VP-6 crews at Johnston Atoll during the Operation Dominic nuclear tests in 1962
"I flew with Captain Leonard, Crew One 1961 and 1962. We were the lead crew for most everything including the Operation Dominic One and Two nuclear tests at Johnston Atoll. Two deployments to Iwakuni, northern Sea of Japan area. Captain Leonard was the best of the best. He was a sailor's sailor and a more decent person you could not find. He passed away about 13 years ago, succumbing from non-Hodgkins lymphoma as a result of our exposure at Johnston Atoll during certain nuclear mishaps. Blue Sharks who participated in those test in June and July of 1962 suffered an 85% casualty rate from various radiogenic diseases. Only three members of Crew One survived. Details on the disaster at Johnston Island were not declassified until 1995. I guess the Feds were hoping we'd all croak before having a chance to talk about it. Johnston Atoll was the beginning and end for a lot of Sharks. They didn't know it at the time, but the nuclear disasters would be the death knell for many of them, including our Captain.
Most of what is published by the Feds regarding Operation Dominic One is either incomplete or bogus. It was an episode that our Government would just as soon forget. But the long term consequences for those of us who participated would be difficult, costly, and painful. It wasn't until 1995 that Secretary of Defense William Perry acquitted us of our promise of silence on the subject; we could finally discuss it and seek necessary medical care resultant from the experience.
The Blue Sharks participated in four tests: Bluegill, Starfish, Starfish Prime, and Bluegill Prime. All the tests utilized either Thor or Redstone rockets. Bluegill was launched in early June, was believed to have gone off course and was destroyed down range. Starfish, June 26, blew up directly over the Island and sprayed radioactive material over most of the Island. A parked VP-9 P2V was hit in the ailerons and flaps from airframes and motor parts from the rocket. Starfish Prime, July 5, was successful and was detonated at 104 miles over the Island; blew the holy bejesus out of the night's sky. Bluegill Prime, July 24, blew up on the pad, the 1.4 megaton warhead was destroyed by the safety officer to prevent a nuclear holocaust, but it spit plutonium over most of the western part of the Island including the first 300 feet of the runway, the launch area, the parking area, the swimming pool, cafeteria, and the latrine...for chrissake! Three Shark aircrews were trapped on the ground along with their 30 or so ground support. Most of them would perish or suffer the effects of that radiation within the next 25 years. It would kill the Captain."
Perhaps posting my message may help others to seek medical care. We've searched for them for years to let them know that we got legislation passed to give them the medical care they need. All the VA hospitals will receive Sharks and others less fortunate from the other tests. The "patent" law is Public Law 100-321 and subsequent laws signed as early as last year by the President. I hope all the Sharks realize what an important job was done for this country by our guys during those months. We didn't get any medals for it, but for those of us who can still enjoy it, we still have our Country and our freedom. And God bless us one and all.
Charleston, SC April 30, 2003
Crew One, AT2 senior technician (Julie, Jez, Radar, Radio, ECM, MAD)
I flew 16 flights as part of the Dominic Testing Series at Johnston Island. June 30, 1962 to July 29, 1962, including the H-Hour Flight on July 8th. The test experienced a late drop and detonation almost on top of our orbit point. When we landed we were so hot they taped the plane openings up and washed the plane with water tanker trucks. When we were released the ABC officer pulled the pencil dosimeter from my flight suit and looked at it and said this won't tell us much it's off the top. Also, on another flight the missile exploded on the pad so they directed me to take photos and other documentation back to Barbers Pt. Turning & Burning. When we arrived they gave us other packages, refueled us and sent us back to Johnston Is. Never flew the old P2V-5F's that long at that speed before. But, all you need is lots of gas.
David Masters, Feb 26, 2003
VP-6 Blue Sharks who served at Johnston Atoll are in need of their radiation exposure history reports. The Sharks need their dosimeter readings if they want to expedite their medical care treatments. The dosimetry readings can be obtained by writing to:
Reynolds Electrical and Engineering Co., Inc.
Dosimetry Research Branch
Attn: Martha E. DeMarre, Health Physicist
P.O. Box 98521
Las Vegas, NV 89193-8521
Michael Thomas 15 Sep 2003
VP-6 Crew One 1961
Left to right: CDR Leonard, LT Spinks, LTJG Lorusso, LTJG Powell, AD1 Madaris, PR2 Gaskins, AMS2 Erdmann, AE3 Richard, ATN3 Rhoades, ATN3 Michael Thomas
Submitted by Michael Thomas