The Forgotten Island of Johnston Atoll


In 1995 the U.S. government declassified a set of military documents which outlined the real story behind a series of failed high-altitude nuclear tests and atmospheric air drops during 1962 on a tiny atoll in the middle of the Pacific called Johnston Island.

Barely a mile long this island is permanent record of the nuclear age as it became the hub for coordinating and launching Thor and Redstone nuclear rockets into the brilliant blue skies above the Pacific.

“The smaller the area the bigger the MAN to live therein”

– Handbook given to new U.S. military arrivals on Johnson Atoll in 1955.

The watermark of this testing period occurred during 1962 as part of Operation Dominic which comprised over 30 nuclear detonations in the Pacific. They were a direct response to the Soviet Union who had broken an earlier moratorium and conducted atmospheric nuclear explosions to test U.S. resolve during the Cold War.

Vintage film reels released by the U.S. military during the 1960s describe Operation Dominic as the most successful nuclear military ever conducted. In reality, it reflected the excesses of a paranoiac era whose radioactive dust slowly killed off some of their best airmen and ground personnel.

A series of failed tests on Johnston Atoll and the surrounding “danger zone” waters were played down by the Joint Task Force who at one time directed the detonations from an old World War II Bunker on the island. These failures or operational glitches caught ground and air crew by surprise and resulted in long term radioactive poisoning.

“It was an episode that our Government would just as soon forget,” said Michael Thomas, a senior technician who flew with the famous “Blue Sharks” patrol squadron based out of the Atoll during the tests.

“But the long term consequences for those of us who participated would be difficult, costly, and painful. It wasn’t until 1995 that the 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.”

This stoic silence on the part of these brave soldiers in service of their country reveals the absolute secrecy surrounding these tests which was played out on this forgotten atoll in the mid-pacific.

The Blue Sharks who particpated in the 1962 tests suffered an 85% casualty rate from various radiogenic diseases. In fact, Michael Thomas and only two others have survived their exposure to radiation.

Operation Dominic

The tests on Johnston Island were given striking code names like: Bluegill, Starfish, Starfish Prime, and Bluegill Prime.

Their failures were nothing short of spectacular, as described by Thomas:

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. Within 25 years most of them would be dead including Captain Leonard, squadron leader, who passed away in 1990 from non-Hodgkins lymphoma – direct result of radiation exposure from Bluegill Prime.”

Dale K. Olson aboard the U.S.S. John S. McCain, DL-3 remembers the night, “I got a real sick feeling knowing that there was a fully active A-bomb on the rocket. It gave a new meaning to ‘Put your head between your legs and kiss your ass good-bye.

At the time the U.S. government labelled this disaster a “one of a kind missile misadventure” caused by a sticking fuel valve. Another failed launched was apparently caused by a internal missile guidance malfunction.

“The weapon development effort was completely successful in its primary test objectives and yielded important new weapons affects information,” said the U.S. film reel released later by the Joint Task Force.

The Most Ancient of Atolls

Johnston Island is one of the most isolated atolls on the planet and is the result of 70 million years of volcanic eruptions, limestone capping and reef growth. Consisting of four coral islands, it was discovered by accident in 1807 by Captain Charles Johnston of HMS Cornwallis.

A decade or two later the Kingdom of Hawaii, roughly 800 miles away, attempted to claim ownership — unsuccessfully.

For many years it remained undisturbed by the gentle occupation of the U.S. government who considered it an unincorporated territory.

This lonely island in the middle of nowhere was a rich bird sanctuary and recognized as such by President Coolidge in 1926 when he placed it under the control of the Department of Agriculture.

A series of executive orders followed which tightened up the department’s control of the island and preserved it’s reputation as a haven of diverse seabird life.

But the looming spectre of war with Germany sealed its fate when President Roosevelt gave control to U.S. navy for an air station.

From this point on the island would become a magnet for the tools and products of “war” as it suffered aerial bombings from Japanese fighter planes during World War II and would later become a pivot point for just about every nuclear, chemical and rocket testing program the U.S military could come up with.

Dawn of the Nuclear Age

The nuclear age began at 5.30 a.m on 16 July 1945 when a brilliant fireball lit up the lilac skies just before sunrise in Alamagorda, New Mexico. Several of the observers standing back of the shelter to watch the lighting effects were knocked flat by the blast which had been code name “Trinity”.

Dr Oppenheimer, in charge of the Manhattan Project felt a heavy burden lift off his shoulders as his Russian colleague Dr. Kistiakowsky threw his arms around him in an ecstatic victory embrace. They had done it!

By 1949 Russia followed suite with their own detonation. A terrible race had began which accelerated when the U.S. triggered the “thermonuclear age” in 1952 as it exploded its a plutonium warhead over Eniwetok atoll in the Pacific.

This blast was 500 times more powerful than the Trinity detonation in New Mexico four years prior.

By 1993 the U.S. alone had carried out 1,030 nuclear weapons tests all over the world including Johnston Island. England, China and others would follow.

If this was not enough, the onset of the Korean and Vietnam wars would also make this one-time bird sanctuary a dumping ground for just about every chemical agent produced by man, including Agent Orange and other nerve gas agents collected from the Eastern Bloc.

By the late 1960s the island was home to 300 military personnel and 1000 civilian contractors who sole job was to reach “zero defect” levels for the nuclear and chemical weaponry stored and tested on the island.

It was only in 1981 that the tide turned and the Army began planning for the Johnston Atoll Chemical Agent Disposal System (JACADS). In 1986 construction began on the world’s first full-scale facility built to destroy chemical weapons.

Radioactive debris and soils were scraped and dumped in a 25 acre landfill, along with residue from Agent Orange containers returned from Southeast Asia and the Vietnam War.

This process would take 20 years to complete and even now contamination has not been completely eliminated.

This dismantling process was a complex exercise requiring a broad range of engineers, scientists and programmers.

The island was not only subjected to the horror of human technology; it also had to cope with hurricanes and the continual threat of ‘perceived’ tsunamis.

