“For being at that site and those explosions, we should have all received a medal.”
The majority of atomic veterans who participated in America’s nuclear bomb testing program between 1945 and 1962 are now gone, but one from Massachusetts is working to ensure that those who remain get the recognition they deserve.
The Atomic Veterans Commemorative Service Medal was created this year after veterans had worked for decades to lift the veil of secrecy surrounding their work at nuclear test sites in the United States and South Pacific.
More than 400,000 servicemen were exposed to high levels of radiation, and many died of cancer.
Retired Army First Lt. Joe Mondelleo of Shrewsbury, an atomic veteran, said the service medal is just a commemorative coin – and without a ribbon attached, atomic veterans can’t pin it to their uniforms.
“For being at that site and those explosions, we should have all received a medal,” he said. “You know, it’s a disgrace.”
Mondello said he thinks the remaining atomic veterans deserve a full medal ceremony in Washington, D.C., for the bravery they’ve shown and the sacrifices they and their families have made.
U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., is working to arrange just that. For nearly a decade, McGovern worked to secure the money needed to create and distribute the commemorative service medal. Many people like to thank veterans for their service, he said – but for atomic veterans, who for decades were not allowed to talk about their service to their families or even their doctors, ‘thank you’ isn’t enough.
“We need to follow up some of those wonderful compliments with real action, including making sure our veterans have good health care, making sure they have the support and the services they need,” he said, “and in this case, making sure that the atomic veterans are rightfully recognized for their service to this country.”
It’s estimated more than 80% of the atomic veterans already have died, but their families are still eligible to receive the commemorative service medal on their behalf, and an application is available online. McGovern said the medals should be made available by the end of the year, and he has requested a ceremony at that time.
For 90-year-old Joe Mondello and his fellow atomic vets, it can’t happen soon enough.
Kathryn Carley began her career in community radio, and is happy to be back, covering the New England region for Public News Service. Getting her start at KFAI in Minneapolis, Carley graduated from the University of Minnesota and then worked as a reporter for Minnesota Public Radio, focusing on energy and agriculture. Moving to Washington, D.C., she filed stories for The Pacifica Network News and The Pacifica Report. Later Carley worked as News Host for New York Public Radio, WNYC as well as Co-Anchor for Newsweek’s long running radio program, Newsweek on Air. Carley also served as News Anchor for New York Times Radio. She now lives near Boston, MA.