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How Government Covert Radiation Experimentation at Camp Parks, California, Changed My Life

Janet Vicenti was raised in a military family in the Pleasanton/Dublin area of California.

Young and Innocent

Camp Parks Elementary School (Dublin, CA) 5th grade (prior to illness)

Camp Parks Elementary School (Dublin, CA) 5th grade (prior to illness)

Camp Parks Elementary School (on base Pleasanton/Dublin, CA)

Camp Parks Elementary School (on base Pleasanton/Dublin, CA)

Camp Parks Elementary School (on base)

Camp Parks Elementary School (on base)

Who am I?

My name is Janet Vincenti. I am the sixty-seven year old daughter of a man who enlisted straight out of high school and who actively served his country during the first twenty-one years and ended his military career as an electronics inspector working for the government until he fully retired. In his early military training, my father was also a hospital corpsman (that training that would be important nearly a decade and a half later). My father was stationed aboard an aircraft carrier while stationed in Japan, out on ocean waters that not only took him away from his young bride, but he would not see his first born son (in person) until he was two years old. My brother only knew of his father by the pictures my mother would show him during those two years he was away serving his country. This was decades before any wireless communication devices, but was during time the U.S. Mail shipped overseas was how you awaited word from an enlisted loved one. Somewhere there was the occasional phone call from a landline. I learned early on what personal sacrifices meant and respected my father for all he had made for both his country and his family.

February 6, 1966, just four months shy of my twelfth birthday, and while living in the Komandorski Village military housing community that bordered Camp Parks (in Pleasanton,/Dublin, California, where I also attended Camp Parks Elementary School), I was suddenly stricken with a strange (and at that time rare) blood disorder. The diagnosis was so rare that my parents were advised at the hospital that I was only the third pediatric patient to be admitted with that diagnosis. The mysterious blood disorder caused a sudden onset of strange bleeding symptoms (bleeding gums, petechiae, ecchymosis without evidence of contact injury, along with diarrhea, loss of appetite, a body rash, and lethargy). There was extreme concern over my extremely low blood platelet count. The normal range for a healthy pediatric patient is noted as 250,000uL - 450,000uL; my platelet count upon admission was 10,000uL, a clear indicator of thrombocytosis. This is a disorder in which the production of the blood’s platelets (produced in the bone marrow), is compromised, and would be my undoing. It would set precedence for the number of health conditions that would plague me no matter where I was or what I was doing. I was the youngest health advocate I had ever known, and lived a clean life (especially nutritionally) as a result of what I had learned way too early. I also learned that sometimes it doesn’t have anything to do with you at all.

Five days after the symptoms appeared, I was hospitalized, this just after an older boy (initials D.M., who was 15/16 at the time) living only a couple of buildings from my family’s unit, was stricken by the same syndrome and had already been hospitalized in the same Oak Knoll Naval Hospital, in Oakland, where I would also be admitted. It was that boy’s father who was the person who came to my family’s apartment after dinner one evening to examine my symptoms, at my patent’s request, and who then advised them that I looked just like his son did. There I sat, a child among three adults who were talking as if I wasn’t even there. I saw the fear in my parent’s eyes, something I had never witnessed before. The man then told my parents they best get me to the hospital ASAP as his son was also gravely ill. It was the night that would change me forever. In that scary silent ride to the hospital some thirty-five miles away, the uncertainty of it all was terrifying. The only time I had slept away from the family apartment was when my mother gave birth to my baby sister just a few years prior. My parents were silent the entire ride to the hospital which to me, even as a child, spoke volumes and I immediately understood the seriousness of the situation. I asked only that my mother tell my school friend I would not be in attendance the following morning. I knew I wasn’t going to be in the car when my parents returned home later that same evening.