In the early 1990s approaching hurricanes shut down all facilities and forced the evacuation of more than 1000 soldiers and supporting civilian staff to Hawaii.

When a hurricane did hit in 1994 the JACADS production facility went offline for 70 days as water and power supplies were compromised.

It Looked Like An Aircraft Carrier…

Throughout this tumultuous period from the 1930s to present day, the runway – almost as big as the island – sustained the ebb and flow of military personnel and technology.

“We flew into JI on a DC 6 and when we approached the Island it looked like a large air craft carrier from several thousand feet up,” said Leo Richardson, fresh out of boot camp in June 1946.

“One day while driving the follow-me jeep I drove from one end of the air strip to the other and found it to be 1.10 miles long,” he recalled.

The runway was 5600′ long and ran from one end of the island to the other and appeared to soldiers stationed there to be about 1/4 as wide as it was long. The hook shaped reef was clearly visible.

The few feet of coral just before the start of the runway would heat up in the mid-day sun releasing thermal updrafts that created hidden turbulence for B-57 pilots as they came into land.

Soldiers reported instances where B-57s wobbled so much the tips of the wings would hit the coral waters with dangerous results.

“The pilot pushed his throttles forward and the jet passed over our heads and sprayed us with fuel from the ruptured tip tank. Fortunately for everyone involved it did not catch fire. He went around again and landed safely on his second attempt, “ said Bill Knoop, a 18 year old X-Ray Technician, stationed there in 1955.

Leo Richardson remembers happy days on the island: “Johnston Island was wonderful duty, easy and exciting. A few officers had their wives and children with them and I recall the Christmas of 1946 we made up a sailor for Santa Claus and flew him out without the kids knowing it, and then back when they were gathered to watch the SNJ deliver Santa Claus. What a day!

The Coral Reefs And Their Treasures

The four small islands of Johnston Atoll are home to over 200 species of fish, 32 species of coral, and 20 species of native and migratory birds. The climate is flawless in terms of offering consistent, hot, balmy Pacific summer days and much time was spent catching 6-8 foot “sand sharks” that swam in the waters around the coral heads.

Soldiers used the valuable shark jaws to gain the upper hand in trading that took place on the island in the 1960s. They were extremely sought after.

Alert! Japanese Tsunami Imminent!

In the summer of 1968, there was an earthquake near Japan, and military personnel braced themselves for a possible tsunami that was expected to hit the atoll several hours later.

Richard Tower, a USAF captain working as the Safety Officer on the Thor missile program, describes the tension:

“We expected the wave to be five hundred mile per hour and 50 feet high. There was considerable concern since the island was so small and with minimal elevation above sea level. I guess no one on the island realized then that a tsunami will form a wave only when it hits a continental shelf; we never saw a ripple.

The Most Feared Termite On Earth

Johnson Atoll was also home to the most feared termite on earth, the Formosan, which eats 6 times faster then a typical termite. These termites survived the nuclear age along with mice, scorpions, roaches and big ants.

Since no natural fresh water is available on the island, all fresh water is made by reverse osmosis by drawing water up from the aquifer. Any substance that might contaminate the aquifer can’t be used on the island.

But in 1995 the mighty Formosan met its match when Ms Shelby Magnuson-Hawkins arrived on the island as the new Lead Pest Control Specialist from Raytheon Services Nevada (RSN).

She had a difficult job in light of the restrictions relating to pesticide use on the island which affect the Red Blood Cell Cholinesterase (RBC-ChE) baseline for humans stationed on the atoll.

Not intimidated by the reputation of the Formosan, she divided the island into 3 sections and within each she would treat a particular building. This would kill any termite in the wood and any insect living in and around the building.

Lieutenant Colonel Charles Glaubach, Director of Military Operations, was astounded by the results: Within 4 months the island was virtually pest free and the top brass who had been coming back and forth to the island had never seen results like this.

It was so successful they persuaded her to apply for a patent which was awarded in 2001.

Tale Of An Automation Engineer

David Draper arrived on Johnston Atoll in 1998 to take up the position of Control System Engineer under the JACADS umbrella, which formed part of the Salt Peace Treaty.

He arrived on a military jet looking forward to taking his career to a new level as he spent two years writing, coding and debugging a data acquisition system using VMS, SUN Solaris and Oracle databases.

These giant data warehouses collected digital and analog data from the chemical destabilization plant whose overriding purposes was to destroy GB/VX rockets, projectiles and mines.

Every three months he was allowed to return home to Denver for a 2 week stint with his family.

“I feel in looove with the ocean during my time on the Atoll. My system reports landed on the desks of President Bush Sr and Gorbachev. It was top secret stuff,” said Draper.

“After I left and changed companies (ended up in Singapore for 6 months) I got a call in and the government asked me personally to look over 500,000 lines of Oracle code for the Y2k effort.”

Draper shuttled back and fourth between Johnston Atoll and Tooele, Utah reviewing endless lines of lines of code before making recommendations on re-writes, firmware, revisions. This was followed by extensive testing to ensure the Y2K transition went smoothly

Draper now works for WildBlue, which provides two-way broadband services via satellite to Rural America. Wildblue was recently acquired by ViaSat, operating out of Carlsbad. He still remembers his time on the island fondly.

The Nuclear Renaissance

The last atmospheric nuclear weapons test occurred on 16 October 1980 in China. As of July 2010, President Obama’s administration outlined a 20-year plan to reduce current stockpiles of nuclear warheads from 5,000 to around 3,200. The plan calls for an increase in spending on the complex that houses and maintain them.

Nuclear Annie, Areva CEO

However, the proliferation of nuclear weaponry has now become divorced from the civilian use of nuclear energy. At least according to Anne Lauvergeon, President of Areva, a French state-run nuclear power company, who claims there there is a renaissance underway which is making nuclear power a centerpiece in the battle to offer cheap international energy. Lauvergeon outlined this development in interview conducted by Charlie Rose.

“Nuclear Annie” as she is called said that while initial investment was costly it also provided 60 years of electricity at a very predictable cost.

“You don’t depend on other countries, and you have no CO2 emissions. But nuclear energy is not for everybody. You cannot build new nuclear plants in a country that is not stable, that is not managed with rationality.”

