Monday, December 18, 2006

Treasures of Cambridge #33 Treasures of Cambridge #33

Walter Hooke pictured in front of the vault in the former Bean Head’s Coffee House, has lived in the Village of Cambridge since about 1988.

Walter likes living in the village of Cambridge because it is, "not too busy. I have lived in a lot of busy places in my life."

One of the many defining moments of Walter’s long and notable life was his experience as a young man in the Marine Corps as part of the 1945 occupation of Nagasaki a short time after the second atomic bomb was dropped on that city. It was not until 1978 that he learned that he and his brothers-in-arms who were stationed in Nagasaki, were sent there without any warning of the dangers of exposure to ionizing radiation even though the government was fully aware of the that risk since the inception of the Manhattan Project.

Walter’s sense of justice and fairness moved him to become an advocate for veterans and their families affected by radiation exposure. He worked for 15 years as a volunteer, paying all his own travel and maintenance expenses, with such organizations as: The National Association of Atomic Veterans, DAV, The American Legion, and the VFW. He even paid the mortgage of a widow who had her just benefits withheld by the government for two years.

When he started advocating to Congressman for his fellow veterans, and their widows, he was called, "a kook, and crazy for questioning the government." He went on to testified before Congressional Committees to plead the case for Atomic Veterans. Even with undeniable proof by the scientific community that these men were exposed to dangerous levels of radiation that were affecting their health and well being, President Regan threatened to veto the bill before eventually signing it. Regan said he "did not believe radiation was responsible for these men’s problems."

In July of 1988 Walter was presented the Disabled American Veterans National Commander’s award for his contribution towards the passage of the Radiation Exposed Veterans Compensation Act of 1988.

His early employment as Director of Labor Relations for the World’s Fair of 1939, lead him to a life focused on fair employment, labor and personnel relations and work for such companies as the United Parcel Service and Sears Roebuck and Company and as a research assistant for the Non-Partisan Labor League for Roosevelt’s 1936 campaign.

Walter’s prop in is Dorothy Day’s book of meditations. He was a friend of Day’s from 1936 to her death in 1980. In the early days he went to hear her Catholic Worker Movement talks on Friday nights, and met "many interesting people through her influence". What inspired him most about Day’s life was her, "understanding for the need, in this world, for peace and justice."

When asked how he would like to be remembered, he gave back… as is his nature, "I think people should not forget where they came from, and who helped them get where they were."


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