What I also know is that I was not the first kid living at KomandorskiVillage who was sickened with a then mysterious bleeding disorder/syndrome and odds are I wasn’t the last either. When I accidently stumbled upon the declassified information about the Radiation Experiments conducted by the military and the commonalities of those nationwide practices, like the use of unknowing subjects (or without consent), a lifetime of memories came flooding in. I also now know there were other children on the pediatric ward I was admitted to that had bleeding disorders. I wrote a story about that in 2002; it was published in a nursing chronicle that I still have. It was about a little boy I heard crying in his crib the hospital room where I discovered him alone, crying, and bleeding from both his hands. It was me who ran to the nursing station to alert the nurses on duty. I only knew he was a bleeder (hemophiliac) because the nurse had explained that someone had left a toy ukulele in his crib for him to play with (or keep him occupied) without first checking with the medical staff, which caused the bleeding injuries when he attempted to strum the instrument. I was told that it was dangerous to give something like that to a pediatric patient who was a hemophiliac.

I was not your average eleven year old and I wanted to know everything about what was happening to me while held at that hospital for evaluation and treatment, and wanted to know about the other children there too. My childhood brush with death began my first night when the little girl across the hall died. The curtains had been drawn on her windows and her door remained closed until her mother flung it open screaming for someone to help her daughter, so I sensed that whoever she was, that little girl was very, very sick. I would never be able to unhear those primal screams and would hear them again four decades later, when they came from my own mouth (or more accurately, from the bottom of my soul) upon hearing the long-distance news of my own daughter’s death by suicide. It is a sound nobody wishes to ever hear, but as a child, I had. It is an indescribable trauma for a young kid. I stood at the window of my own room and watched the attendants wheel a hospital gurney out of that room carrying a small body covered with a flat white hospital sheet with a screaming mother draped overtop as it rolled past my window and then down the hallway. I did not close my eyes that night. I feared sleep meant never waking up again and that hospitals must be the place where kids go to die. I remember as an adult thinking that adults went there to die as well. Back then, they usually did. This would be only one of the many PTSD issues I would have to learn to manage (before my twelfth birthday) while other traumatic experiences would never leave me and would remain unmanageable trauma; the very reason for my ability to accurately recall and detail descriptions of those past events. Deep trauma is never forgotten; you learn to live with it the best you can until you can’t.

It would take nearly 56 years for me to discover that this life changing event occurred during the time covert radiation experiments were taking place during the 1950’s through the 1960’s. The experiments conducted at different sites around the United States where declassified documents decades later reported the experiments were performed to assess the effects of radiation after the U.S. released the first atomic bombs before fully understanding the effects of the same (first the Trinity Test bomb in July of 1945, in New Mexico, followed by the two bombs dropped on Japan shortly thereafter, in August 1945) in a hurried attempt to be the first to utilize nuclear weaponry and to end the U.S. war with Japan following their attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The problem with the covert radiation experiments at Camp Parks remains that those living nearby, working on, or attending school on base were completely unaware that these dangerous experiments were being conducted at all and still remain in the dark today about what really took place there and the ramifications for conducting those experiments in populated areas. It would take my entire adult life for me to finally connect the dots to my own life story and the answers came quite by accident and quite by surprise. It is a detailed and scary story one I have been penning for years and never knew why.

Camp Parks had been a site where the USN and Office of Civil Defense conducted tests between 1959 and 1980 on their 2,000 acre site to determine how to survive a nuclear attack. This was an occupied base with people (military personnel, their families and civilians) living on or around the base. Radiated sand used in the simulation of nuclear fallout was manufactured just seven blocks from an elementary school and where disadvantaged kids in the Job Corps Federal Program occupied buildings (Camp Parks), where radiation experiments were conducted. There were other radiation experiments occurring at Camp Parks but the lack of transparency is still present and the full disclosure about exactly what was taking place during those covert radiation experiments continues as evasive at best. While it appears that there has been a great of denial as to how those radiation experiments affected the health, safety, and well-being of others, for me, it is inexcusable, appalling, irresponsible, inapprehensible and more important, criminally negligent.

