetak Atoll, Marshall Islands, I was just starting primary school. These guys, for the most part, were only 12-20 years older than I and were out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean filling in an old nuclear blast crater (Cactus Crater) in an attempt to give an island nation back to its people.
Taking the first available billot offered to me, I joined the military at the age of 22 and reported for Basic Training at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri, USA. Before joining the military, I was employed as a laboratory assistant/phlebotomist at a local hospital in Rochester, NY. While home on Christmas Exodus, my husband and I were hit head-on by a drunk driver and I was medically discharged from the military shortly after.
Still wishing to serve the military I loved, I looked for a different way to achieve my goal. Over the course of the next ten, fifteen years I eventually completed several college degrees, none of which led me to any kind of productive career, that is, until I elected to become a registered nurse. It didn’t take long before I found out nursing wasn’t going to be any kind of career for me. either and so I began working in the realm of Veteran’s advocacy. I was able to continue service to the military I loved by giving voice to those who needed just a little help telling their story as well as those who could no longer tell their own.
Through the modern marvel of social media, I started asking many different questions as well as sharing facts and research I had discovered on my own, stimulating many different conversations among members of the Enewetak Atomic Cleanup Veterans. I was introduced in the groups earlier days and was blessed with the opportunity of watching the group grow. Sadly, the other side of that coin meant that I have also been present to witness the loss of many men who were once part of the group as well.
Since I liked asking so many questions, it was eventually suggested I put a book together about the common story all of these men shared. Before knowing what I was potentially getting myself into, I accepted the challenge. On 17 September 2017 From Service to Sacrifice: Cold-War, Hot Ground Introducing the Atomic Cleanup Story of the Marshall Islands was born. This first book sprung from a simple list of five common questions, the same questions I asked of each man who chose to allow me an interview. Following that came more stories from the Marshall Islands Atomic Cleanup Mission.
On 20 December 2018 the book From Cleanup to Cover Up Continuing a Mission of Recognition was released. That second compilation of various information and personal interviews also yielded scores of color photographs taken by many of the very men who had served on the mission. On 02, July 2019 following attendance at a gathering of Cleanup veterans in North Carolina, I determined that a tool of sorts was needed to help explain the basic information that lent to all those men being sent to the Pacific in the first place. I figured people on the outside looking in needed a primer of sorts, regarding the Cold War Era and what problems this particular group of forgotten men were currently facing decades later and so the more portable book entitled THIS was made available July 2019.
Many new people had joined the social media group I had been a part of for so long that I felt the opportunity was right to collect and share even more personal stories. So, seven months after an amazing reunion opportunity in Springdale, Arkansas, USA and following the publication of the first three books, another sizable book, this time a trilogy entitled From Pacific Paradise to Devastating Legacy: An Historical Collection of Personal Accounts as Told by Men Tasked with Returning an Island Nation to Its People was published 07 October 2020.
These books encompass a lifetime of experiences regarding the Nuclear age as told by a variety of individuals ranging from men present at the Castle Bravo Test Site to widows of Enewetak Cleanup Veterans and participants. There is plenty of background information provided in each book to provide contemplative thoughts. Each book can stand alone or be used as a curriculum to educate those less in the know of an issue that should concern us all, no matter what part of the planet we live on.
The crater on Runit, (named Cactus Crater after the bomb that created it) became the eventual home to approximately 110,000 yards of radioactively contaminated debris and topsoil. Out of the thousands of men who served this mission, only hundreds have stepped forward, been found and invited to be part of the Enewetak Atomic Cleanup Veterans Group, a group of men seeking acknowledgement and recognition for a task that none of them were informed what the inevitable consequences were going to be. As one former soil sampler who worked on the islands during that time previously shared; “During the atomic cleanup we would learn this lesson; we did not cleanup the radioactive fallout: we just moved it around.” After all, how does one clean something that has an atomic half-life/remains dangerous for thousands of years?