IN 1979 AND 1980, I flew C-141 missions onto Enewetak atoll. I watched the island being prepared for the return of the natives and I carried fresh topsoil into the island on one mission and carried a palletised skip of dirt off of the atoll.
Years later, I realised that the dirt was part of the excavation and recovery process of the island. In the 1950s, large nuclear explosions were detonated on Enewetak. Metal fragments and contaminated soil were scraped from the coral atoll and buried in Runit Dome.
We spent a little more than three hours on one of our stopovers and I took the opportunity to wade into the Enewetak lagoon. It was hard to imagine the devastation that had wrecked the island 25 years before. I wondered how the aquatic life around the island has been affected. The locals have always lived off the land.
Some of the Army Corps of Engineers workers I met thought it was stupid to scrape and cap the top of the island. The heavy equipment I saw appeared to kick up a lot of dust and sediment.
I wonder what sort of effects that dust from the island and the recirculating dust in the pressurised cabin of the C-141 had on me.
There's no way of tracing a benign growth on my cheek in the 21st century to a clean-up operation I supported on Enewetak in the late 20th century. Nonetheless, I feel I played a part in a chapter of American history and wished the rights of the Marshall Island people were respected by the US Government.
[Bernie Goldbach flew C-141A aircraft from Travis Air Force Base, California, on routes through the Pacific and Asia.]