After reaching (military) non-dependent status, I obtained my own military pediatric health records and have maintained their integrity ever since. It was an important part of my medical history that would follow my two teen pregnancies, one at seventeen, and the second at nineteen (and the monitoring for a return of my childhood diagnosis into pregnancy and babies followed each birth and into early adulthood). By the age of twenty-one, I had lost my reproductive organs due to complications described to me by treating physicians (civilian) as a possible result of receiving large doses of steroids and other medical treatment during the pre-pubescence years causing uncertain changes (including hormonal) in my then underdeveloped and still growing body. I was also told that while one drug (including experimental drugs) may have saved my life, the adverse side effects from those very drugs were uncertain. As both a patient, and later as a nurse, I found that to be factual.

I endured (done while awake and without anesthesia) two bone marrow extractions on two different occasions from two different locations (sternum and coccyx) which revealed my diagnosis had not gravely affected the bone marrow; D.M. was not as fortunate. The Komandorski Village teen died the same year he contracted symptoms and it seemed like a very fast death to me (a matter of months). I went through decades believing I had been the fortunate one. I had no idea that this would not be the case. I would have to fight a lifetime of serious health conditions making it difficult to cling onto my career(s) which had to be as flexible to change along with my roller coaster health status throughout the years, all while trying to raise my two daughters as a single, working mother.

There are many pieces to the puzzle that have finally found their place to complete the bigger picture, and it hasn’t been an easy road. A memory of my father’s anger that his own kid was the second one suddenly sickened by the same thing another kid, living in a building less than a football field’s length away from mine, had also been stricken by such an unusual condition (platelet disorder) for that time (1960’s). Since my father had started out in the Navy as a hospital (medical) corpsman and in fact administered the MMR vaccination to me and my four siblings so that we wouldn’t bear the signature scar on the exposed side of our upper arms, I suspected he knew more than he ever spoke openly about, that which occurred on base by the same military branch (USN) he had devoted his life to. Now he was faced with the possibility of losing a child because he had put his family where he did.

I hadn’t put two and two together until 2020 when I began to dig deep into the declassified documents and published articles/books about the toxic wasteland called Camp Parks, where I spent a few years of my childhood. Then, in 2021, additional information and one very important contact would compel me to step up and share what I know because I was not only present at the time, but was one who had fallen ill as well. It was at that time that I knew there had to more than just two sick kids with the same (then) rare disorder living in Komandorski Village. The grounds, on which I lived, walked, played, and attended school five days a week were the same grounds the other kids traversed over too. The military had to know that I was not the only kid diagnosed with a sudden onset and (then) rare blood disorder. Another vivid memory I have is the story my father had told on numerous occasions about the military sending a group of men in Hazmat Suits holding Geiger Counters to my family’s housing unit after I was admitted to Oak Knoll Naval Hospital. My father was still worried and angry over what had happened to at least two kids living right in the same housing complex, and did not allow them access into our apartment unit. One would only respond with radiation detecting (and personal protection) equipment if radiation was suspect and my father knew that; all these years later, so do I.

The glaring question remains… who actually sent the radiation detectors to my home? My nursing degree and experience tells me that the military hospital would have been the first to know (and assign me) my diagnosis. Because there are reporting procedures when there are a pattern of unusual conditions at the same time at the same place (and probably being privy to what radiation experiments were being conducted on the military base), it is reportable to the Department of Health (the State level). I also know that the Federal Government trumps State Government, so the hospital would have reported it to the US Military at Camp Parks, where both were also aware of my family’s unit number. What is so ironic about that story is that the 1994 article I read about the then teenager working (R.G.) with the radiated carcasses of the sheep (and other animals) used in the covert radiation experiments was how he was never provided with any personal protection equipment, which as a nurse is hard to comprehend when dealing with radioactive chemicals or substances; yet a government response sent men in PPE for their own protection to my apartment. The total extent of radiation exposure on the humans affected will be a difficult task to expose, but not an impossible one. In telling my story it is my mission to keep this particular (ongoing) issue alive, to seek answers, and to find ways to prevent this from ever happening again in our country and to our country’s own people.

