Downwinders Interviews: Hap Lease, Marjorie Lease and Bonnie McDaniels

Downwinders Hap, Marjory and BonnieMargorie

The cancer started in his throat, it was real sore. We went to our own doctor, who said, “You have a sore throat, I’ll give you antibiotics.” He took them for six weeks, but didn’t seem to improve any. We went to a throat specialist. He said, “All I can tell you, you sure have a sore throat. I’ll give you some antibiotics.” We told him we already had some, but he said, “Well, try them three or four weeks longer.” It kept getting worse and worse. Finally, desperate, I looked one up in the telephone book. We went in right away and he said, “I sure don’t like what I see. I want you in the hospital tomorrow morning for a biopsy.” After the biopsy we went to the UCLA hospital and they took out his larynx. They took his whole head off almost. When he came out of surgery he looked like a mummy, he was so wrapped up. He didn’t come to for a few days. Bonnie [a nurse by profession] quit her job to take are of him and she literally did intensive care for seven months.

He worked at the Test Site for fourteen years, since 1962. He was a monitor so he was one of the first guys in [into the test tunnels to recover equipment and check radiation levels] after these shots. I remember Hap said that there were some areas up there that was infected with plutonium so bad it will never be fit for anything. Nobody dare go in there because there is so much plutonium. There has been so many guys died that worked up there.


I worked out there too in 1963 and 1964. I was a secretary and bookkeeper for Rad Safe [the Test Site’s Radioactive Safety team] so I knew a lot of what he was doing. He was a draftsman so he made all the drawings for all the maps of the entire Test Site. He was on every road there was, on every piece of ground, measuring, right in the middle of all the shots. He was in the clean-up of Baneberry [an underground test that had a massive venting in 1970] and had to give people showers and feed them beer and give them paper clothes. Cars were buried in big ditches out there because they were so contaminated they couldn’t clean them up. In the cafeteria everything was contaminated. he was one of the front ones up there. They had one of these T’s to hang onto, a pipe in the ground with a crossbar to hang onto when the ground shook. The day that Baneberry took place, they were all standing at these certain spots [the T’s] for the shot. It really shook because it ruptured. Whe the smoke and dust or whatever it is came out, that cloud, Hap was right on top of it.


Area Twelve was the place where he told them to get out. They said, “No, we can’t. Our supervisor said we can’t go.” Hap said, “Get the hell out of here, it’s too hot!” They didn’t go, Roberts and Nunemaker. Four years later they were both dead from leukemia. Later on he told me how they kept these people on the bus and took them for showers, showers, showers to try to get that stuff off. Feed them beer, any kind of liquid to get them to urinate andg et that stuff out of their system. He said he never saw people take so many showers in his life.


They told me when I quit that I can’t go out there again because I have too much radiation. I would go from Mercury and take time cards and paychecks out to all the guys no matter where they were. I was all over the Test Site. I was out there when they were doing shots and everything. I never dressed out [in protective clothing]. They would have a shot and it didn’t matter where we were. They didn’t know where I was, I didn’t have a radio in my truck. I’d just jump in it in the morning and take off. If they had a shot, they had a shot. I never knew where. I didn’t know radiation from anything else. They said it didn’t hurt you so you went along and did your thing. I had a little counter, they always left a geiger counter in the trucks. When it goes off in the truck you’re sittin’ in you know it’s contaminated.


Hap was told different times when they had visitors up there from foreign countries to turn it off. She got a lot of radiation up there. After that, she had another child, Sean, he’s eighteen now, and he was born with a cleft lip, and there’s something wrong with his stomach muscles.


He has no stomach muscles. His bladder is backwards. He has lots of things wrong with him. He had four operations on his lip. His teeth were laying sideways so he had to have them pulled. I think right now he has more pain that he wants to admit. He has a bad temper because he doesn’t know what to do. Doctors tell him he shouldn’t have kids because of all the chromosome damage. He’s pretty much decided that he’s going to self-destruct. He’s started drinkin’ and drivin’ crazy all within the last year. He’s decided he’s going to go nuts. his older brother [conceived before she worked at the Test Site] is just fine, a happy-go-lucky kid.

And you know, at the warehouse my office was in, they would bring in soil samples, wood samples, little animals, all kinds of stuff, so radiation was coming through all the time. I worked out of two offices. Right across the hall is where they did all the badges [which measured workers’ exposures]. They’d run the badges through the counters and a lot of times I’d hear the guys say, “This one’s too hot” and “Let’s ditch this one; get a new one and give it the same number.” Many times they’d put them in the fire and burn them up, actually burn up the badges.

They made us sign things that we would never ever say anything or tell anybody what we did up there, about what went on. When we quit we had to go through a debriefing. They sit there and talk to you and find out how much you know. I just played like I didn’t know a thing. I walked out of there and thought, “You fools.” Everybody thought it was neat to be employed by the government. It was the kind of job you don’t say no to. When they say to do something you go do what they tell you to do.
~June 1986
Las Vegas, Nevada

from American Ground Zero: The Secret Nuclear War by Carole Gallagher

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