A strong rumble woke 13-year-old Lucy Benavidez Garwood in the darkness, shaking the three-room adobe house where she and her family lived and rattling dishes in the kitchen cupboard. Neighbors who gathered that morning agreed it must have been an earthquake.
They learned the truth several weeks later when U.S. forces attacked Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. The atomic bombs dropped on the two cities had been developed in Tularosa’s own backyard — that pre-dawn test blast jolting communities across southern New Mexico, shooting a mushroom cloud 10 miles into the sky, then raining radioactive ash on thousands of unsuspecting residents.
What happened here in the aftermath, surviving “downwinders” and their relatives say, is a legacy of serious health consequences that have gone unacknowledged for 78 years. Their struggles continue to be pushed aside; the new blockbuster film “Oppenheimer,” which spotlights the scientist most credited for the bomb, ignores completely the people who lived in the shadow of his test site.
Yet for all their ambivalence about the movie’s fanfare — the northern New Mexico city of Los Alamos, where J. Robert Oppenheimer located the Manhattan Project, just threw a 10-day festival to celebrate its place in history — locals also have hope that the Hollywood glow may elevate their long quest to be added to a federal program that compensates people sickened by presumed exposure to radiation from aboveground nuclear tests.
“They were counting on us to be unsophisticated and uneducated and unable to stick up for ourselves,” said Tina Cordova, a Tularosa native who for 18 years has led the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium, which she co-founded after being diagnosed with thyroid cancer. “We’re not those people anymore.” [Continue reading…]