After my blood disorder went into remission, my father put in for his military retirement and moved his family to the other side of the country (East Coast), three thousand miles away, where he would continue his civilian service as a government inspector (my father’s military specialty field was as an electronics technician on the aircraft carriers). We never returned to California and I have only flown through LAX as a hub to other airports while living in Hawaii. The state I once loved nearly as much as Hawaii had betrayed me (on a federal government level). The wonderful memories of my childhood were lost to what I now know my own government did during those early years and any radiation experiments that followed on home soil. It was experimentation at the cost of the health and well-being of unsuspecting others, treated as both transient and disposable, but now I am finally able to tell my own story, one that cannot be disputed, and it is both validating and healing while terrifying on so many other levels.

The investigation into Camp Parks needs to be re-opened, re-investigated, and a new all encompassing report publically released with all experiments fully exposed including the full listing of the names and locations of the military properties where they were conducted. It must not be conducted by the military or the government, but should be an independent study by those without any skin in the game. It is the right thing to do for all those affected by the military’s covert post Cold War actions, especially in light of the fact that the physicists who were responsible for making atomic bombs knew the perils of that which the U.S. had created. I hardly think our national security is at risk nearly sixty years after the fact, but it is time for full disclosure, and long overdue. Medical military (USN) records pertaining to Oak Knoll Naval Hospital are just one place I know as a (now retired) legal nurse I’d be requesting additional medical records and from the Freedom of Information Act and the California Public Records Act in an attempt to obtain documents on radiation experimentation as it relates to the reporting evidence of similar diagnoses given to other military children (or adults) in the military hospital during that time, as well as any available data about the radiation experimentation and what was known about those who were exposed. The control study records of what was conducted at Camp Parks and surrounding Komandorski Village (since the property boarded each other on the North West side of the military base) should have been meticulously detailed as the properties were basically one in the same despite the tall chain link fence that could be seen just across the then two lane highway that separated the properties. As children who always played outside, be it in the “Village” or on Camp Parks, I never recall seeing any signs that warned me not to approach any property there, or anywhere else, and as kids, we were always outside running around both properties. On the weekends, I would ride my bike to the elementary school to play on the playground equipment when there were too many kids playing on the equipment in the Village. I was never stopped or detained for trying to gain access as a kid. I had free reign of both places and was not kept out of either. I have heard this same story from others.

After I was released from the hospital, something changed in my father; he was oddly quiet. He didn’t laugh as much as he had and seemed much more serious. It was as if the blind trust and overly generous loyalty he showed to the branch of military service he devoted his entire life to, made great personal sacrifices for, had ended in a betrayal. That light that sparkled in his eyes when he talked about his service to the USN had dimmed. As a young man, he left for the Navy without waiting around for his diploma or a graduation ceremony. Like many military enlistees, he would soon have a young bride. He spent a collective number of years stationed away from his wife and children and nearly lost his oldest daughter as a result of his military orders at Camp Parks. We seldom spoke about what happened to me after we left California. The first I would hear of an older sibling recollecting vivid memories of how he and my other siblings were affected was last year after his wife (my sister-in-law and best friend) would be diagnosed with end-stage brain cancer. Another glaring concern of mine (as a nurse) has been where are all the rising cancer cases originating from? My career has taken me to different states and I find that the escalating number of cancers knows no prejudice. It is everywhere now. I believe the U.S. was the first to let that deadly genie out of the bottle and the lack of transparency delayed contamination assessment and clean-up for the years that followed those radiation experiments.

Though tracing innumerous origins to pediatric blood “cancer” diagnosis of those times might seem impossible, mine is not, though what is missing is the full disclosure from the military concerning all the details the military had during the time kids were getting sick and most likely sick adults too. I’ve kept all my medical records through every subsequent diagnosis that had not existed in any familial medical history prior to mine. The ongoing question as to “Why me?” is haunting. The family of D.M., the 15/16 year old teenaged boy who got sick right before I did, and died after my condition was explained as being in “remission,” probably would have liked to have known that answer too. As military kids given such a vast area to live on, learn at, and play on, I know that exposure time and contamination “load” (toxin amount) would have to factor into the answer as to why some got sick and some did not; but I also understand that immunity plays a huge part in sickness and death as well. I know that after my childhood blood disorder, I lived a lifetime of being hypersensitive to chemicals, toxins, pesticides, and the likes that would eventually remove me from a career I loved as much as I once loved California and the military government.

