“My name is John Marshall. I was exposed to DU (depleted uranium). I am 100 percent disabled and I am pissed-off. In fact, I was advised by a couple of my counselors not to do this [interview] because I’m so angry with the government—at the VA system, at the way I’m treated and other veterans are treated. It’s very impersonal. They don’t give you any time. They ask us to go fight their wars, do the dirty work and then they can’t take care of you.”
Most people don’t believe the U.S. has been poisoning its own troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, or they’ve heard about uranium “tipped” bombs—like fingernail polish painted on the outside of a shell casing. On the contrary, these are solid uranium core projectiles.
“I got a thank you (letter) from some lieutenant colonel. ‘Thank you for serving our country. We express our deepest gratitude but we believe you were one of these men who were exposed to depleted uranium either through shrapnel or inhalation of dust.’
“I’m 35, I take 17 medications, I’ve had cancer—lymphatic cancer, Hodgkin’s disease—Lennert’s lymphoma was the initial diagnosis—immune system.”
At age 35 John Marshall should be beginning to peak in his career. As a handsome man, married with three children, Marshall exudes energy. He looks strong, earthy, limps a bit on the left, has a thick build with a lean neck and chin. The military was his career. Being exposed to DU has been called a death sentence.
“Of course they [the VA] downplay everything. There’s latency periods. The bottom line is, they don’t know the long-term effects. Everybody’s going to react different. Some are going to get sick. Some might be able to last a little bit longer. I’ve been sick since I’ve been back.”
On Jan. 6, 1991, Corporal John Marshall flew to the Persian Gulf and waited for the equipment for his mechanized infantry group to arrive. “A Bradley is a tin casket” with a 25 mm cannon and “every piece of armament you can think of” but no outside shielding armor. Marshall didn’t feel safe inside a Bradley. He preferred being a ground soldier, trusting his legs more than an aluminum transport on tracks.
“I was a team leader on the ground. I had my own fire team. I didn’t want to be a [Bradley] gunner because I didn’t want to be responsible for the men’s lives because if a gunner screws up, you got nine men dead. And I didn’t want to take that burden. And that’s where a lot of my guilt, my survivor guilt, comes from.
“I was with the 2nd Armored Division, forward, it was brigade sized, and we were attached to the 7th Corps, 1st Infantry Division. The initial reports were that in the first 24 hours of the ground war 3,000 out of 4,000 just in my brigade were supposed to die. That was scary going into Iraq. That’s what they projected. Thank God things didn’t work out that way.
“When the ground campaign kicked off [February 24, 1991] we cleared numerous bunkers. We did lots of things that I don’t really want to talk about too much. We went north into Iraq, then we did a fish-hook to cut off the supply lines and communication of the Republican Guard. They were retreating. It was a Kill and Destroy Mission, kill and destroy everything that was enemy. That’s what we did.
“We had some resistance. Most of them were not Republican Guard. Most of them were civilian Iraqis. But on the night of the 26th we hit a dug-in position and everybody in the vehicle was pretty much banged up except for two of us.”
Marshall was asked to go up in the Bradley gun turret. “I could have done it. I should have done it. I had the capability. Partially it was a small percent of fear but I’d rather fight on the ground. We dismounted; we were throwing hand grenades down the hatch—a lot of times Iraqi tanks would play possum with us.
“When we hit that [resistance] the rest of the task force continued on. We got separated from them for the entire night. We were maneuvering for the entire night alone. We were getting out [of the Bradleys], we were engaging. So anyway we managed to get through the night and on the morning of the 27th we came across a large enemy bunker complex. We figured it’s a company size, there’s 120-or-so Iraqis. There’s 18 men in two Bradleys and these guys are surrendering to us.
“So we’re taking them prisoner. The LT [lieutenant] finally gets radio contact with the commander and says we have prisoners.” They were ordered to take the prisoners to a support unit to the south and then rendezvous with the rest of the task force.
“I just checked on one of my soldiers who had a gash on his head and then the commander comes over the radio and says get the fuck out of there—there’s supposed to be a counter attack by a large element.
“I started walking and all of a sudden we started taking heavy fire. Two sabot rounds hit our Bradley within 6 feet of me. It’s a dart of depleted uranium. I’m breathing radioactive dust and the toxins from the Bradley. I got sparks flying all over me.
