Thursday, October 29, 2009

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MIDDLETOWN -- Friday will be the first of many National Day of Remembrances, recognizing the unsung heroes of the Cold War.

Today will not only honor the veterans of the Atomic Energy Commission -- who sacrificed their health, and sometimes their lives, to protecting the country -- but it will give them a chance to share their stories over coffee and doughnuts.

Former workers, their families and supporters of former workers are invited to the event, which will be from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. today at the Machinists Union Hall in Middletown, 16452 Highway 34.

A formal declaration of the National Day of Remembrance, which is Oct. 30, will be made at 11 a.m.

"This is actually the first time that this industry has been acknowledged by the public," said Barbara Escajeda, a representative from the non-profit Cold War Patriots that petitioned to Congress to pass a resolution recognizing the people who worked with nuclear weapons or as uranium miners, millers and haulers.

Escajeda will be at the Middletown event today to talk about some other projects her group has planned to honor former workers, including a couple of time capsules and a memorabilia tour next year.

"With the day of remembrance, it's our intent to help educate the public about who this population is and was," Escajeda said, adding that it's also meant to acknowledge their efforts in protecting the nation.

A representative from Congressman Dave Loebsack's staff will be at the event to make a statement on behalf of the 2nd District Democrat. Representatives of Iowa's senators also may make statements, though their appearances were not confirmed to the Burlington Atomic Energy Commission Plant-Former Worker Program at the University of Iowa.

Loebsack made a statement on the House floor Wednesday to acknowledge specifically the former workers from the Iowa Army Ammunition Plant and urge support of a resolution recognizing the day of remembrance.

"For decades during the Cold War, hundreds of thousands of Atomic Energy Commission employees, including thousands of workers at the Iowa Army Ammunition Plant in my district, labored in hazardous conditions at our nation's nuclear weapons facility," Loebsack said on the House floor. "In the end, many of these workers sacrificed their health for the security of our nation, working with beryllium, asbestos, uranium and radiation, without knowing the impact these materials would later have on their health.

"But for far too long, their service and sacrifice have not been properly honored."

In Iowa, the commemoration is going on all week. The Ames Laboratory held a national day of remembrance open house Tuesday.

Laurence Fuortes, project director for the former worker program, said despite the meager turnout at the Ames event, the University of Iowa staff were regaled with many tales.

"They were actually still educating us again," Fuortes said, adding that he expects a larger turnout in Middletown.

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