“20% of the U.S. energy requirements are sourced from nuclear energy and you have one of the oldest nuclear plants in the world which will go offline around 2030,” she said.

Meanwhile, China and India are not sitting idle — they are actively pursuing nuclear programs since they are offer cheap long-term energy.

“If we are not competitive in terms of energy, we are dead.”

Of course, as with Johnston Island, the threat of nuclear waste is the big red question mark hanging over nuclear power. The problem with the United States nuclear energy policy is there is no defined plan for dealing with nuclear waste from plants.

According to Lauvergeon, Avera recycles 96% of the waste emanating from a nuclear plant since only a very small amount of uranium is used to power the plant.

President Obama is currently reviewing the nuclear waste technology policy which was previously only allowed to be used in military applications. This policy was instituted by President Carter in the 1970s.

Johnston Atoll: Return to the birds

By May 2005, almost all of Johnston Island’s infrastructure had been removed, and all personnel had left the atoll, including refuge staff.

If your thinking of visiting the Atoll you may find it tough: Public entry to the islands is by special-use permit from the U.S. Airforce only and generally restricted to scientists and educationists.

U.S. Refuge staff occasionally visit the atoll to monitor the status of its wildlife. While previously most of the seabirds and shorebirds were found on Sand, Akua (North), and Hikina (East) islands, they have now colonized Johnston Island, taking advantage of the trees and shrubs left behind by its former human residents.

The refuge is managed primarily as a breeding ground for seabirds and a wintering grounds for shorebirds. Twelve species of seabirds, such as the great frigatebird and wedge-tailed shearwater, breed within the atoll.

The coral reefs continue to grow including the threatened green sea turtle and endangered Hawaiian monk seal. The staff manages year-round monitoring programs for 14 species of seabirds and 5 species of migratory shorebirds.

According to the Johnston Island National Wildlife Refuge several significant contaminant issues exist:

Closure of the chemical weapons disposal plant; dioxin (Agent Orange), which contaminates at least four acres of land and has migrated to the marine environment; plutonium from two abortive missile launches during high-altitude nuclear and missile testing in the 1950s and 1960s; and a subsurface plume of PCB-contaminated petroleum product.

Contaminants tracking involves monitoring seabirds, fishes, and marine invertebrates. Refuge personnel also monitor fish populations and threatened green sea turtles, which use the waters of Johnston Atoll as an important foraging location. Also, soil and sediment samples are used to establish the degree and extent of contamination.

Thus, this ancient atoll has a come a full circle and is no longer under the constant spectre of chemical and nuclear testing.

On January 6, 2009, the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument was established, which includes Johnston Atoll National Wildlife Refuge within its boundaries.

The U.S. Airforce is now an absentee landlord for the island which is considered a national wildlife refuge just as it once was in 1926 under President Coolidge.

Johnston’s remoteness coupled with the difficulty to gain access mean it will continue to slip slowly out the public eye until the world is one day again threatened by winds of war.

106 Responses to “The Forgotten Island of Johnston Atoll”
  1. TERRYRS 9 February 2013 at 4:08 am #

    Aloha Guys,

    It is now 2/2013 and I am still around with my ostomy pouch and cancer. Still advocating for
    the guys that got cancer. I write the President (OBAMA) and other delegates 3/4 times a
    year to remind them that they forgot. EEOICPA still excludes all except DOE workers.
    RECA still does not provide medical assistance and yes all the delegates know. Each year
    there are those that submit amendment legislation but as always dies in committee. Well
    if I learn anything I will let you know. There is an avenue to getting medical assistance which
    is called the DEFENSE BASE ACT. All employers were required to provide compensation
    insurance for workers in foreign/off-shore lands. Hard to get though as it has been 50 years.
    Aloha to all.

  2. Ray 24 February 2013 at 8:10 am #

    – I was on JA in July of 1977 as the team lead onboard the MT Vulcanus during the incineration of Agent Orange. I volunteered to give a talk on my experience for the local American Chemical Society section. After reviewing my photos from the effort and the report that we wrote, I decided to look for information on the history of the island. It was both interesting and chilling. As I found this website and read the comments of the veterans, it is sad how military and civilian workers in the defense industry were treated after their work on JA. On You Tube there are number of declassified test films on Operation Dominic and Fishbowl (high altitude nuclear tests). Nukes were exploded directly over JA at various altitudes. In particular one film shows the explosion of the Thor rocket and destruction of the warhead on the launch pad. The movie report was so matter of fact about it and made it seem like it was just a minor problem ( without any mention of the people exposed to the contamination. There are a whole series of these movies under that title if you are interested. Another good site with personal stories is: I found a document: Phase II Environmental Baseline Survey, Johnston AtollAppendix B at ( This article in the Honolulu Advertiser ( talks about the 60,000 cubic yards of radioactive contaminates that were collected on JA. Perhaps some of these sites might help explain what your father’s did on Johnston Atoll and what it might have done to them.

  3. Ron Hill 19 March 2013 at 2:28 am #

    I served in the U.S. Coasd guard On J.I. from May 73 thru May 74. Presently I have Type II Diabetes, Stage IV Metastatic Prostate Cancer, Hypertension, Gout, declining Kidney function, and Sleep Apnea. I am alive because of Gods Mercy amd Grace, and the stripes that Jesus Christ bore on Calvary! I love life and thank my Heavenly Father for every moment I live. I am 59 years young presently.I believe I heard God wisper in my ear the encouraging words “60 will be your 30”. his Word declairs thst the later wil be greater than rest, and I expect God will keep that promise to me and anyone else that calls on the name of our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ. The V.A. is slow in the processing of my claim, however when they finish I expect the final decision will be to my benefit and Gods glory!

  4. Van Woody Jr. 2 June 2013 at 7:37 am #


    March 2013 Robert L. Campbell passed away from cancer in Hawaii an as
    tribute I think we should never forget the attempt that Robert and Mike
    Thomas in exposing the problems of Atomic Veterans of JI.