“That’s what I’m talking about. If I’d gotten in that turret that night maybe I could have changed the situation. Maybe we wouldn’t have been—and maybe people wouldn’t have been—but, then I got behind this bunker. There’s about 15 Iraqis inside there. And I tried to shoot them but my weapon jammed. So I cleared my weapon. M-16. It was a terrible weapon. It jammed all the time.
“And those Iraqis, they were crying, they were defecating themselves, urinating themselves. They were so shell shocked, absolutely so traumatized by the situation. So I felt a bit of empathy. Anyways, that didn’t work out. One of my soldiers is shooting at a truck, I’m pumping 203-rounds, it’s a grenade launcher, I managed to get my rifle operational. I didn’t worry about these [Iraqi] guys. They were out of the fight. They just wanted to surrender.
“Things happened. There was an Iraqi running towards me and—I capped him. I used to see—if I kept my eyes open I could see him all the time.”
Three days into the war John Marshall had shrapnel in his shoulder that might have been DU-contaminated, and dust in his lungs. Embedded reporters on American TV showed soldiers firing into the distance—rounds and rounds of blasts chasing the horizon. In February 1991 the dust storms were so fierce soldiers two feet away looked like shadows.
In February 2006 a spike in DU over Britain was made public in the Oct. 12, 1999, Aldermaston Report. And CNN reported the U.S. lung cancer rate jumped six-fold for the first two months of the year. DU dust doesn’t stay put just as radiation hits from Chernobyl bounced around the world on air currents. It is estimated that lung cancer incubates 2 to 5 years after DU inhalation. Four and a-half years ago the Afghan bombing campaign began. Three years ago Iraq War 2 exploded. And if it’s in the air, it’s in the water.
As of March 2006, there is not a single veteran with confirmed DU health problems, according to VA testimony in the Minnesota Senate Agriculture, Veterans and Gaming Committee. Sen. Steve Murphy’s (D-Red Wing) Veterans Health Screening Bill died when Rep. Kathy Tingelstad (R-Andover) refused to hear the bill in the House Governmental Operations and Veterans Affairs Committee. Veterans are given the Ames test which is actually not specific enough to ascertain DU contamination. All of us have uranium in our urine because uranium is ubiquitous in the environment. The real DU test costs $1,000. The wars cost more than $1 billion a week.
Power & Weapons
Depleted uranium comes from enriching uranium for nuclear weapons or for nuclear reactor-grade fuel. Uranium for nuclear power or weapons is so refined that more than 99 percent of it is a “by-product”—depleted uranium. To some, exporting DU waste as weapons in the Third World represents a Machiavellian policy solution to the toxic waste management problem. If more nuclear power facilities are built, more, much more uranium will be refined with mountains of DU waste. Already there are tons and tons of depleted uranium, shipped around the United States and processed into solid bars.
Depleted uranium (DU) is a heavy metal, more dense than lead. Processed DU bars come in various sizes and are cut to length. These solid bars become the bones, the core, the “penetrator,” the innards, of 15 kinds of munitions, sized 20 to 120 millimeters, manufactured by Alliant TechSystems.
Alliant TechSystems, ATK on the stock exchange, is headquartered in Edina, just off Highway 169. ATK made more than $3 billion last year. “We are the largest provider of small-caliber ammunition to the Department of Defense, supplying more than 95 percent of all the rounds used for combat and training,” ATK’s website boasts.
The corporate headquarters is a posh suburban executive building with smoked windows. The pond between the freeway and Lincoln Drive is a settlement trap for contaminants from stormwater runoff, and a dewatering drain for development on low lands. Normally wetland vegetation can filter stormwater enough to attract waterbirds.
Unfortunately the property managers at the ATK building mow, fertilize and water their lawn into turf perfection. They have ringed the pond with rocks to discourage geese—a lifeless yard but crows frequently perch on their roof. ATK management treats their lawn the same way they treat people—it’s their world view. (In ancient northern Europe crow was the corpse eater, crow carried away dead warriors. But in southern Europe the Romans heard crow as a symbol of the future, crying “Tomorrow, tomorrow,” “Cras, cras.”)
War always starts out with hope and delivers death. If war worked it would have worked by now. To turn the crow warning into a future hope consider the crow’s foot as a peace sign without the circle. The peace sign was created by Lord Bertrand Russell during Easter of 1958 for a nuclear disarmament march in England. The design relates to the international semaphore alphabet: N for nuclear, D for disarmament, in a circle indicating complete, worldwide total. Nuclear disarmament requires alternatives to nuclear power; nuclear power was sold to the American people as the “peaceful atom.” We’ve always know “the peaceful atom is a bomb.”
