Acie Byrd: Veteran exposed to nuclear radiation who fought for the rights of others who also suffered health problems


Matt Schudel
Sunday 15 June 2014 17:40
Byrd, Jr: after service at Enewetak Atoll he had nerve damage and prostate cancer
Byrd, Jr: after service at Enewetak Atoll he had nerve damage and prostate cancer

Acie Byrd, Jr was a disabled Navy veteran who became a prominent advocate for many causes, most notably veterans who had been exposed to nuclear radiation.

He served 16 years in the Navy, and in 1958 was assigned to work at an atoll in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific, where US nuclear weapons were being tested. He was part of a unit that retrieved equipment and supplies after explosions.

The US detonated 14 megatons of atomic weapons on Enewetak Atoll, where Byrd was assigned, or 380 times the combined force of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Above-ground testing ceased in 1962, a year before the US signed a test-ban treaty, but it came too late for Byrd and other veterans, who began to experience health problems.

In Byrd’s case, the problems included nerve damage in his face and recurring bouts of prostate cancer. He became a member of the National Association of Atomic Veterans and co-founded the International Alliance of Atomic Veterans and his efforts were crucial to the passage of the Atomic Veterans Relief Act of 1986, which provided compensation to military veterans whose health problems were shown to be linked to radiation exposure.

He became increasingly involved in causes including civil rights, the abolition of the death penalty and a ban on nuclear weapons. In 1977, he was one of the founding members of WPFW and frequently appeared on the “jazz and justice” station as a commentator on politics and veterans’ matters.

Acie Lee Byrd Jr, campaigner: born Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina 7 January 1937; partner to Shirley Birdsong (one daughter, one son); died Arlington, Virginia 13 May 2014.

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