KAHULUI - Sixty-three-year-old Nelson Kalep was just a boy when he watched an atomic bomb destroy the island where he grew up.
Kalep's family and other residents of Bikini Atoll had been moved to an island about 200 miles away, when the U.S. government dropped the bomb.
"The whole sky was red and orange, and everyone was saying it was the end of the world," he said through an interpreter.
Liam Kilma sings the Marshallese national anthem Saturday at a gathering at Keopuolani Park to mark Nuclear Survivors’ Day.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Kalep was among the Marshall Islanders on Maui who marked Nuclear Survivors' Day with a march and rally Saturday.
At the time, many of the islanders didn't speak or read English, so they never understood the warnings that had been issued by the U.S. Army before the blasts, said Roland John at Saturday's rally.
Kalep said he still dreams of returning to Bikini - which used to be a lush island that was one of the largest in the archipelago - once the island is safe again for human life.
John said the U.S. government has to take full responsibility for the damage it did to the environment and people of islands including Bikini, Eneu, Nam and Enidrik.
"Promises were made to clean up and care for the people and were never met," John said. "We want justice."
The group gathered for the rally at Keopuolani Park, then marched to Kaahumanu Avenue for a protest and sign-waving event.
Survivors speaking at the rally recalled seeing gray dust falling from the sky after the nuclear tests. Rains came down as black liquid, they said.
In the months and years that followed, babies had deformities or were stillborn, they said. Adults saw their hair fall out, and the community began seeing cancers at a rate that was four times higher than normal.
Kalep said he is among the survivors who now is fighting cancer.
"If I was asked how mad I was from 1 to 10, I'd say '10,' " Kalep said.
"We've got to stand up for our country and what they did to our people, the diseases," said Steve Tibon, 16. "We've got to pass this on to our kids."
"From my point of view, I want everyone else to know what we're going through and about the Marshall Islands," said 15-year-old Norman Samuel.
There are around 2,000 Marshall Islanders now living on Maui, John said.
The U.S. military conducted nuclear testing in the remote archipelago from 1946 to 1958, including the first test of a hydrogen bomb on Bikini on March 1, 1954. That test resulted in widespread radioactive contamination.
A 1998 report issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency found that Bikini is still not safe for habitation, because of dangerous levels of radiation.
The U.S. government previously established a $3 million trust for Marshall Islanders who were relocated for nuclear testing, but the money has been used up, protesters said. The U.S. later set aside $80 million to provide health care and other support, along with a personal payment trust of an additional $75 million.
Some Marshall Islanders sued the government for an additional $754 million in reparations, but the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
Nena Kilma, 66, said he received his last payment from the government in 2005. But even when he was receiving the payouts, they only amounted to between $200 and $600 annually.
"What the U.S. military did was destroy everything, the ocean, the land, the water, the food, the people," Kilma said.
William Gideon said the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end World War II should have told scientists everything they needed to know about what atomic weapons were capable of.
"No need to test anymore after that," he said.
* Chris Hamilton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org