    On November 13, 1991, they testified before a subcommittee of the House
    Veteran’s Affairs Committee, in the matter of HR 3236, Johnston Island,
    ‘the Aftermath.” The testimony dealt with Operations Crossroads,
    Upshot-Knothole, Greenhouse and Operations Dominic 1.

    Searches prior to 1973, 1974, and between the period of June 1975 and
    march 1980, over 500 hotspots or radioactive elements were found
    including, Americium, bismuth-214, Cesium-137, Radium-236, Thorium-234,
    Plutonium, Plutonium-239, Plutonium249, Uranium-235 and Uranium-238.

    “It would be reasonable to assume that personnel either assigned to
    Johnston Island from 1946 to 1980, or those transiting through this
    location, were in a position to either inhale and/or ingest radioactive
    debris without knowing and therefore, the GOVERNMENT bears a
    responsibility, which, to the writer, cannot be ignored.”

    Our GOVERNMENT along with Senator Alan Cranston (D-California) ignored
    this independent study, report that was titled: Radiological Survey,
    Johnston Atoll, April-August 1980, was produced by Edgerton, Germhausen
    and Grier Energy Measurements Group (DNA-8114), Remote Sensing
    Laboratory DOE.

    How many Soldier’s died from their exposure and how many are sick and
    dying a slow death?

    I am asking that you Jason to add the four(4) page Congressional
    Testimony by Robert L. Campbell (WWII Veteran) and Mike Thomas (a
    former member of the famed Navy patrol squadron VP-6) be posted on any
    website as possible so that this becomes knowledgeable to all Veterans’
    that served on the Rock?

    Thank you Jason Stevens for you have done to expose what Robert L.
    Campbell and Mike Thomas tried to accomplish.

    Written on behalf of the Soldiers that came before us and those left
    behind and those who will follow.

    Van Woody Jr.
    Vietnam (1970) Johnston Atoll

  5. TERRYRS 11 May 2014 at 8:38 am #

    Aloha to all,
    Yep I am still here (76) and still write all the delegates and President, nobody cares.
    Obama just used his Executive Authority to support “fairness” can you believe it, nope!
    Since 1990 when America finally admitted that radiation causes cancer and listed the
    cancers and test sites as evidence they still deny all except the exclusive Energy
    workers. All the defense workers, military and civilians still get nothing. After I left
    Johnston I worked for NASA putting our guys on the moon and alas I even retired from
    the Federal Service but I still can’t reach our delegates to provide ” FAIRNESS ” you
    know that issue Obama now pushes, I don’t know why as he can’t get re-elected.
    They did an article on me in the Honolulu Midweek if you get a chance look it up on
    GOOGLE. Well I am still writing all the delegates and President but as they expect
    we will all die before justice is served. I am not bitter but I expected my nation to
    support all us loyal Americans.

  6. terryrs 26 May 2014 at 9:37 am #

    Aloha to all,

    Still here and still writing OBAMA and Congress regarding amending RECA to provide
    assistance just like EEOICPA. They all know but still deny. With the VA problems
    now maybe someone will wake up. I was the Communitions Specialist for PMRF
    and ran all the communications. Our trailer complex was at the eastern end of the
    island. Well just to let you know I am still around and still after the government to
    provide ” FAIRNESS ” you know what OBAMA said. He said he got our backs to, hum!
    Well take care. The last picture I saw of the island, it was leveled, no buildings nothing.
    I talked to a couple of FISH AND WILDLIFE guys that stay on the island in tents. They
    say the island is overrun with ants.


  7. Jake D Sitters 13 June 2014 at 7:27 pm #

    I spent 28 years on Johnston Island/Atoll, from l964 to l992. Yeah, I’ve had a couple of heart attacks…one of which healed it self; the other took six bypasses to correct…and I’m a Type II diabetic…neither condition attributable to the years I spent on the island, which were some of the best years of my life…so far. I am going on 85 now and I expect to live to be 121 some day! Yes, you read that correctly: 121. And still doing for myself and my pets on the 28 acres made possible by my stay on Johnston Island/Atoll. I had great employers: Holmes & Narver, Inc., out of Anaheim CA and Honolulu HI, and Raytheon Services, and some of the best co-workers/friends, civilian as well as military, a person could ever have. Anyone may email me at 6-13-2014

  8. Rob Honeycutt 16 June 2014 at 3:35 am #

    Hi folks,
    That is me driving the jeep at the top of this page. I was there in 63-64 for about 10 months. i was in the USAF and repaired crypto equipment in the comm center at about the middle of the island(looked like a big warehouse). So far, I am still doing OK at 71, I dont know what effect the radiation could have had on me so far, go type II diabetes, aches and pains in legs, allergies. What upsets me is I do not recall any briefings about any radiation the whole time I was there. The only radiation thing I saw was the signs around the launch pads where the big rockets took off, next to the terminal or close to it. We should have at least had free medical care out of this service time. I would like to have the tests that determine what traces of radiation are in my system. Govco wastes money hand over fist for too much stuff and denies what is needed or owed to us VETS. We get this thank you for your service and unless you do 20 or more years, you get zip for your service as in Thanks for your service, now go away, you bother me! Probably one in ten actually retired from the service, so why are 90% of us ignored for anything, at least we could get some medical help, especially now that Obamacare had screwed up the entire healthcare system! Anybody remember me, give me a holler, my number is in the phone book, Columbia SC.

  9. David Lee Johnson 9 July 2014 at 8:08 pm #

    I was a VP-6 Sailor on Johnston Island during June and July 1962. I flew with Lt Boatright and others. We would fly out to rig the Russians who were steaming around the Island waiting to survey out Atomic Shots. Currently I am asking for reviews and compensations ..

