While reading a manuscript by my late Uncle Art Davidson, I found that he saw first-hand an injustice that the Utah delegation now vows to better redress next year.
Essentially, the United States atomic-bombed my Uncle Art.Without warning, radiation from an atomic bomb test in Nevada dropped on him, the large herd of sheep he was helping to shear on Utah's western desert and all the men who were with him.
Art described his sheep shearing of May 11, 1951 this way:
"We were working this one particular day in the Cricket Mountains on the east side of the Sevier Sinks. We finished one band of ewes about noon, and in the afternoon started on an 800-head band of yearlings. . .
"Just after 2 p.m., a dirty, dusty, yellow-tinged squall blew over, and rained for about 10 minutes. `Wet sheep. Turn 'em out,' was the verdict of the committee. The shearers went to their tents, and soon to town. Not one of the shearers who went to town is alive today.
"We were held up by the Clear Lakes, for two herds of sheared sheep had mixed on the road. Hundreds of those mixed-up herds were dying in the rain. Cooks of Manti lost more than 1,200 head.
"I had the car radio on while I was waiting to get through the sheep and heard a broadcast saying the Atomic Energy Commission had exploded an atomic bomb on the Nevada Proving Grounds at 4:30 that morning, May 11, 1951, Buster Jangle, Easy, Air Blast, 31 kilotons."
As Art said, the men with him that day all died later of cancer and other diseases that Congress now admits may have been caused by fallout radiation. Their survivors may be eligible for $50,000 in compensation just authorized by Congress.
The heirs of Uncle Art will not. He died in 1987 in Evanston, Wyo., of several respiratory and stomach diseases - some of which Congress conceded could have been caused by atomic testing, but only among non-smokers. It felt the same diseases could be more likely caused by smoking. And Art was a smoker.
But the government also never paid for the thousands of sheep that Art watched die from the "yellow-tinged squall." Ironically, if a government truck had killed them instead of radiation, the government likely would have paid for them.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, are vowing to try to amend their new downwinder bill to finally compensate sheepherders, and possibly make other changes to more justly treat other downwinders.
Hatch said he was hesitant to try that earlier lest it upset a fragile coalition backing the bill. He changed his mind after military committees quietly amended the bill just before Congress adjourned to give cancer victims who worked at the Nevada Test site more than Utah downwinders - $75,000 instead of $50,000.
Janet Gordon, leader of the downwinder group Citizens Call, wants other changes too - such as more money for Utah downwinders, and a change to cover people such as my own father.
Like my Uncle Art, my father - Howard Davidson - was in Millard County in 1951. He was working on a ranch run by another of his brothers near Delta. He remembers "watching one of those yellow storms come over too."
My father now has multiple myeloma, a very rare form of cancer that also recently killed former Gov. Scott Matheson - who also was in the fallout areas in those years.
Congress concedes that multiple myeloma may have been caused by the atomic tests. But the current law wouldn't compensate my father because he didn't live in fallout areas for a full year between 1951 and 1958 or in July, 1962. He lived there only a month to help on the ranch - when he saw the yellow storm.
Gordon said, "We have a lot of victims who were truck drivers or salesmen who spent much time in the area, but they weren't residents. It's only fair that we compensate them too."
After all, a partial redress of injustice itself creates only more injustice.