About two or three weeks ago, I submitted the text of “The Atomic Marine” to local papers back home in the San Luis Valley. Aside from Sylvia, a reporter for the Valley Courier checking out my site and saying some nice things about it, I never heard anything back.

Last week, Sheriff Toby Madrid’s story of the A-Bomb tests at Camp Desert Rock was published, and I can’t be more thrilled. It helps to honor one of the truly great men I knew, and to tell his story in his home town. You can read it in the Conejos County Citizen here: https://conejoscountycitizen.com/article/the-atomic-marine

You can also listen to the podcast on Our American Stories Here.

My buddy JR and his sister are trying to run me down a copy of what appeared in The Valley Courier. When I get it, it gets framed.

While the Desert Rock Exercises are public knowledge, it’s also something a lot of people don’t stop and think about. I hope the Sheriff’s story brought attention to a events that still impact us to this day.

A dramatic picture of soldiers walking forward towards the blast during tumblr-snapper

While I was writing the story, I recalled my parents telling my brother and me not to eat the fresh fallen snow because of fallout from the bomb. Looking back, this was the early ’60s, and it kind of shows the scare the tests put into just the regular people.

After I wrote the original story, I received several comments that people the commenters know (in some cases – parents), lived downwind of the blast, and that’s where the fallout came down. Many died because of cancers. Most never knew the cause until well after the fact that this had occurred.

An incident that has never been proven conclusively, but may well be linked to the Desert Rock tests was the filming of the John Wayne movie, The Conqueror. Apparently the site they filmed at was where a vast amount of fallout came down. Odd part was the studio asked the government if the site was ok and free of dangers. They were assured that it was well outside the fallout zone.

I recall reading an interview with John Wayne who said there wasn’t a lot to do after they finished shooting for the day, and so they played baseball. He recalled watching Susan Heyward running the bases in her bare feet, and her feet kicking up dust.

What no one seemed to know or was willing to admit to was that the dust kicked up by their feet was laden with radioactive fallout. Events show of the 220 people involved in the shoot, 91 developed cancer, to include John Wayne, Susan Hayward, and Agnes Moorehead who all died from it.

Now here’s where it becomes a little controversial. According to the National Cancer Institute, at that time, 40 people out of 100 could be expected to develop cancer in their lifetime. Or put another way, one out of every three people would develop or die of cancer. That said, 91 isn’t to far out of that range.

But the science of statistics involves numbers and not people. While it’s common knowledge that a number of the actors and actresses of the time indulged in things that could lead to cancer (smoking like a train for openers), what the number doesn’t answer is would they have developed or died of cancer anyway? And if so, did the fallout just gave them a little extra nudge? How about those that lived clean lives? What of the countless soldiers and civilians in the fallout zones who developed it?

All the statistic tells us is the probability, and not that it will. A forty percent chance isn’t an odd I care to go to Vegas on, but it’s one that generations of people lived under. Again, it’s an average. We all know of situations where every member of the family has died of cancer, and others where no one in the family ever had it.

I’m trying to stay unemotional and unbiased while researching this part, but I have to admit, I’m failing. The emotional aspect that makes me who I am can’t help but call into question the assumption the cast and crew of The Conqueror, as well as all the military members who participated in the events, fit into that magic 40 percnt.

As a human being, a man of science, and a law enforcement officer, there’s two things I’ve always judged the world by. One is called Occam’s Razor. In this you take whatever you have, strip it to nuts and bolts, and whatever is left is the truth.

The other is the Preponderance of Evidence. In this, we accumulate evidence to support something. We have to ask, does the evidence prove what we’re trying to prove?

Looking at the numbers of who was there, or lived downrange in the fallout zones, the numbers are still higher than that 40 percent if we look at them and ignore the rest of the world. What I’m saying is we have to treat them based on being there, not against everyone else where the numbers get diluted.

Using both standards, it seems there’s still a higher than average incidence of cancers among the people who participated in, or lived down range of the tests.

Something I did, but couldn’t find information for, was information on birth defects among those who participated in the tests. I imagine a study is out there someplace, I just couldn’t find it. So that leaves me with another nagging question.

The events that Sheriff Toby Madrid was part of may have impacted not only him and those around him, but hundreds if not thousands of military personnel and civilians as well.

And the ghosts of those events may well haunt us for a long time to come.