  10. Tom King 4 December 2014 at 9:26 pm #

    I must have been Rob’s replacement in the Crypto repair room in a corner of tech control. We did get radiation briefings about swimming in the lagoon and keeping any sand out of any open wounds. They were constantly dredging the atoll and dumping the debris on the end of the island to extend the runways and the plutonium laden sand was impossible to keep away from since every plane landing and taking off blew sand into every nook and cranny. We did have two Holmes & Narver civilians die of radiation poisoning from eating fish they had caught in the lagoon. They never mentioned plutonium but certain areas were off limits to only those in hazmat suits. I’m also doing okay at 71, at least from radiation exposure. I did have to guard and count the barrels of agent Orange and other bacterial warfare chemicals that have left me a few conditions. From what I’ve read, bombs were dropped as late as 1962 over the atoll leaving the entire area contaminated with plutonium but the VA still has not considered any exposure to radiation exposure after 1962 at Johnston Island for compensation.

  11. ruben 6 December 2014 at 3:18 am #

    My father died of cancer this morning as a result of the year he spent there. There are 75,000 dollar pay outs to surviving spouses and children.

  12. terryrs 13 December 2014 at 8:21 am #

    Well it is 2014 and I am still around with my cancers and ostomy pouches. I continue to write
    the President and Senators to amend RECA or EEOICPA to make all victims inclusive. Just
    can’t get their attention. I just read that our delegates think we are to expensive, I wonder
    what they thought when they ask us to participate. I am contemplating writing a book on
    Johnston (Kalama to Hawaiians). A friend that lived up the street and worked at Johnston
    just passed, he had bladder cancer like me. Although when I was there I was totally ignorant
    looking back I often wonder what I was drinking. I wrote my sitting Senator as I do 4 or 5
    times a year as reminder that some of us are still around. Strange but not to many guys
    around as when I served in 1962/63. I run into guys that worked the dredgers to expand the
    island in 63. One of them relates that many complained of illnesses but did not know where
    from. Well take care and I am still after the President and Senators.

  13. Bill Taylor 29 December 2014 at 9:22 pm #

    I was stationed at JI with the Coast Guard from 8/73-9/74. Fortunately, I lived on Sand Island and not JI. Still, we had at least some exposure, mostly related to the agent orange and other chemicals. I know of several friends who were there the same time as me who have passed away as a result of some type of cancer. At least one friend who is still living has been diagnosed with cancer but I forget the type. He contacted me through my blog ( where I have posted a few stories from my personal experiences at JI. He has been doing research and experiencing the same VA roadblocks as those described at this site. If anyone is interested, I will be happy to try to hook you up with him. I would also be happy to share stories. JI truly was a great place to live but for many it came with a steep price.

  14. angelo farrow 6 January 2015 at 6:21 am #

    I was at JI from 1993 to 1994. I have great memories of my time there, but always wondered about what dangers were associated with that tour. I submitted claim info to VA during my initial disability claim, but VA did not even respond to that portion of my claim.

  15. Bob Hallbauer 9 January 2015 at 4:29 am #

    On JI 1961 -1962. Any G.E or Douglas folks left from those days? Can we talk about it? Separate subject:Anybody remember Project Emily?

  16. Mark Darch 10 January 2015 at 1:44 am #

    In 1986 my army co went to ja for a counter terrorism exercise.with alarms going off constantly,we were ordered to remove masks so we could question is was I exposed to radiation ect.seeing how they told us nothing,maybe you can help.

  17. Clifford Buelter 15 March 2015 at 1:08 pm #

    I was stationed there between Mar.13,1982-Mar.13,1983 I’m the only solider to ever sneak onto Johnston Atoll ever because I didn’t in-process at Ft.Shafter first.This of course got me in all kinds of trouble with the cadre I would be under while there 1st Sgt.Roberts & Major Barbouxe
    To begin with I was not to talk to anyone until I was in-processed in Hi. but I still had to do PT & other things in the mean time.When ate chow I had to sit by myself & speak to no civilian either unless it was to tell them what I wanted to eat & nothing more.This made me a marked person so that once got things taken care of in Hi. & sent back I became an enemy to all the guys in my unit,platoon,squad & even roommate.Not the way I wanted to start my stay there.Then matters got worst because I fell out of the first run/sprint & was put on extra running for the next nine months as a result.I thought was a little bit of over kill to make a point but I NEVER failed on any more runs in fact I was able to run 2mi.’s 13min.’s flat to prove that I didn’t need to do any extra running it didn’t work.I always got a blanket party because stood my ground when people picked on me about being a spy or something.I got punished for not shaving a couple of times & shaved any day unless we had the weekend off & they still want me to do so anyways while solider there didn’t have to.This happened within the first four months I was there.I was called a wimp & baby by my fellow troops after the running failure but not one of them ever brought to mind I was the shortest guy in the company all the while I was there on JI.”I had to keep up”! is what I was told & not be a little girl or a quitter.I made friends with Guy Bruce a civilian worker on the island because he would talk to me about all the bad things he heard about or saw happen to me.All I ever wanted was to fit in quietly & get along with my piers but that took quite while for me to win other people trust because of the stories of how I sneaked onto the island,I didn’t shave or bathe all of which were rumor not fact so I was a loner for most of my time there.The worst false claim against me came up over my friendship with Mr. Bruce because I was spending too much time in his room talking or playing games with a kindly gentle souled man I was rumored to be a FAGGOT by Sgt.Pickell who saw me rubbing a charlie horse out of the mans leg one night after he had over worked himself that day.Another thing I was turned in for was being a REDNECK SOB because I didn’t like the way some of the black soliders in my co.wanted me to treat them like royalty & explain the only way it would ever happen is if them would do the same for me other wise forget.I got in a couple of fights over that 4 of them were started by the other person only was started by myself because & PFC Seeger just could get along at all until after the fight.He was Black I was White & he was what I considered to be a SMART ASS N* & he thought was a REDNECK even if I wasn’t from the South he thought carried myself to much like others he met back home in South Carolina.Even after I told him I was from Wash.State then I became a DAMN YANKEE in his mind & eyes.We both shared a common enemy Sgt.Corn & Ssgt.Hume neither of them care for either of us.By now 1st Sgt.Roberts & Major Barbouxe were gone & so was SFC Hennesey my platoon sargent at time a lot of these things took place.He & Sgt.Corn let a another PFC in my platoon name Carter who I had gone through Basic Training with at Ft.Leonard Wood to grab & punch me but I got in trouble because I was a trouble maker already in their minds.I guess for me the icing on the cake when I had to talk to Lt.Lyter about why I was always in trouble with the rest of the fellow or on my own & when told him & CWO.Farmer I wasn’t the cause 99% of the time I got an hour chewing over it.When it was time for lunch that day I’d had enough cramp slung onto my plate by everyone else so I chewed out Lt.Lyter in front of my CO Major Aikens,my 1st Sgt.Remerez,my acting platoon sargent Ssgt.Hume,my squad leader Ssgt.Corn & my newly appointed platoon Lt.Coine. after which I was brought up on insabordnation charges given an Article-13 loss of pay for 3 mo.’s & spent 14 day at the Correctional Custody Facility at Scollfield Barracks HI.Which took place Dec.11,1982 for the ART.-13, Dec.12,1982 to Dec.30,1982 the most humiliated days in the Army I’d known since basic.After that when I got back to JI I was looked upon with different eyes by my piers from that point on even though I didn’t speak to anyone about for 2 weeks after I got back but all agreed I was railroaded into event by rumor not fact.The other bad thing about it was I couldn’t be friends with Mr.Bruce anymore because of the FAGGOT issuse.It broke his heart & mine too!The one time I went into Hi. for RR I broke my arm after getting drunk & out of a tree I’d climbed up to a better view of Pearl Harbour.As you can tell I had a GREAT TIME at Johnston Atoll.I swear I did I was a PFC 20yr.old at the time got there & when I left there still 20 & a PFC still a HELL of WAY to live out your first year of being a man although most say it starts at 18.I still look back with fawn of few things I did enjoy out there but the rest scared me deeply & hurt to this day when ponder on why it all took place the way it did if they had only typed out my orders correctly at 608th Ord. Co. Ft.Benning to in process in Hi first before sneaking onto JI I can’t say for sure but I don’t think alot of it would have happened.I hope sharing this with anyone else who was there or knows about JI they can e- on their thoughts about it.