If DU particles are inhaled, alpha radiation causes cell damage, lymph cancers and lung cancer. Beta radiation attacks the eyes and skin. Chemically, DU acting as a heavy metal affects bone and kidneys. DU has a half life of 4 ½ billion years. America has a national debt of $8.4 trillion. No matter how you count it, cancer and debt is on the rise in our country.
When a DU munition is fired it burns through a target (or a missed target) and self-sharpens as it moves, leaving a trail of contaminated dust, like smoke, in its wake. It is a superbly efficient weapon. As a health risk it is guaranteed: disaster, heartbreak, physical agony, financial ruin, and emotional yo-yo on a time scale without end, except in retrospect.
About 340 tons of DU munitions were fired during Iraq War 1. In the Balkans, notably Kosovo, approximately 11 tons of DU were delivered. The Christian Science Monitor reports estimates of 75 tons (official U.S. military figure) to 1,000 tons of DU munitions used in Iraq War 2 so far. Most of the bullets and shells lodge in the soil.
The Department of Defense recommends the removal of heavily-contaminated soil and long-term monitoring because the soil leaches DU poisons into the water. Crops grown in the soil and water from local supplies spread DU toxins into the food chain. And humans, at the top of the food chain, ingest the poisons and pass along strengths and weaknesses to the next generation if they reproduce.
There is an “observed higher prevalence of birth defects among infants conceived postwar to Gulf War veterans of both sexes,” reported Araneta, Schlangen, Edmonds, et al, in their study “Prevalence of birth defects among infants of Gulf War veterans in Arkansas, Arizona, California, Georgia, Hawaii, and Iowa,” 1989-1993. More study was needed, they concluded.
“The total number of all types of birth defects was not greater than expected, but whether the number of specific birth defects was greater than expected could not be determined,” Penman, Tarver and Currier reported in “No evidence of increase in birth defects and health problems among children born to Persian Gulf War Veterans in Mississippi.” The Center for Disease Control (CDC) states that “because of the small number of cases found by the study, the statistical power of the study was low.” According to the CDC, the “normal” birth defect statistic is one out of every 33 births in the U.S.
While the experts duel with statistics, DU munitions continue to be fired. The old Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant (TCAAP), where DU bullets were made, contaminated the New Brighton water supply. They say it’s cleaned up now and won’t be our Love Canal. For years, peace activists have called for a study tracking the health of Honeywell/Alliant workers who made the DU munitions.
Of the 580,000 Iraq War 1 veterans, 56 percent have applied for disability treatment and benefits. Depleted uranium is the sin of the father visited upon the next generation, whether it’s parental illness, death, or birth defects and genetic damage inherited by untold generations. Brothers, if you’re going over, bank your sperm. Sisters, if you’re going over—have your babies first.
Iraq is a nuclear war. DU munitions are weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Yes, there are WMDs in Iraq.
How do you ask for forgiveness?
Marshall went through EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) for the tape loop of the Iraqi running toward him. “I could just look at you and see him. Now I have to think about it to see him.
“Anyway, I continued firing and I got hit. I got hit in the back. I didn’t feel it. All I felt was the hot blood running down my back. There was an Iraqi priest right next to me. He’s crying, he’s got the book of Koran and he offers me some water and I wasn’t going to drink the water because I didn’t know if it was contaminated. And I smoked at the time, and he offered me a cigarette, and I sure as hell smoked that. I’m surprised they didn’t try to kill me ’cause I tried to kill them.
“So anyhow, things started to settle down and our own friendlies got to the other friendlies and told them you’re shooting up friendlies.”
They eventually got evacuated. Marshall was sent to five different field hospitals and began his traverse through the VA system. Cpl. John Marshall got cancer, a 15-year cough, and a Purple Heart. “I lost my career and I lost my health.
“I was very successful in my career,” Marshall states. “I’m really having a tough time.”
“I’m just tired. I just feel tired of fighting these bastards in the hospital. They don’t believe in prevention. My tumor wasn’t sent to pathology. The government waits. They wait for the veterans to die.
“I try to stay active.” He likes to garden. “Each day is just a matter of survival.” His goal is to live another two years so his family can collect benefits. “The way I feel, two years seems like forever to me.” His hope is that the two little ones, the boys aged 12 and 8, don’t get cancer. ||