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James Major Bradey Gates, Jr.: Atomic Veteran & Activist
As a member of the Alliance of Atomic Veterans, Jim Gates has participated in civil disobedience actions against weapons testing at the Nevada Test Site since 1986. He joined radiation victims in rallies and conferences in Washington, DC, New York City, San Francisco, Berkeley, Las Vegas and Chicago. Jim has worked closely with political leaders including Mayor Harold Washington, senators Carol Mosley Braun and Paul Simon. Yet his own story is not well known, although it was included in the 1978 documentary Paul Jacobs and the Nuclear Gang and the 1995 British production Geiger Sweet, Geiger Sour. Jim Gates is a rare kind of person who in 1955 sacrificed his own well-being to open the issue of atmospheric weapons experiments to the light of day. When his insider knowledge was given public exposure by investigative reporter Paul Jacobs, history was made.
Born in Chicago, Illinois in 1935, Jim Gates experienced the poverty of the Black South Side, plus the home impact of W.W.II. Patriotic, he entered the military at a very young age, using his older brother's ID and ended up in combat in Korea at 15, early in 1951. Upon returning in 1954 he was reassigned to Camp Desert Rock, Nevada for practice in nuclear warfare field maneuvers. Meanwhile, the chemist and Nobel laureate, the late Dr. Linus Pauling encouraged the independent journalist Paul Jacobs to investigate the Nevada Test Site (NTS). Dr. Pauling had proof that radiation was damaging living genes. He believed that human experimentation had been carried out that year on Marshall Islanders at Rongelap in testing a 15-megaton (15 million ton TNT-equivalent) hydrogen bomb. The government called the contamination at Rongelap a mistake in wind direction - although there is proof that it was premeditated. The US government carried out over 200 atmospheric nuclear tests from 1945 to 1963 using over a quarter million GIs as guinea pigs.
In the winter of 1955, Paul Jacobs picked up Jim Gates when he was hitching to Las Vegas. They soon became friends, and then Jim gave Paul inside information, contacts and rendezvous with others on the base. After several years of research, Jacobs published a series of stories which helped to blow the lid of secrecy at NTS. With the world outcry backed by scientific documentation, the USSR, US and UK entered into an atmospheric test ban in 1963. As a result of Jim's whistle-blowing, the military made things very difficult on him by losing and destroying records. Even with records proving his service in the military from 1951 to 1977, he was not rewarded military retirement. He had proof of his role in the weapons tests, yet like other atomic veterans he could not obtain service-connected disability.
Jim's physical problems go back to the early 1970s as his teeth began to fall out. All of his teeth have come loose or had to be surgically removed as malgrowths in his jawbone forced them up. Doctors have found muscular skeletal problems and connective tissue disorder which have debilitated his strength and coordination. He has spent time at Hines VA Hospital, but has been given no systematic treatment for his conditions. Recently, he has had heart failure, lung-collapse and a burst appendix. After Jim miraculously survived septicemia, doctors found that his appendix growth had been festering for forty years. Unquestionably, all of this stems from Jim's contamination on the nuclear test site, at the various ground zeros during tests and clean-up operations and even around the base.
Like so many others at the test site, Jim ingested radioactive dust as well as receiving direct prompt radiation from the bomb and contaminated earth and air. While Atomic Energy Commission investigators in protective suits walked around with Geiger counters, GIs at Camp Desert Rock went about their daily routine. Jim Gates was involved in a series of fourteen nuclear explosions in Operation TEAPOT with yields ranging from one to 43 kilotons. A kiloton is 1,000 tons. In comparison, the Oklahoma City bomb was 2.4 tons. Jim's recollection of these events placed him in the general vicinity of a half mile from each.
One test blew Jim out of a trench and rendered him unconscious for eleven days - only to awaken to find stitches clear around his left arm and leg. Scientists at TEAPOT were attempting to develop a number of new devices: "Dial-A-Yield," a variable blast and radiation concept which included the predecessor to the neutron bomb, and "Bigger Bang for a Buck," or miniaturization for ICBM strategic warheads and field artillery for the Euro-theater tactical weapons. After TEAPOT, Jim later tried to obtain a medical discharge but was denied. He found himself transferred to Germany and then back to Chicago where he was temporarily assigned to teach chemical, biological & nuclear war training at Nike ABM bases near Lake Michigan. While in the army reserve he drove cabs in Chicago.
Jim's legal battle was featured as the cover story of the Journal of the American Bar Association, "The Legal Fallout," by Nancy Hogan. Her article reviewed the litigation quagmire facing all atomic veterans. Since 1978 Jim has been fighting for his rights and the rights of thousands of veterans. He is a father of eight children and has twenty-nine grandchildren. He has always worked many jobs, such as jobs at the post office, steel mills, driving cabs and in his own restaurant. With his disabilities, he gets by on Social Security, which barely pays rent. He had even been denied that for twelve years in which time he became homeless and suffered a heart attack with no hospitalization. After a long fight, he received back pay only to suffer an appendix burst followed by heart failure, on the 40th anniversary of Operation TEAPOT.