  18. John Buzzerio 20 March 2015 at 4:16 pm #

    Ed George- I was wondering if you might remember a USO show that was on Johnston Island in March ’76. They were a band of 4 guys and two girls; the guitarist did not make the gig for reasons unknown. I was one of the escorts for the show, from the 267th Chemical Company. My pictures are all stored away, Do you have any info about the group, like their name and/or any kind of PR photo? Thanks in advance.

  19. David Westfall 8 April 2015 at 1:30 am #

    I am David Westfall. I was on JI from Feb ’86-Feb ’87. I worked for MSG Leonard and CW4 Beetle in the OPS office before I was cleared to work in the RED HAT area. I played softball for the Razorbacks. I also remember the night that the Chaplain’s assistant drowned. I can’t remember his name.

    I remember Wendy and especially the cutie Doreen.

    Working down range in the de-mil bunker was terrible but somehow I wish I could go out there again. I could not believe it was all gone when I found this website.

    I turned 20 years old in November of ’86. I remember the Outrigger club bingo on Saturday nights and the Tiki lounge New Year’s Eve bash in Dec ’86 and was really sick drunk when they ran us out of the club at about 4 am.

    My nickname was “Hollywood” because would wear a red bandana around my curly blonde hair. I wrapped the bandana around the last round of mustard gas when we finished that project to remove the propellant from the 105 and 155 mm rounds. Someone must have found it during the incineration project.

    If you have any contacts with other whom were there in 86-87, I would love to try to chat with them.

    JI forever take care.

    Dave Westfall
    Red Hat Vet

  20. sam derrick 27 April 2015 at 2:31 am #

    i have thick blood..take blood thinners for 15 years now..i was on the atoll for about 4 months..while there we had a tug of war against the civilians…i took my shoes off…we had best of 3 times…i tore my feet up in coil..was 19 at time..dumb this was 1967…got infected and could not walk for a week…if i knew about the radiation i would not have done this…im at west columbia,sc….8036618400

  21. kelly 18 June 2015 at 5:55 am #

    Johnson island I sincerely hope wildlife is restord there. My dad was there in 1957 I believe testing missles. After exposion and nuclear fall-out. My family suffered the effects of this mission. My brothet suffered born with mental retardtion webbed feet and hands. We wre never compisated or even acknoleged fot that matter.

  22. terryrs 26 August 2015 at 9:28 am #

    Aloha again guys,

    It is now 10/2015 and amazing I am still around, what is left of me after
    all the cancer surgery. Yep I paid for it all as Uncle Sam thinks we are to
    expensive and hope we will die.

  23. terryrs 26 August 2015 at 9:36 am #

    Aloha again guys,

    It is now 10/2015 and amazing I am still around, what is left of me after
    all the cancer surgery. Yep I paid for it all as Uncle Sam thinks we are to
    expensive and hope we will die. I tried EEOICPA, VA and RECA and was
    denied by all. I am now using DBA but it is a lengthy process, more than
    five years and still battling in court.

    I don’t see to many people from the early sixties (1962) my time. Yep I am
    77 getting old. I was a Com Tech for PMRF.

    Well all take care..

  24. TERRYRS 29 October 2015 at 2:57 am #

    Well it is Oct/2015, I am a year older and have just learned even my employer
    Bendix Field Engineering and DOL, OWCP turned me down for medical compensation.
    Funny they admit to the radiation harm but deny responsibility. Such is government.
    Yes Johnston is leveled and protected by as a Fish and Wildlife preserve, Sadly it is
    highly contaminated. DON;T GO THERE! I give up as nobody cares. Aloha.

  25. Michelle Gatz 30 October 2015 at 5:49 pm #

    I care, and if you are still there email me and I will see what I can do to help you….

