Tribune Recorder Leader

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Schell Awarded Atomic Veterans Service Medal

Wm. Michael Dixon
Tribune Recorder Leader

Gary Schell was met with a surprise when checking his mailbox in late July of this year, a letter from the government. Inside the envelope was a medal for Schell’s service, the Atomic Veterans Commemorative Service Medal. The Atomic Veterans Commemorative Service Medal is awarded to veterans of the armed forces who did at least one of the following four things between July 1st, 1945 and October 1st, 1992: Directly participating in the detonation of an atomic weapon or device, directly participating in the cleanup of radioactive material resulting from atmospheric detonation, directly participating in the cleanup of radioactive material resulting from an accident associated with an atomic weapon or if the veteran was exposed to ionizing radiation as a result from operational use of atomic weapons during World War II.

Gary Schell was drafted between the Korean and Vietnam wars in 1956, and though he did not fight on the front lines, Schell did something few would have the stomach for: atomic bomb testing. The nuclear weapons testing took place sixty miles outside of Las Vegas at Desert Rock. Schell and his fellow soldiers were given badges and told to lay in trenches outside of the blast radius of the nuclear explosion, and after testing the badges were removed for radiation testing.
The idea of purposely exposing soldiers to nuclear explosions to study the effects was controversial and so it might come as no surprise to learn that the radioactive badges (along with the personnel files associated with the testing) were destroyed in a fire in New York some twenty years ago. Schell received a letter roughly twenty years ago explaining that very information, so imagine Gary’s surprise when he opened his mailbox in 2023 to discover the Secretary of Defense and United States military finally recognized him for his atomic service a staggering sixty-four years after he had left the military.
The nuclear tests do not appear to have caused any ill effects on Schell, whose schedule would put most people half his age to shame. Mr. Schell splits his time between Roggenbuck’s Market in Snover where he works as a meat cutter, and his 300-acre farm where he cultivates corn, soybeans and wheat. Gary has been toying with the idea of retiring as a butcher, stating “I keep saying I’m going to finally give it up on my 90th birthday.” Schell turned 89 in May of this year, so seize the chance and stop into see him at Roggenbuck’s in Snover before he hangs up his apron.

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