Young Military Dependents

Komandorski Kids (Girl Scout Troop #870)

Komandorski Kids (Girl Scout Troop #870)

Why is my story relevant?

During the beginning of the pandemic, while researching facts for a different story I was writing, I stumbled upon an old 1994 online L.A. Times article about a man, Robert Giordano, who was a paid teenaged boy tending to the radiated sheep. As an adult, it was noted that he wondered if it had anything to do with his fathering a daughter with a missing trachea and who had damaged internal organs. He wasn’t the only one looking for answers. My own mysterious illness and hospitalization, and the death of a neighborhood boy, in 1966, changed the trajectory of my entire life. It would not be until I stumbled upon a former Komandorski Kid (Marla F.) who lived in the building behind me while I lived there, who had a personal connection to my story because she is also a cancer survivor. Had I not stumbled upon an online post on a site about radiation, my story would have remained unwritten in its entirety, or perhaps not been written at all. Validation came swift between us, sharing memories that needed other memories to bring completely into the light. The mission we chose to pursue is one that brings those affected out of the shadows so that the full scope of the radiation experiments can be investigated with a full disclosure report upon completion.

The declassified documents and subsequent committee report (ACHRE), commissioned in 1993 by then President Bill Clinton) to investigate the military governments participation in human radiation experiments and to issue both apologies and reparations to those affected, failed to fully disclose. The problem remains that the Komandorski Village/Camp Parks’ information seems to have remained “covert,” this despite all the government’s release of documents regarding radiation experiments on that military property. There is no denying the radiation experiments occurred, and that the final report revealed the scope of the practice the USN exhibited of using unknowing and/or non-consenting subjects in those experiments (along with animals, plants, soil, buildings, etc.) but there have since been no details of said experiments as it effected those living in Komandorski Village and attending school on the Camp Parks military base, or for all those living, visiting, or working anywhere near those properties. I want to know why.

One of the Komandorski Village Military Kids

Proud to be in the Komandorski Village Brownies and Girl Scouts; Camp Parks in the background

Proud to be in the Komandorski Village Brownies and Girl Scouts; Camp Parks in the background

Proud Komandorski Kids; Camp Parks in background

Proud Komandorski Kids; Camp Parks in background

What Do I know?

I know I am not among the few stricken with radiation exposure illnesses as evidenced by the neighborhood teen who lost his life and by the small hemophiliac baby boy who I discovered bleeding in his crib while walking the pediatric halls of the hospital where I received experiment treatment for my own blood disorder. The validation I felt when reading all the since released information about what occurred on the grounds where many low-income military families came and went. It was a perfect time, and a perfect scenario, for the creation of a perfect storm. Conducting the covert operations that would have health ramifications were complicated by making any cases of those affected nearly impossible to track or for others to discover. I know that our government is in trouble right now as it pertains to the trust by its people. Trust is earned. It should not be taken for granted, abused, or stolen. If humanity has any chance of survival, first we must care for one another. If that doesn’t occur on a government level, all hope is lost as it pertains to the masses as safety, security; health and happiness are equally important factors in life.

Dancing at the Komandorski Village Community Center

Author in center of photo

Author in center of photo

First Holy Communion at Komandorski Village

Posing for photos in front of my family's military housing unit in Komandorski Village, adjacent to Camp Parks military base.

Posing for photos in front of my family's military housing unit in Komandorski Village, adjacent to Camp Parks military base.

How has it affected my life?

While covert missions may assist with advancements like reaching space, or medical science discoveries, the collateral damage caused to those who knowingly subjected unknowing subjects to human radiation experimentation is criminal on every level, including both a national and global one. The scars left from my early childhood experience have greatly impacted me and have come at a huge cost throughout my life. Aside from the financial aspect of leading a life filled with doctors, specialists, surgeons, hospital stays, loss of career(s), and eventually retiring early with a lasting disability. The mental and physical burden has been the biggest challenges to conquer. Despite my early childhood trauma, I continued to grow to be a stronger version of my eleven year old self and for that I am mindful, grateful, and blessed; I wonder how many people from my military childhood days that can’t say that or if they even lived long enough to tell.