  26. George Baker 31 October 2015 at 4:01 am #

    Hi Everyone,

    I was assigned to Field Command Defense Nuclear Agency (FCDNA) in Albuquerque 86-90. FCDNA was the Johnston Atoll landlord during that period. While assigned to FCDNA I made numerous trips to JA, to the extent that I probably spent a total of six months there. I have prostate cancer and applied to VA for service connection. It was denied because the VA does not concede exposure to Agent Orange for people on JA. However, I am in the midst of an appeal because I found a case where a VA appeals judge ruled in favor of a Soldier who was on JA during the period that Agent Orange was stored there. The Soldier did not claim that he worked directly with Agent Orange, he was a cook. But he cited the study done by the USAF in the 90’s that showed that marine life in the lagoon was contaminated with Agent Orange. This was enough for the judge to say that there was a service connection because in areas of doubt the standard is to rule in favor of the service member. I am citing this case as a precedent in my appeal. I am posting a link to the ruling. The more people that use this, the easier it will be for everyone.

  27. George Baker 31 October 2015 at 4:04 am #

    Here is the link.

  28. Darcey Ebert 1 November 2015 at 8:54 pm #

    The island, at present, is being invaded by Crazy ants. Teams of scientists are rotating in and out to eliminate these awful insects. They are comprimising the health of the ground nesting birds indigenous to the island. I hope the are successful.

    (Info obtained from an article I read in Autobon magazine.)

    I personally was stationed on Johnston Atoll in 1992.

  29. willie welch 14 November 2015 at 9:24 am #

    I remember being part of the dive club . I to still have my dive card. I was stationed their july 68 thru july69. I remember the tank compressor being broke. I fondly remember holmes/narver air movie shut down for fear of tidle wave ,diving in that clear water.pole fell before I got their but I remember the cement around the polei still think of the navy guy who signed out the boats and radio. we had a deal that kept us with aboat. and I worked with a guy from uiv. Hawaii.i use to think of my time their fondly,but know i have Parkinson and I wonder if my time in paradise caused it.

  30. TomB 4 December 2015 at 12:50 am #

    Wow, I just came across this information, what a shock. I was stationed at the Coast Guard LORAN station on Sand Island (within Johnston Atoll) from Jan-Dec 1971. I was never told about possible danger from plutonium and other radioactive isotopes that may have been present as a result of failed atomic bomb tests. We were catching and eating fish and shellfish from the lagoon!
    No signs of cancer as yet, my fingers are crossed …

  31. Tom Davis 19 February 2016 at 7:41 pm #

    I Was on Ji. Us. Army 1977-1978 Great Times great people Never Had crazy yellow ants did a Lot Of shark Fishing .did a lot of Drinking At The Tiki Bar Got In Trouble Now Clean And Sober Had a Great mes Hall Prime Rib Every Wednsday All You Could eat Steak On Saturday Remember Brodie Sfc Stamper SSg Gonzalis Franzen Munuz Wish ICould Go Back One Last time On My Bucket List

  32. Robert C. Risch 23 April 2016 at 4:03 am #

    I spent some four hours late one evening on Johnson Island in the year 1948, departing from Hickam Field on a C-47 on its way to Kwajalein Atoll. The stop was to pick up civilian workers and equipment on Johnson Island having to do with atomic weapons tests then being conducted in the pacific.

    Aboard the C-47 I was told to make do for space, my new rate as Third Class Navy Petty Officer, afforded little preference as to where I may sleep or sit, so I positioned myself on the deck behind the pilot and co-pilot. That location provided a pilots view from the cockpit.

    I watched as the pilot throttled down, drop the landing gear and flaps but saw nothing in the blackness beyond the windshield. When I raised myself up off the deck of the aircraft the pilot recognized my interest and pointed to a bright spot in the middle of a black nowhere. He said nothing after that, his concentration was elsewhere.

    We were skimming the waves as the pilot lined up for landing and when the wheels touched the runway, throttles were cut and brakes applied. I remember the pilot leaning his back against the seat, I assume, but could not see, he was all but standing on those brakes. The copilot then took control of the plane as we taxied back to the terminal.

    We were to eat and be ready for takeoff in four hours. Upon boarding the plane I was amazed how much equipment and people were joining us on our flight to Kwajalein. Equipment took space priority over people and civilian people took priority over military personnel. My space behind the pilot and copilot was there, though there was less of it.

    The pilot was checking his engines performance and when he leaned back again he was applying pressure on his brakes when he opened full throttle. The plane seemed like it was bouncing on its wheels wanting to go. When the pilot released the brakes the plane jolted forward and cargo and people groaned in the acceleration. I heard later that plane had to leave the runway at a certain point or all eatables within would become shark bait. The island was hot and humid, its runway marginal in length but an island experience never forgotten. Thank you, Bob Risch.

  33. Roland E. Mack 28 April 2016 at 5:08 am #

    I was the Army Motor Sergeant 94/ 95. I repaired a lot of equipment with little or no parts. I use to go over to the Raython junkyard and find parts to repair vehicles and equipment to get running and order the parts from Honolulu to complete the repair . I called a napa auto parts in Honolulu and had a wire welder and a tap and die set shipped to the island learned a lot of field expedient repairs. Was on the second plane to re occupy the island after hurricane John. GSA on Honolulu was worried about the status of the government leased vehicles which we repaired at the shop example beating the smashed roof of our dodge van damaged from a fallen building. We got a door from a van at the junk yard . And I heard the van was still in use a few years after I left along with the other damaged vehicles. The 2 MP HUMMVs had a problem with the starters falling out of them which we repaired using a helicoil set . The engines for the decon units were worn out and we received 2 engines from Ft. Shaftner that were used and we had to tear apart what we had to make work. That yer went fast . Now retired Army I had kidney failure skin rashes and type 2 diabeties.

  34. Howard e Crockett Jr 28 May 2016 at 12:58 am #

    I was stationed here in january 1982 us army till February 1983 as a chemical operation specialist . I would like to know and hear from anyone who was there during my tour of duty. Please contact me by mail 2484 meadowlake rd. Sciota,pa. 18354 or cell phone 484-735-1900,email

  35. Wallace McCormick 23 January 2017 at 8:51 pm #

    I was stationed at Barbers Point NAS when they tested the Nuclear device on Johnston Island. It was about midnight, and we had just left the Pearl EM club to return to our base. It was unreal. A sudden white flash brighter than anything you have seen. Even though Johnston Island was 800 miles away, the mushroom cloud with fire bursting through was something I will never forget . I still have a Hawaii newspaper from the next day with a rendering and the story of it. Officials in Hawaii were upset because there was no word that this was going to happen.
    the phone lines were all tied up because everyone thought Pearl was being bombed again. It was either 1957 or 1958. Thanks to all you military buddies out there everywhere. My oath is still deeply ingrained in my heart.

