OAK HARBOR, Wash. — There is a group of sailors and Marines, some from right here in the Northwest, who consider themselves warriors, wounded in a battle they didn’t realize they were fighting against an enemy that’s both terrifying and invisible: radiation.
It happened in 2011, right after Japan’s devastating earthquake and tsunami. Now that group is suing over debilitating and even fatal diseases that may not show up for years.
In March and April of that year, the front line for the US Navy’s 7th Fleet was the coast of Japan. When the 9.0 earthquake struck, followed by a massive tsunami, the 25-ship carrier group led by the USS Ronald Reagan arrived the next day to help. It was officially dubbed “Operation Tomodachi.”
Aviation Bosun’s Mate Dagan Honda of Oak Harbor recalls the mission, “it was helping save people’s lives. That’s what we do every day and that’s what we’re expected to do.”[…]
“It was just being all like beep, beep, beep, beep beep,” he said. And when the scanners went crazy, that meant the radiation technicians would confiscate whatever was hot, “Yes, I lost my pants. Other people lost boots, coats, probably a mixture of everything.”
Neither Wright nor Honda worried, saying the Navy continuously reassured them. Honda adds, “they said onboard you know, it was no big deal.”
But right after Tomodachi, Honda says he started experiencing frequent migraines and unexplained fatigue which he’d never suffered from before. And he says his doctor told him he has several discs degenerating at an unusual rate.
“Mine are degenerating rapidly compared to people in my age group and it’s not something that is normal for people my age to have,” he said.
Within a month of Operation Tomodachi, Ron Wright, now a civilian, says he started experiencing painful swelling in his groin. He’s undergone three surgeries but expects to suffer pain the rest of his life. But even more frightening is Wright’s diagnosis of varicocele can lead to male infertility, leaving Wright’s future uncertain.
“I don’t know what the long term effects can be,” Wright said.
One of the biggest roadblocks to the class action lawsuit will likely be the Department of Defense. Though it’s not a participant in the suit, in a 2014 report to Congress the DOD said it calculated doses for all sailors of the 7th Fleet and they were, “well below Federal regulatory limits,” and that it believes it is, “implausible that these low-level doses are the cause of the health effects,” to sailors.
In a statement to KOMO 4 News, TEPCO referred us to the conclusions of the DOD report, adding it appreciates, “the service of all the men and women of the United States military who provided the Japanese people with humanitarian and disaster relief.”