us army troops

Our government has been known, in its history, to do some things that really were underhanded, and in some cases horrific. The “need” for nuclear bombs naturally facilitated the need for nuclear testing. I think everyone knows that would had to have happened, but on November 1, 1951, the US Army conducted nuclear tests in the Nevada desert that included a “diabolical exercise in which 6500 US Army troops were exposed to the effects of a nearby nuclear detonation and its associated radiation.” When I read that, I was furious. They knew what they were doing, and they did it as an experiment…just to see what would happen to those poor men.

It was called Operation Buster–Jangle. The US Army conducted a series of 7 nuclear tests, that included the November 1st test. In that involuntary one test, the 6500 troops, were dug in foxholes and trenches only 6 miles from an air burst nuclear bomb of 21 kilotons yield. That is about the size of the Nagasaki bomb!! After the soldiers felt the hot nuclear wind blast over them, the wind deposited desert dust in choking clouds upon the men. Then, the soldiers were ordered to get up and march across the blast site to within 900 meters (a little over ½ a mile) of the nuclear “ground zero.” That is incredibly close, and those men were exposed.

The damage done to those men was not well documented, but the US Government later passed the 1990 Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) to compensate the military veterans exposed to nuclear testing in the 1950’s. The passing of that act is implied acknowledgment of the responsibility of the US government in long term health problems experienced by those troops…without actually placing the blame, and therefore opening the government up to future lawsuits. Basically, the men, were they still alive, or their families, if not, could theoretically be compensated for their losses. Of course, as many of us have seen with these kinds of cases, the process is very slow, the burden of proof for the men trying to receive compensation is heavy, and the final payout is usually quite low. RECA has awarded over $2.4 billion in benefits to more than 37,000 claimants since its inception in 1990. Still, that’s a small price to pay for the destruction of so many lives.

On April 18, 1906, many of the people in the San Francisco, California area were sound asleep in their beds. It was, after all, 5:13am. Suddenly, the people were jolted awake by an earthquake, which was estimated to be close to 8.0 on the Richter scale. When the quake struck San Francisco, California, it toppled numerous buildings. The cause of the quake was a slip of the San Andreas Fault over a segment about 275 miles long. The resulting shock waves could be felt from southern Oregon down to Los Angeles.

At that time, San Francisco’s had a variety of brick buildings and wooden Victorian structures that were not really earthquake reinforced. Nobody knew about making buildings strong enough to resist destruction from an earthquake. It was one of the things we would learn from the results of a disaster. It seems that with each disaster, we learn how to prevent the loss of so many buildings and lives. The old buildings were devastated. Along with the collapsed buildings, came devastating fires, and because many of the water mains had broken, firefighters were prevented from stopping the fires. Firestorms soon developed citywide. US Army troops from Fort Mason reported to the Hall of Justice around 7am, and San Francisco Mayor E.E. Schmitz set a dusk-to-dawn curfew and authorized soldiers to shoot to kill anyone found looting. Disasters like these always seem to bring out the worst in people, even those who might not have done such things under normal circumstances.

As significant aftershocks continued, firefighters and US troops fought desperately to control the ongoing fires. Sadly, that sometimes meant dynamiting whole city blocks to create firewalls. Many people were trapped where they were, because the fires prevented their escape, even though they were not stuck in a collapsed building. Finally, on April 20th, several thousands of refugees were evacuated from the foot of Van Ness Avenue. The army would eventually house 20,000 refugees in more than 20 military-style tent camps across the city. The people had no idea how long they might have to be there.

Most of the fires were extinguished by April 23rd, and the authorities started the task of rebuilding the devastated city. In all, approximately 3,000 people lost their lives as a result of the Great San Francisco Earthquake and the devastating fires it inflicted upon the city. Almost 30,000 buildings were destroyed, including most of the city’s homes and nearly all the central business district. The rebuilding would take a long time, and the new structures were reinforced to be able to better withstand the shaking of the San Andreas fault. This quake may not have been the “Big One” that is predicted, but at an estimated 7.9 or 8.0, it was right up there.

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