Assemblyman Kevin Byrne (R,C,I,SAM,ROS-Mahopac) and State Senator Peter Harckham (D,WFP-South Salem) hosted a ceremony on Tuesday morning at Woodlands Legacy Field in Yorktown Heights, NY to announce the naming of a pedestrian walking bridge which crosses over the Taconic State Parkway in honor and memory of our nation’s atomic veterans. Byrne and Harckham were joined by members of the National Association of Atomic Veterans who traveled in from Minnesota and Wisconsin in addition to representatives from the Military Veterans Advocacy Group from Saratoga, NY, as well members of the Yorktown Town Board, and Yorktown American Legion Post #1009.
Atomic Veterans are a specific group of former United States service members who participated in atmospheric and underwater nuclear weapons tests from 1945 to 1962, and includes veterans who were assigned post-weapons test duties such as decontaminating vessels, collecting samples, etc.
“It is truly remarkable how this specific group of veterans were prohibited from sharing their stories for over forty years, despite great health risks to themselves and sacrifices made by their families,” said Byrne. “These veterans have been under-recognized for far too long, and this legislation did a little more to rectify that here in New York State. The naming of this bridge will help spread awareness about the sacrifices that were made by these brave military veterans, teaching generations of New Yorkers about who they are, and what they and their families endured.”
“This is a very exciting day, as we are naming this bridge the Atomic Veterans Memorial Bridge,” said Harckham. “It’s been made very clear to me by my veteran’s advisory group how important it is to recognize the sacrifice and service of our atomic veterans. We thank our courageous veterans for speaking out and breaking their oath of silence on the health risks that they were exposed to and the brave example that they have set for all of us.”
“The Town of Yorktown is very proud to recognize the sacrifices of our atomic veterans by designating this bridge as the Atomic Veterans Memorial Bridge,” said Yorktown Supervisor Matt Slater. “We recognize that freedom isn’t free, and we are thrilled to be able to commemorate the efforts of our atomic veterans not only within the town of Yorktown, but in the entire country. We thank Assemblyman Byrne and State Senator Peter Harckham for being able to work together in a bipartisan fashion to make the naming of this bridge a reality.”
“I want to thank everyone for helping to make this day possible,” said Keith Kiefer, Commander of the National Association of Atomic Veterans. “This is a historic day to be able to properly recognize our atomic veterans. Senator Harckham and Assemblyman Byrne have done a wonderful job advocating on behalf of our veterans to make sure that their efforts would not be forgotten.”
“I have been fighting for 70 years to get the kind of recognition that New York State is giving us today,” said Dr. Francis Lincoln Grahlfs, Director-at-Large of the National Association of Atomic Veterans. “We want the whole country to recognize not only the outrage that was perpetrated on us, but the lies that were told to the American people as well. Thank you all very much for being here today”
“It is not just bullets and IED’s that kill our men and women in war, but deadly chemicals and radiation,” said Susie Bellinger, Board of Directors, Military Veterans Advocacy Group. “This is just another cost of war. We cannot forget these veterans. This bridge will be the voice of all atomic war veterans and how much they sacrificed.”
“Many people were not able to be here to fight their fight, and it is very important that our country continues to remember the sacrifices that were made by not only these servicemen but also their families,” said Councilman Ed Lachterman, Yorktown Town Board. “Thank you very much to everyone who came out here today to remember these heroes.”
“These brave men and women that we have here today served honorably to defend what we have today,” said Councilman Tom Diana, Yorktown Town Board. “We need to make sure that we hold our government accountable to provide for these veterans the care and dignity that they deserve. It is an honor and a privilege to stand with these folks today as we memorialize their sacrifices with the naming of this bridge.”
“We owe all of our veterans a debt of gratitude for their service and sacrifice,” said George Latimer, Westchester County Executive who was unable to attend the event but sent his kind regards and appreciation. “This bridge will now serve as a catalyst of awareness for our atomic veterans, an often-unfamiliar group of heroes who deserve our respect. They will forever have a place in our County’s history and I thank my colleagues Assemblyman Byrne and State Senator Harckham for their incredible work on this important legislation.”
The bridge is located within the town of Yorktown and connects a walking path from Woodlands Park to Granite Knolls Park over a portion of the Taconic State Parkway. The legislation sponsored by Byrne and Harckham named the pedestrian bridge in honor of the 220,000+ American service men and women who participated in approximately 235 nuclear tests conducted between July 1945 and October 1962. Health issues that were sustained by exposure to ionizing radiation affected not only the veterans themselves, but their loved ones, including their biological children, as well.
Saturday, July 16th, 2022 is national Atomic Veterans Day. You can learn more about Atomic Veterans and the National Association of Atomic Veterans at their website www.naav.com