HANFORD REACH > Oral Histories


March tenth 1947, Pasco Washington, Lady of Lourdes Hospital; born to Laura Lee Small and Maynard T. Baile. My mother Laura Lee, when she graduated from high school, went to work for the Corps of Engineers Manhattan Project that built Hanford. She was transferred to California where she was a stenographer for Robert Oppenheimer.

My father came out of the Army, a little private… was discharged out of the Army, met my mother at a family picnic family reunion, they fell in love and got married. And they set up their wheat farm about three miles away from the Hanford perimeter fence, on the east side of Hanford. And we farmed up there until July 1950. Then we moved down off the hill to where I am now: into the "Death Mile."

In 1956 the government distributed land to farmers who could meet their criteria of being a veteran and having children, and let them have eighty acres. They bought the land from my family for fifteen dollars an acre. And they sold it to the veterans for thirty. All these people showed up in 1956 from all over. Veterans: none of them were farmers, they were veterans with children, came here, and proved up on their homesteads.

Thirty years later, if you drive around, all the families are gone. Out of twenty-seven neighbors, everyone's family had cancer or birth defects, and thyroid problems... They were enlisted military veterans. No officers were granted a farm here. I repeat: no officers drew a piece of land. All enlisted personnel.

I grew up with the most incredible war stories that any young man could ever hear. All around were these men that were combat veterans... You know what USS Indianapolis is? Keith Standridge, my next-door neighbor, was one of the guys that survived. He was on the crew of the Indianapolis. He survived all that time in the water, he saw the shark attacks... He delivered the atomic bomb made here at Hanford to Tinian Island. And then he came here, and he died of cancer, and his wife died of cancer. His daughters both have thyroid cancer.

We trusted Hanford and believed in our scientific community across the river; they were always testing our water, they’d come and take milk samples every week from the cows, they’d pull vegetables, they’d pick up our dead animals…

And once a year, they would come to our school with a grey truck, and a grey trailer that said “Atomic Energy Commission” on the door. And they would put steps at the end of the trailer, and there would be a lady standing atop the steps. She would let us in. And she gave us a milkshake to drink, and then we lay down on this table and this machine would pass over us real slow: the “Whole Body Counter.”

We’d come out through the trailer after we’d get up, and there would be another lady sitting there; she had a stamping machine. She made dog tags for us kids: gave us a number, a name… We felt like we were soldiers, and she said we were helping win the war. We were her little warriors.

In the sixth or seventh grade, they invited us kids from Eltopia to go to the Richland Science Center, in the Federal Building. 1959 or ’60; Catherine Mae was our congresswoman at that time, and she met us all at the door. “Welcome children, come right in, and we’re going to show you about the miracles of the atom.” They had the displays all set up for us kids look at.

The judges for the Science Fair projects at Eltopia were also Hanford scientists. My project was a deformed Shetland pony fetus that I’d picked up out of our pasture, and I put it in a fishbowl with formaldehyde, and sealed it with paraffin wax. And that was my science project, talking about deformed animals. That’s true; that was my project. And I remember they there were all just aghast, and writing all this stuff down, and taking pictures of this deformed calf…

And when we left, they had a bubblegum machine, and inside it they had these round balls about half an inch in diameter, an inch and a quarter in diameter. They were glass balls. And they said, “You can each have one.” And we got to turn the thing, “click, click, click,” and it dropped out into our hand. And they said, “Inside that glass is radioactive waste. It’s safely encased in glass. And that's what we’re going to do with the waste from Hanford.”

Well we were just kids: we didn’t know there was any waste at Hanford.

All we knew about Hanford was we’d pick up the weather balloons that would land in our fields, and we’d take them to the post office to mail them back. They released weather balloons up into the atmosphere, and they’d land in our farms.

The first ones in the forties were made out of wood and tin, and they had a balloon above them, almost like a parachute. Then the next ones: white plastic. They were light, and they had an opaque balloon attached to them, and a transmitter with an aerial coming out the bottom. Then the last ones were really heavy, they were about ten to fifteen pounds, and they had batteries inside them.

And I destroyed government property once: one of the plastic ones. It said: “Return to the nearest post office,” “Do not destroy under penalty of prison or jail.” I took a hammer and I broke it open, and I had to laugh: there was nothing inside but fly paper!

Of course I learned later: every time they would process at 200 Area, they’d release what’s called a “thiodolite balloon.” And the flypaper would go up the stack, and it would stay in the plume, and swing around in the plume, and follow the plume… As the plume cooled it would drift down into the field. And the particles, plutonium and uranium dust, were stuck to the flypaper. So if you were at an accounting lab at Hanford, you’d simply open up the box and start counting… It was called “throw put.”

And the fires: every year there was a fire that would burn and burn and burn and burn. All the smoke would go up in the air and come and land; particles of sagebrush and cheatgrass would land in our farms. They would burn it off, because the plants suck up radionuclides.

There used to be rabbits here... But the rabbits were eating the Cheatgrass, and then they would poop out pellets, and the pellets were radioactive. Because the plants suck up radionuclides. Well, then the coyotes would eat the rabbits, and the hawks would eat what was left over, and all the animals started dying. We’d see hawks hanging upside down on the telephone wires, and coyotes with their hair falling out, running around.

So what they did, (and I don't know this for a fact, but I read an article): they brought in a disease from Australia, a biological weapon that they used on the rabbits. One year we had thousands and thousands of jackrabbits here, the next year there was not a jackrabbit to be found. It’s the same way today… And the disease that they introduced into the rabbit population is called “Myxomatosis.” Brought in from Australia. Then there weren’t so many fires, after that.

