MONROEVILLE, Pa. - Sixty years after he helped build the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in World War II, and long after beating two bouts of cancer, Ed Halluska is celebrating a special Christmas.
Halluska, 88, said a U.S. government check for more than $100,000 acknowledges that his sicknesses were war wounds caused by handling uranium with nothing but rubber gloves for protection. And it arrived just in time for Christmas.
"Listen, God has really blessed us," Halluska told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Halluska worked on the Manhattan Project - the U.S. military undertaking to build nuclear weapons - from March 1945 until August 1948. He recalls that he initially thought he was being dispatched to New York City for the war, but instead found himself in Los Alamos, N.M.
There he helped turn a block of uranium into the atomic bomb dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. Soon afterward, another bomb made largely of plutonium was dropped on Nagasaki, prompting an immediate Japanese surrender.
"I was handling uranium. I had rubber gloves on, and sometimes they'd tear," Halluska said.
Still, it took him six years to receive compensation for the cancer he fought first in 1976 and again in 1993.
Just to establish his presence at Los Alamos took several years. After answering a lengthy questionnaire, the Monroeville resident became No. 9,978 on a list of applicants seeking compensation.
The process was so long that Halluska did not believe he would ever see the money. "I kind of gave up after so many years," he said.
Halluska said awards are not based on the level of injury; the government either dispenses a check for more than $100,000 - he declined to give the exact amount - or nothing. According to the New York Times, about two-thirds of applicants have been turned down for compensation.
Two months shy of his 89th birthday, Halluska said he has few big expenditures. Most of the money has gone to his church and some to his grandchildren.
But amid the pile of forms - testimony to his long struggle with the government - are two tickets.
"We're going on the Queen Victoria," Halluska said, recounting the years he and his wife spent on cruise ships directing bridge tournaments. "This time, we're not working."