Marshallese, atomic cleanup veterans reunite after 40 years
ALBUQUERQUE, NM – A reunion of Marshallese Islanders and atomic cleanup veterans will be at the heart of a four-day Nuclear Remembrance Day weekend event February 28th to March 2nd, 2020 in Springdale, Arkansas.
Arkansas is home to the largest community of Marshallese outside the Marshall Islands nation which is in the Pacific Ocean, an area affected by the U.S. atomic tests from 1946 to 1958.
In the 1970s, the U.S. began a cleanup of the Marshall Islands by over 8,000 military workers and civilians, capped off in 1979 by the construction of a football field-sized containment concrete dome on Runit Island. The Dome, known as Cactus Dome or ‘The Tomb’ by locals, contains 110,000 cubic yards of radioactive soil and debris. Most islands on the atoll have been indefinitely quarantined.

Springdale, Arkansas became a landing spot when a Marshallese man started working for Tyson Foods. Since then, Marshallese have immigrated to Arkansas, earning Springdale the nickname of “The Atolls of Arkansas.”
The weekend event includes a full slate of guest speakers, authors, dignitaries and filmmakers, as well as the creation of a time capsule, and a reunion featuring authentic Marshallese food and culture. The Marshallese will present individual certifications of appreciation for humanitarian efforts to the veterans. The Nuclear Remembrance Day marks the ‘Castle Bravo’ H-bomb test, the largest nuclear bomb ever tested by the U.S. on March 1, 1954. The Nuclear Remembrance Day also coincides with the 40th anniversary of the end of the cleanup efforts and the construction of the Runit Dome, which was deemed completed on March 1, 1980.
One of the event organizers is Paul Griego, State Commander of the New Mexico Chapter of the National Association of Atomic Veterans (NAAV). In 1978, at age 20, Griego worked in the islands collecting radioactive soil samples and served as a radio chemist. In his particular team of eight workers, he is the only known survivor and like many others who were involved in the cleanup, has dealt with health issues since.
The veterans, who were then teenagers and young men, keep in contact with each other and the Marshallese through Facebook, emails and telephone calls but most haven’t met again face to face since the 1970s.
“I feel it’s going to be an emotional thing (to reunite), because of why we were there in the first place for the Marshallese people,” Griego said. “It’s heartwarming to receive recognition from the Marshallese for our service in a way that our own country has not.”
The Marshall Islands were the Pacific Proving Grounds for U.S. Nuclear weapon, biological weapon, and space rocket and missile testing. The area is directly in a typhoon zone.

“I believe that the Dome could be one typhoon away from catastrophic failure,” Griego added. “The Dome was never lined and has been leaking. Today the Marshall Islands is at the crosshairs of the nuclear legacy and Climate Change. It’s an issue that’s relative today. It’s not something that only happened decades ago, it’s still here.”

Time Capsule, Marshallese food and music, Marshallese choir at church service
Highlights of the weekend include guest speakers and authors, as well as social events. On Saturday, February 29th, there will be the creation of a Time Capsule with the phrase “It’s A Matter of Time”, which will later be placed at Runit Dome.
On Saturday evening a potluck dinner with Marshallese cuisine, music and dancing will kick off a night of gathering.
On Sunday, a church service will recognize the fallen and those impacted, with a coalition of Marshallese Churches uniting for a special Nuclear Remembrance Day event, including a special performance by the Springdale Marshallese Choir.

Paul Griego
PO Box 53362 Albuquerque NM 87153
505 306-1902  email; abq@aol.com

Griego = Gree-AY-go
Runit = Roo-nit
Enewetak = En-a-we-tak
Atoll - Atoll