My father was an 'atomic vet'
November 11th, 2011
11:08 AM ET

My father was an 'atomic vet'

Three weeks ago, my father, Alexander Wadas, died from stage 4 lung cancer. He was 85, just one month short of his 86th birthday.

Since his diagnosis in June, the hideous disease, which spread to his bones, skin and brain, took his dignity - robbing him of his ability to eat, walk, speak, think, sit up, even swallow.

He died a horrible death that caused him to waste away from 200 pounds to 92 pounds in just four months.

Doctors say the cancer was not from smoking, but more likely from environmental factors. You see, my father was what the Department of Veterans Affairs refers to as an "atomic vet" - a veteran exposed to radiation during his or her military service.

In World War II, my dad was a Navy corpsman assigned to the 2nd Marine Division. His outfit served in the Pacific campaigns of Saipan, Tinian and Okinawa. After the Japanese surrendered, he was in the first group of Marines to go into Nagasaki, Japan, after the atomic bomb was dropped.

There he stayed for four months with occupational troops, treating the Japanese people who survived. Every day, he walked through the city ruins, with no thought that the radiation around him could cause dangerous consequences for him later in life.

Back in the 1945, little was known about the effects of radiation. Today, studies done over the past 60 years show there is a definite link between high-dose radiation exposure and certain forms of cancer. The evidence is so strong that the U.S. government established the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act of 1990, which provides U.S. vets who were exposed to radiation from atmospheric nuclear tests between 1945 and 1962 or were part of the occupation forces in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, monetary benefits if they've contracted any of 21 different cancers or other related illnesses.

The National Association of Atomic Veterans, or NAAV, an informational organization set up to help these men and women, is searching for about 185,000 "atomic vets" who may have suffered or died from cancer complications.

"A lot of these vets never talked about their involvement in these campaigns, because they took an oath of secrecy," notes R. J. Ritter, director and national commander of NAAV. "The oath wasn't lifted till 1996 and by that time a lot of these guys had already suffered complications or died. We need to get the word out that they or their families could be compensated if they match the criteria."

If you are one of these veterans, or you have a parent or spouse who might fit into these categories, you can contact the VA or go online to file a claim.

There is no amount of money that can bring back my father's hugs or replace his engaging smile, his wicked sense of humor or his words of wisdom. My dad suffered in a way I could never imagine.

However, I believe in justice. My father was a true patriot, who joined the Navy at the age of 17. He believed in the military lifestyle. He served for more than 24 years. He was a proud sailor and dedicated to his Marine division. When he went into Nagasaki, he did it for his country, no questions asked.

Now the question is, what can his country do for him or, in this case, for my mother, whom he left behind? Perhaps this is the only answer for many vets and their families.

soundoff (133 Responses)
  1. dsktDkguRB

    history homework help ks3 how can we help homeless essay do homework help students learn can u help me with my homework

    April 3, 2021 at 02:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. CfrrBuEWUK

    finance homework help for students bmat essay help chronological order for essay who should write a service level agreement

    April 4, 2021 at 08:19 | Report abuse | Reply

    c homework help pay paying to write essays o henry one thousand dollars summary importance of doing homework essay

    April 4, 2021 at 22:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. gwqOTtShlr

    gcse german holiday coursework help help writing homework help writing essay alabama homework help live homework help tudor timeline

    April 5, 2021 at 07:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. cIjquOxrKi

    a2 english language investigation coursework help essay about service in school mobile dj service business plan doing an argumentative essay on obesity

    April 5, 2021 at 16:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. rDaoNieQVu

    custom writing tattoo essay buy best essay writing service reviews biology unit 5 essay help

    April 6, 2021 at 00:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Marquetta Stoey

    bookmarked!!, I like your website!


    April 6, 2021 at 02:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. wVHuGmgEoQ

    homework help pompeii order essay orders literature review chronological order should everyone go to college stephanie owen and isabel sawhill

    April 6, 2021 at 21:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Lindsey Rench

    Hi there! I just wish to offer you a big thumbs up for the great information you've got right here on this post. I'll be coming back to your website for more soon.


    April 6, 2021 at 21:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. AdUReYlydY

    1 2 3 help me essays 1234 essay help custom written research paper law essays help

    April 9, 2021 at 20:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. dkBHvWwMju

    order of importance essay ib application essay help business plan focuses on customer service custom writing website reviews

    April 13, 2021 at 07:58 | Report abuse | Reply
1 2 3

Leave a Reply to Increase Facebook Page Likes


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.