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Enola Gay Crew Member Widow Gets Benefits

August 5, 1988

DETROIT (AP) _ Eleanor Shumard tried for 21 years to convince the government her husband died from cancer caused by radiation from the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima 43 years ago Saturday.

Air Force Master Sgt. Robert Shumard was an assistant engineer and gunner on the U.S. B-29 bomber, named Enola Gay, that released the first atomic bomb over the Japanese city on Aug. 6, 1945. He died of leukemia in 1967 at age 46.

Mrs. Shumard learned this week that she will receive increased benefits from the Veterans Administration under a new law that provides service-related benefits to veterans who were exposed to radiation and developed cancer.

Mrs. Shumard, who will receive five times the $133 a month she now gets in benefits from the VA, credits the help of Veterans of Foreign Wars member Norman Bielak.

″When I heard the good news, I almost fell to the floor. It’s all thanks to Mr. Bielak. He’s been fighting for the last eight years,″ Mrs. Shumard, 66, said Thursday.

″It means I won’t have to worry as much. I can pay some of the bills that had gotten behind,″ she said.

Bielak first went to bat for Mrs. Shumard when she was having trouble collecting her limited benefits in 1980. During conversations at that time, he learned that her husband was a crew member on the Enola Gay.

″I was fascinated, and asked the VA to reconsider a service connection for cause of death,″ Bielak said.

Veterans groups lobbied hard for the Radiation Exposed Veterans Compensation Act, which became law May 20. It allows veterans or their survivors to claim service-related benefits if the veteran was exposed to radiation and subsequently suffered certain cancers within 40 years or certain kinds of leukemia within 30 years.

The VA was uncertain whether an Enola Gay crew member would be covered by the legislation because the crew was in the air when the bomb was dropped. The law specifically defined a radiation-exposed veteran as one who had participated in the test of an atomic bomb, who had been in Hiroshima or Nagasaki between Aug. 6, 1945 and July 1, 1946, or who had been a prisoner of war in the area when the bomb was dropped.

″The definition as it was laid out didn’t exactly or precisely fit a crew member of the Enola Gay,″ said Bob Conlee, a VA spokesman in Detroit.

After a two-month review, officials at VA headquarters in Washington authorized the Detroit office to include Shumard in the definition.

Shumard served on active duty from April 1941 to November 1945, and later during the Korean conflict. He won the Silver Star, Air Medal and Distinguished Flying Cross for the Enola Gay mission.

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