And the swallows: they would make their nests in the tops of the reactor buildings...

And we used to hunt pheasants. We had pheasants, and ducks, and geese, here, and waterfowl all the time. They would land on lakes over at Hanford and then they’d come over here to eat. And the Hanford people would ask us to save the legs and the heads from the birds that we’d clean. We’d put them in a sack and put them in the freezer; they’d come pick them up, said they wanted to test them.

Well now I know they were landing in a radioactive lake out there. The solution to the radioactive lake is they back-filled it with dirt: filled the lake up. On the other side Gable Mountain.

We grew up driving these roads, shooting pheasants and ducks and geese and then, I think about 1963, we had an outdoor newspaper reporter come over and he was hunting with us. And for some reason, these two guys who had been hunting over here took the pheasants back to Seattle, and laid them on the garage floor to clean them. And they had a Geiger counter there. And the Geiger counter went off. These birds were hot... These rooster pheasants were hot. That was my sport; that was my fun thing, as a child...

The space men from Hanford: the guys in the suits, with soldiers behind them, shoveling, and gunnysacks, that was in ‘49 or ‘50.

I was just only three or four years old. I was out playing in the backyard and I looked out across the wheat field, and the “Summer Fallen,” which is barren fields; “Summer Fallen” means nothings growing there. And here come this line of people. And there were no people ever around, where I lived. I lived at the end of the world… It was a dirt road, to the house.

And they came in from the west side, and nobody came in from the west side, ever. And they got closer; they were like space guys, in suits, and they had a stick, they’d wave it out in front of them going back and forth, back and forth, back and forth… And then they would hold it at a place… Obviously a Geiger-counter.

And they’d motion a soldier up, he would come up and take a scoop of dirt, put it in his gunnysack, put the gunnysack back on his back and then they’d walk through the farm, and on through the fields, and down under the hill…

So that's how they found where the hot-spots are, probably. Soldiers scooped them up. That’s downwind! And we believe they cleaned it up that way.

I didn’t know that there were all these accidents taking place, I didn't know there were other people getting sick and getting cancer… I started learning stuff, and that's when I started putting two and two together about the balloons.

I became the darling of the anti-nuclear movement. Well I was not anti-nuclear. I was the most patriotic little dumb-ass type kid you would ever want to see. I couldn't wait to go to Vietnam. They turned me down, because of my health problems.

Now here's a picture of the hotspots, at Hanford. You're sitting right about there, where we’re sitting right now. I don't know… Plutonium lasts twenty-two thousand years right? Half-life. We farm them… This is all farmland...

We lamb at night, or we calve at night, and you have to check to see how the birthing process is going. So you’re up every two hours... you go out and see if the animal needs help: grab a leg, pull the calf out, whatever you need to do, right? Well, old man W., he was out checking his sheep, and he heard this whisper-noise and he looked up; in the moonlight he could see a helicopter passing over him, very low. He could see the lights off the dash, glaring off of the pilot’s helmet and facemask. That’s when we knew we had silent-run helicopters. That was in the '70s… they’ve been around for a long time.

Well, we had recently had a series of was called “animal mutations.” We had a spate of those taking place. We had a heifer we found, she was dead on the pasture, south of the house. There was no blood on the ground, it was like she'd been dropped from the sky. There was a dent in the ground where she had been dropped, no motorcycle tracks, no tracks around her, no human tracks, nothing...

We haven't had any “animal mutations” here since Hanford stopped processing.

Ships: round flying ships, just like science fiction crazy stuff on TV. One time we saw them, they came in during the daytime, they came in from the west, hot and heavy and fast, swerved around went down and landed at Hanford. But most of all the other sightings are night sightings. It’s like they’re hanging in the air. Could be drones…

Nobody talks about it. It's like asking questions about what’s going on across the river, and the weird things that you see…

I was ostracized by the rest of the flock: my bank cut off, my operating line; FHA said I couldn’t borrow any more money, and they tried to run me out of the county. They impugned my patriotism, and they economically sanctioned me. The best way to get run out of this county is, become sick with cancer, question Hanford, and don't pay your FHA loans back…

I fought. Borrowed money from family members, ultimately filed Chapter Twelve, reorganization bankruptcy. They have weakened it, but what Thomas Jefferson set in place is still intact.

So downwind, we have the mutated cattle, the deformed cattle, the deformed sheep, the deformed human babies, twenty-seven out of twenty-seven families that were not genetically related to each other, they came from all over the United States, no farming experience… And the effects that they share in common are cancer, birth defects and thyroid problems in their families.

And they're not all Downwinders. Most of people, they’re are all dead... And the people who’ve come in and taken over their land, they don't want to know anything about it. And the people that come here are healthy people. They come out of California, a lot of them, mostly California refugees, because we have water here. They sell their land for a lot of money down there and come up here and replace it cheaply; they think its really cheap.

There’s a disgust involved with this, because we raised the question, and the government answered us: Yes. We did release things that would harm you. They were the largest releases in the history of the free world, and the conscious decision was made to keep it secret.

We won. We were right. They did cause the cancer, they did cause the problems, they did it deliberately. And they had a sealed settlement with the Downwinders. It’s all secret; I don't even know the terms of the settlement. All I know is I get a call once in a while from someone that says, “$1,100 dollars?? Eleven hundred f-ing dollars?? All those years… Eleven hundred dollars? That’s an insult!” And I assume that's what they got from the check.

But I don't have a claim. I don't have cancer. I don’t have thyroid problems… Which would be my sister, my mother, my father, my uncle, my grandparents, all of them…