The U.S. Soldier Who Witnessed More Than 20 Nuclear Tests on American Soil

Produced by Michael Garofalo for StoryCorps

“During one of the explosions, I could see the bones in my hand.”

Joel Healy was 17 years old when he joined the Army in order to pay for college. He never imagined that he would witness the detonation of more than 20 nuclear bombs.

Healy was a Private First Class when he was assigned to Camp Desert Rock, north of Las Vegas, in 1957. That’s where he took part in Operation Plumbbob, one of the largest nuclear tests series ever conducted on U.S. soil.  The U.S. Military conducted 29 nuclear tests between May 28 and October 7, 1957.

It’s hard to determine just how many veterans became ill because they were present at these tests. But Healy, and thousands of others, have received compensation from the U.S. Government as part of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act of 1990.


The Priscilla event, conducted as part of Operation Plumbbob at the Nevada Test Site, June 24, 1957, was a 37-kiloton device exploded from a balloon.

At StoryCorps, Healy told his daughter, Kelli Healy Salazar, about his time at the Nevada test site.