State Legislature Passes Byrne, Harckham Bill Honoring Atomic Veterans in New York

Albany, NY – Special legislation introduced by New York State Assemblyman Kevin Byrne and Senator Pete Harckham designating the pedestrian bridge over the Taconic State Parkway in the Town of Yorktown as the Atomic Veterans Memorial Bridge has been approved in the State Legislature, and now awaits Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s signature.

Once enacted, the legislation (S.7114 / A.1456) will rename the pedestrian bridge in honor and memory of the 220,000 American service men and women who participated in approximately 235 nuclear tests conducted between 1945 and 1963, potentially exposing themselves to radiation leading to negative health effects later in life.

 “In 2018, I attended a Memorial Day service where a local veteran and past state commander of the National Association of Atomic Veterans named Ed Gettler spoke and reminded all in attendance of the brutal realities of war, specifically the early years of testing atomic and nuclear weapons,” said Byrne. “Our atomic veterans are often under-recognized, and to change this we must continue to promote awareness of the incredible sacrifice made by these brave American service members. That is why I believe this legislation is important not only to the community I represent, but to our entire state and the remembrance of these remarkable heroes.”

 “The commitment, actions and sacrifice that the men and women we know as ‘Atomic Veterans’ should never be forgotten,” said Harckham. “In service to our country, they stood at the forefront of a new, nuclear age, and in many cases made the ultimate sacrifice or were sickened because of their willingness to do their patriotic duty. This commemoration offers some recognition, and over the years, may spur the curious to learn more about this important aspect of American history.”

Much of the veterans’ work during the nuclear tests was top secret and unknown to the public. This legislation seeks to raise awareness and honor the remarkable service and sacrifice made by these brave military heroes. The legislation was passed in early June with sweeping bipartisan support in both the Assembly and Senate.

Keith Kiefer, National Commander of the National Association of Atomic Veterans (NAAV), said, “NAAV is grateful to Assemblyman Byrne and Senator Harckham for leading the effort to recognize the sacrifice Atomic Veterans and their families have made in the interest of national security. We also wish to thank past NAAV New York State Commander Ed Gettler and New York State citizens for their advocacy and the important role they’ve played in getting this legislation passed in the Senate and Assembly. Few know of these veterans’ sacrifices because an oath of secrecy was in place until 1996, preventing Atomic Veterans from discussing their experience with their families or doctors. Many have taken their stories to the grave. It is our hope this monument will be the catalyst for others to learn more about the history of the Atomic Veterans, and we appreciate Governor Cuomo’s consideration of signing this legislation into law.”

 “It is wonderful that Assemblyman Byrne passed this legislation to honor our Atomic War Veterans. For years, they have been unknown to the public and neglected by our government. It is due time that they are recognized for their contributions and for the risks that they were exposed to with the nuclear experiments they participated in,” said Yorktown Councilman and Veterans Advisory Committee Town Board Liaison Ed Lachterman.

 You can view Assemblyman Byrne’s remarks on the legislation during the Assembly at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zddpxiM5g0I