- I could have very easily given up.
That's the chicken, coward way out, is just give up.
I guess you might say I'm unrelenting.
Yeah, that's good, unrelenting.
I like that.
We was given orders to suit up, suit up with a helmet, you know, no other equipment.
A rifle of course, and jump into a trench.
They wouldn't tell you what you would, gonna be facing.
because had they done that that no one would've volunteered to be a part of that situation.
And all of a sudden you start hearing a countdown.
- [Narrator from archival film] At Yucca Flats, Nevada, volunteers from American Armed Forces manned a trench situated in the area - [Hank] The bomb goes off, and the dust flies all over.
You actually see the bones in your arms and hands, because of the flash of the radiation.
They took you back to the barracks, and you took a broom to sweep the dust off one another.
The only thing that they told you not to do, is after, swearing you to a secrecy a secrecy oath.
Was that you cannot talk about it to your family, doctor, anyone else, or be punished by imprisonment, or thousands of dollars in fines.
And really you couldn't talk about it, because you still didn't know (laughing) what you... what had just happened.
It was only after, years after, that I actually found out what did happen.
The government first used mannequins to get results.
Those results were not good enough, so they had to use live bodies to test to see what would happen to the human body under a nuclear war.
My name is Hank Bolden.
I'm a 83 year old, atomic veteran.
(paper rustling) (cardboard ripping) (paper rustling) This is how I have been spending my hours of the day.
Up all night.
You know, to the wee hours of the morning.
I used to always see this word come up, atomic veterans, you know, atomic veterans.
And I'm wondering what the hell is an atomic veteran.
So, one day I just punched in atomic veteran, and it dawned on me that, that's me.
- [Interviewer] What was going through your head at that moment?
- Proving it.
Because the federal government said that, (laughing) that event never happened.
And it's kind of hard for you to prove to the government that you were there, because they acknowledge that the building that housed the records of your military travels and events, the building burned down.
So, I was only...
The only thing I had was lay evidence.
So, what can I do for lay evidence?
What if I paid someone to give me a polygraph exam?
My results came back that I was telling the truth.
(saxophone playing) I see nothing but music in my eyes.
You know, it's... it's in my blood.
You know, it's...
It's what's keeping me going right now.
Before I went into the Army, I had started playing music at the age of 14.
(saxophone playing) You know, so, music, music had already, you know, settled in my bones.
That's what I wanted to do.
After I got out of the Army, I decided that once I could continue, and that's when I started going to Hartt School of Music in 1958.
But when I started there in 1958, I got the opportunity to start playing professionally with different bands on the road.
So, I left school.
I'm back in college now.
Finishing my degree that I was trying to get back in 1958.
I'm really not going back to school, because I want to get a job.
I'm getting more of the nuts and bolts of music under my belt now.
I just need my soul satisfaction.
The anticipation of this had me up all night.
[Javon Jackson] No kidding.
Then I have this coughing most of the night too.
So, that didn't help.
- Oh, wow.
(saxophone playing) You want me to write that down?
(saxophone playing) Mm-hm.
- Except using, I'm using all the bridge, rhythm changes.
- That phrase.
- It absolutely will be useful.
- Yeah, okay.
- That make sense?
- Of course, yeah.
My motivation is to be a great... saxophone player.
Maybe the best (laughing) saxophone player, you know.
I really wanna be the best at my uh... playing.
That's my reward to myself.
I was presently living in a elderly housing complex.
And these are folks with uh... elderly problems, you know.
That I wouldn't be there making all kinds of noise, disturbing their sleep and everything else.
Well, I decided to buy a house to allow me to have a place to practice my music.
Especially at the volume that I want to practice it at.
(bird chirping) (plastic rustling) I can see my grandkids out here now.
Cutting the grass.
(Hank laughing) The legacy that I'm trying to leave is, don't give up.
You know, don't just quit.
You know, a lot of the veterans have done just that.
They just quit.
I have met a... a lot of other veterans who are, who said they are atomic veterans, who have not be able to prove that they were uh... injured by radiation.
- Those who led the government when these decisions were made are no longer here to take responsibility for what they did.
They're not here to apologize to the survivors, the family members, or the communities whose lives were darkened by the shadow of the atom and these choices.
So today, on behalf of another generation of American leaders, and another generation of American citizens, the United States of America offers a sincere apology to those of our citizens who were subjected to these experiments, to their families, and to their communities.
- [Hank] 1991.
1991 is when, is when it first started.
And, when I was diagnosed with the cancer, I was given three and half to four years to live.
So which meant, that by 1995 I was suppose to have been dead.
So, here we are in 2020, and I'm still alive.
(jazz music) I'm actually havin' a ball, even under the circumstances.
I'm really enjoying life now.
- Hey Hank.
- I'm, you know, in a sense, I'm really in a better position now, because of everything that's happened.
I don't think I'd be in this situation, and this place in life right now, had all the things in the past not happened.
(clasp clicking) (thudding) (paper rustling) I love being with the younger kids, you know.
Although I'm the grandfather there, you know, we feed off one another, you know.
I'm not the know-it-all there, you know.
- [Instructor] Let's try it one more time.
- One, two, one, two... (Everyone playing music) One, two, one, a two... (Everyone playing music) It's gonna be faster.
One, two... (Everyone playing music) - [Instructor] Hold it, hold it We have, we have great rapport.
(saxophone playing) I know I am 83.
A lot of things physically I can't do that I used to do, but I don't let anything stop me.
I'll do absolutely anything that I want to do.
I'm accomplishing now what I really want to do in life, you know.
There's no end thought.