Veterans who faced radiation exposure during the development of the nation’s atomic weapons program were usually sworn to secrecy because of national security requirements during the Cold War.
Now their sacrifices are being recognized with the Pentagon’s establishment of the Atomic Veterans Commemorative Service Medal this week.
The medal, authorized by Congress in a law passed in December, recognizes veterans whose work “directly contributed to our nation’s continued freedom and prosperity during the period following World War II and was pivotal to our nation’s defense during the Cold War,” the Pentagon said in a statement released Tuesday.
Veterans eligible for the medal directly participated in the detonation of an atomic weapon or device took part in the cleanup of radioactive material from a detonation or accident, or were exposed to radiation resulting from the use of an atomic weapon during World War II, the Defense Department said.
Rep. Jim McGovern, Massachusetts Democrat, introduced a bill for the creation of the atomic veterans medal.
“Atomic veterans were exposed to dangerous levels of radiation in performance of their duties yet they have never been given the full respect and recognition they deserve,” Mr. McGovern said in a statement. “Sworn to silence for decades, these courageous and committed patriots paid a high price for their loyalty to our country. I am proud they will now be given the acknowledgment they so richly deserve for their faithful service to our nation.”
The Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) will manage the atomic veterans medal for the Pentagon.
The agency said it expects to have medals ready for awarding by the end of the year. Family members of deceased atomic veterans will be eligible to apply for them.