When John Berry worked at the Iowa Army Ammunition Plant in Middletown, he knew there was a risk of the whole place blowing up.
However, during 36 years of service at the plant, he said he and his coworkers never thought about the dangers the radiation and chemicals would have on their own health.
Since then, Berry was diagnosed with lymphoma. He just finished up chemotherapy three months ago.
On Monday afternoon, Nuclear Care Partners held a ceremony at Burlington Public Library to thank Berry, and the thousands of others who worked alongside him in the plant creating explosive components for nuclear weapons, for their service. The ceremony coincided with National Day of Remembrance and was close to Veterans’ Day.
The Burlington Area Veterans Honor Guard presented a flag folding ceremony, accompanied by the playing of Taps. Each former employee of the plant was given a commemorative pin.
Most of these employees worked unknowingly with hazardous chemicals and radiation without consent or proper protective gear, leading to illnesses and even death.
Nuclear Care Partners is an organization that provides free home care to many former nuclear and uranium workers.
Mayor Shane McCampbell spoke to those present, saying they were called to do a job that was demanding and important to the country.
“I feel bad that you guys have to see me, because you guys gave your best, and you are our best, and you deserve the best,” said McCampbell. “The governor and the president should be here, but they couldn’t break away from their busy schedules and I could so I get the privilege of being here today.”
McCampbell led a moment of silence for those who lost their lives from the occupational hazards.
William Schwind said he worked as a mechanical engineer in the plant for 19 years. Vivian Weber advanced from working on the production line to technical illustrating during her 28 years at the plant. Robert W. Higgins began as a designer and left as a project manager and consultant at the plant after 46 years of service.
At one point, there were about 20,000 employees. Schwind said several of them had the same top secret clearance the president of the United States has.
Some were lucky enough to avoid health issues, like Higgins. He said he was taught how to work with all the different powders safely.
“We always had a high report on all of our materials,” said Higgins. “I think it’s very nice that they have this ceremony because a lot of people don’t even know what went on out there.”