Why am I telling my story?

It is my contribution to others who may have been looking for answers to questions they’ve had for their entire lives. I am the voice of those who have none. It is validation to that which our memories do not allow us to ever forget. It is for accountability and reparation to those who are deserving of so much more than that. I will never know the path my life would have taken had I not been stricken down with a condition that I otherwise would have not received had I not grew up where I did during the time that I did. I was a young ballet dancer, a young girl who had worked hard to earn the privilege of graduating to toe (point) shoes. After I got sick, I was restricted from all physical activity until it could be determined that a relapse would not occur. I had dreams of being a singer-songwriter. I wrote poetry as a ten year old. I had big dreams for myself and for my life. My newest dream (mission) involves making a difference on a much larger scale. Giving back to the military community, if only with the gift of my truth, is what I can now give freely.

My wish is that my story finds its way to those who have been waiting to tell theirs. I do this for those who have suffered and died from their conditions caused by radioactive contaminants from our own military government and for the loved ones they left behind to deal with a lifetime of questions, loss, and sorrow. Maybe my story will bring comfort to someone, as it did to find the woman (Marla) whose older sister was friends with the teen boy that died. I was comforted to learn that her sister visited her sick friend in the hospital because I wasn’t allowed visitors, only my parents visited me every evening (my father had to work and my mother had four other children to care for). I know the fear of separation from those you know and love and a childhood fear of dying. Despite all that, I matured into one who cannot stay silent, become complacent, or give up on the chance of having a better chance at tomorrow; this is for all of us trying to live our best life on this sadly abused planet where things happen that should have never happened.

I hope to encourage others to exercise their right to conduct research, to demand answers, and to learn about things that we might otherwise never discover. What I have learned from my experience is that as long as I am still alive, I am able to make a difference. The best way I can still contribute to society is to freely and fearlessly share my story. I have a class pictures from my attendance at C.P. Elementary school (as well as Pleasanton Elementary School) and I often wonder how many of my childhood fiends or classmates were also afflicted as a result of their military parent being stationed there; the sacrifices made by military family members have always been understated. Isn’t it time we at least be truthful with them even if it has taken approximately six decades to do so? For any government official hoping to ever gain the full support of the people who pay their salaries, they must first prove their sincere interest in the prosperity, health and wellbeing of those very same people.

Komandorski Village no longer exists as it once was (there is new housing construction on that land now) and in 1993, under the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC), authorized by congress and operated by the Department of Defense, was meant to “reorganize” base structures to “more efficiently and effectively support our forces, increase operational readiness and facilitate new ways of doing business.” What I find interesting is that 1993 was a pivotal year (as was 1994 -1995 when information and declassified information began to circulate) for the beginning of the investigation on the human radiation experiments conducted by our military government on home soil to its citizens. There seems to be a suspicious period of time where there were a lot of closings, reassigning, and demolition of the military property that was a part of the radiation experiments that were conducted prior to the same. The American people deserve transparency if there is any hope of our nation feeling whole again. We are not just distracted Americans, many of us have been broken. By distracted I mean it was reported that the reason the 1995 declassified report findings did not receive much media attention is that it was released the same time O.J. Simpson’s trial came to a close and the innocent verdict that it closed with. I was watching that trial. I don't recall any “breaking news” that interrupted that trial verdict to report that our government’s human radiation experiments were being declassified. We have to do better than this as a country and as Americans, but it will require the ability to not be distracted by the constant smoke and mirrors.


The Last Year at Camp Parks Elementary School (on base)

Wondering what happened to the rest of my class... and the rest of the Komandorski Village Kids of all ages during the radiation testing conducted on base in the mid 1950's-1960's.

Wondering what happened to the rest of my class... and the rest of the Komandorski Village Kids of all ages during the radiation testing conducted on base in the mid 1950's-1960's.

Military Wives and Mothers

My mother (center front, 3rd from left) among other military wives/mothers in the 1960's

My mother (center front, 3rd from left) among other military wives/mothers in the 1960's

© 2021 Janet Vincenti

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