  36. H Peeples 23 January 2017 at 11:06 pm #

    They were still cleaning up the Radioactive Debris from the Bluegill Prime Disaster as late as 1985. They had special rules for the Island which included not eating anything caught within the reef or anything grown on the island. But what about the “Locals” that cooked an assortment of goodies at the little huts around the island. We also played softball with “NO SLIDING” rules, but what about PT, Chipping golf balls on the 9 hole, and Football. Another concern was the areas we (The MPs) were assigned to patrol, which included Scientific Row, The Red Hat area (Where we did most of our sleeping), the Southwest area (where we did most of our exploring and the Shark Chute for fishing) and the old agent orange area for jeep driving donut training. It was kind of a cesspool of toxins back in its day. They say there were never any leakers there (From the Chemicals Stored) but the M-8s occasionally sang out, and the bullet heads would evac us, don up, and go reset everything. Just a safe place to be, if you listen to the govt.

  37. Linda Holden Ford 31 January 2017 at 11:13 am #

    My father was stationed on Johnston Atoll when I was about 13 or so, so that would have been around mid 60’s. I remember something about the island being 1 long and 1 1/2 mile wide. Things have been written here about cancer. It is interesting….HISTORY…Kenneth M. Holden was on Tinian in 1944 as LT Communications I think, Johnston Atoll in 1960’s (Major Communications I believe) and by 1967-68 he was at Bihn Thuy Viet Nam (Lt Col 1880 Comm Sq). He died of large cell lung cancer in 1978. No one ever ever talked about the possibility of nuclear fallout, agent orange etc. Yes, the AF took care of him being a career man but it didn’t bring my dad back. Dad never talked about much of anything. God bless you all.

  38. jimmy d 4 February 2017 at 12:22 am #

    Was there for a week in Sept 1979, was a diver on the USCGC Basswood.
    Worked all {dove on} the buoys from the lagoon out to shipping channel, raised more than one sinker covered in sediment, and coral encrusted chain, also took on fresh water for our return to Guam.

    Over the last 20 years developed,Sarcoidosis, Hashimoto’s disease,Celiac disease,nueropathy. Had cloroacne within one year, but didn’t see a doc, thought it was a dietary thing.

    Seen plenty of doc’s sense though- a VA doc said looks like A/O exposure, have had 2 other civilian docs since call it the same, but don’t meet the 78 mark they set after the Vulcanus removed the leaky barrels, never mind all the other evidence that shows many types of contamination long after 78.

    Not quitting on this.

  39. Randy 6 February 2017 at 12:54 am #

    I serve there in ’63 in the Air Force. 2875th GEEIA squadron Japan. Did not know anything about the failed nuc test till today.

  40. Rick Fournier 12 February 2017 at 3:00 am #

    As I look over the comments and stories of JI, I can’t help but notice that all of the entries are later than the period of time that I was stationed on the island as a voice air-to-ground radio operator with the Air Force.
    I arrived in August, 1952, badly hung-over from Hawaii partying, and went home a year later in August of 1953, headed for SAC headquarters in Omaha. By the time I left they were just beginning to build up the island’s size. We of course wondered what was the purpose for that? Well, the later entries certainly explain why and those affected by the test deserve our sympathy.
    I’m so glad I left the island when I did, and did not ever have to go back, but my year there was a pleasant one. Are there any other survivors of the “early years” of the 50’s still out there?

  41. Okiisan 19 February 2017 at 1:09 am #

    I was on Johnston island June 1966 to May 1967 US NAVY BOAT GROUP OF TASK FORCE 8, TASK ELEMENT Provided water taxi and recreational deep sea fishing. Three scheduled runs from JI to Sand,East and North islands. Also did ocean current dye drops to check for Question what, photographed by DC 3

    flying and radioing Us to pump sea dye.

  42. Bob Schneider 1 March 2017 at 1:08 am #

    I was on Ji from 1971 to1973 for h&n. I remember the good times. they outwheigh the lonely times , i would like to here from some of the men I worked with them years.

  43. Michael Bannister 15 March 2017 at 5:20 pm #

    I served 90 days TDY there in early it possible to go see it again? How would one proceed?

  44. Luther Prather Jr 28 April 2017 at 6:05 am #

    My dad died there in 1967. Does anyone know Luther Prather?

  45. Gregory Armstrong 4 May 2017 at 4:27 am #

    I was stationed on JA from 1993-1994 as an MP.

  46. terryrs 21 June 2017 at 8:17 am #

    Well guys it is now 6/21/17, still alive. America still denies those that served
    with equal assist. Yes, I cannot forget after all that I gave and my country took.
    We will die waiting for equity.

  47. terryrs 11 July 2017 at 8:22 am #

    Well guys been writing Trump to undo what Clinton did and Obama did not.
    What was done can be corrected. DOL EEOICPA is highly unjust. To
    think only energy workers deserve is nuts. So why then. We all know.
    I will keep advocating for equity for all.
    Take care.

  48. Richard Clayton Ward 22 July 2017 at 2:09 am #

    I was there in the AF in 1964 10th ADS out of Vandenberg AFB. I was there from Feb. 1964 until Dec. 1964. I was a cryogenics fluid production specialist, producing liquid oxygen for fuel for the Thor missiles that were fired during my stay. Been a long time but I will never forget my time on THE ISLAND.


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    […] system can do this." Please continue reading this article. It is simply – CHILLING.…ohnston-atoll/ A series of failed tests on Johnston Atoll and the surrounding “danger zone” waters […]

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    […] You can read more about the painful legacy of these nuclear tests here: Jason Stevens – the Forgotten Island of Johnston Atoll. […]

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