Cold War Patriots is an organization helping nuclear weapons and uranium workers get the recognition, compensation and health care they deserve. Retired IAM Organizing Director Larry Washam was recently honored by the group when he was chosen to represent workers in a 2021 calendar celebrating the lives of these Everyday Patriots.
“It was quite an honor to be nominated by my peers for the calendar,” said Washam, who initiated into the Machinists Union in 1969. “The work done by Cold War Patriots is so important for those of us living with the effects of working such dangerous jobs.”
In an area like Oak Ridge, Tenn. which was a hub for nuclear weapon research and development such as the Manhattan Project during World War II, workers have been dealing with a host of health care issues for generations. Many were unaware of the far reaching effects this exposure would have on their lives when they took the job. In some cases, that information wasn’t known at the time.
“It’s really hard to tell what you worked on back then because it was all classified but I remember in meetings, the company would tell us it was safer to be on the job than in our own homes. We know now, that wasn’t the case,” explained Washam.
For this reason and because of his own health battles, Washam has spent his golden years working with other retirees, machinists and the Cold War Patriots to ensure everyone understands which healthcare options are available to the working class men and women who sacrificed so much for the job. That’s why Washam requested for his photo to be taken in front of his home local, Lodge 480.
“This is why being union is important. So that’s there someone on your side, protecting the working class and making sure this doesn’t happen to workers in the future,” said Washam.
In 1990, the U.S. Government created the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) to compensate the men and women who worked these jobs between the years of 1942 – 1971. Today, thousands of workers across the United States, including many IAM members, are getting the health and survivor benefits they deserve. Washam is making sure the word is out in Oak Ridge. He’s often invited to speak to area retiree clubs about Cold War Patriots and how they can help.
“There’s only a certain amount of people you can talk to about these jobs. It’s a small group. So it’s important that we stay in touch and share information about what’s available to us,” insisted Washam. “There’s help out there for them.”
Not often recognized, these working class heroes provided a service to this country. That’s something the IAM, nor Larry, will ever forget.
“My union friends used to tell me I was born to be a Machinist because the IAM and I share the same birthday, May 5. That’s why I requested to represent May in the calendar. It just made sense,” said Washam proudly.
For more information on the Cold War Patriots, you can check out the their work at coldwarpatriots.org .