The Wings of Honor Museum in Walnut Ridge has announced the opening of a new exhibit: ‘The Radiological Cleanup of Enewetak.’ The exhibit will officially open with a reception on Saturday, May 20th, at 2 p.m. Light refreshments will be served. Everyone is welcome.

Many people have never heard of a group of Cold War era veterans (post-Vietnam) known as the Enewetak Atomic Cleanup Veterans. This group, many of whom were Vietnam veterans themselves, was a coalition of forces consisting of Army engineers, Air Force, and Navy personnel and various civilian contractors sent on a secretive humanitarian mission in a little-known group of islands located halfway between Hawaii and Australia known as the Marshall Islands.

Japan once had control of the island paradise In World War II before the United States wrested it from their possession. From 1946-1958, while the islands were still under control of the USA, the United States performed 67 nuclear tests in various locations within the Marshall Islands. In 1946, the United States persuaded islanders into leaving Bikini and Runit Atolls without any compensation. 

On March 1, 1954, the United States set off the powerful Castle Bravo shot which ultimately devastated the lives of indigenous Marshallese. Castle Bravo was the largest hydro-thermal bomb ever detonated. This caused the forced migration of the Marshallese people. Over the years, many of the islanders relocated to places such as Hawaii, Oklahoma and Arkansas, as well as a number of other continental locations. As a matter of fact, one third of the world’s Marshallese population now lives in the United States.

Approximately 20 years following the dangerous nuclear testing, that coalition of forces was sent on a humanitarian mission. The objective was supposed to have been to clean these islands of all the nuclear debris left from years of testing and return the islands to the people who were forced to leave. Instead, many Marshallese people have moved to the continental United States (including Springdale and Pocahontas, Arkansas). They come from a beautiful island paradise to which they may never return due to the destruction and contamination.

As for the 8,000 men who served on that Enewetak humanitarian mission from 1977 to 1980, less than 500 have been located or accounted for. For decades, the government essentially denied that there ever was a humanitarian mission, and denied healthcare coverage of the health conditions that many survivors contracted based on their exposure to radioactive substances. 

The exhibit connects the Marshallese people from Enewetak Atoll to the nuclear legacy that America left behind, and it is open to the public.