Richmond, Va. (WRIC) — Rep. Abigale Spanberger and the Virginia War Memorial held a ceremony for Atomic Veterans Day on Friday.

The day honors those who participated in nuclear tests, served with U.S. forces at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan before 1946 or were held as prisoners of war there. Many of these service members were exposed to harmful levels of radiation.

President Ronald Regan designated July 16, as Atomic Veterans Day in 1983.

“Those who join the U.S. military are called to action in some of the most dangerous places and situations one can imagine,” said John Maxwell, Commissioner, Virginia Department of Veterans Services. “This proclamation, ensuring a recognition day for atomic veterans, is an important reminder that it takes immense sacrifice to keep our nation free.”

Gillie Jenkins, a Chesterfield County resident and veteran, talked about the radiation on his Navy aircraft carrier.

“For nearly 50 years, I and many others were sworn to secrecy about the work we did for our country in the military — work which regularly exposed us to radiation,” Jenkins said. “While I have been blessed with health, many of the individuals I served with suffered from the consequences of being exposed to radiation and were prevented by their oaths from seeking the proper medical care or VA disability benefits.”

Jenkins is now the Director at Large for the Virginia branch of the National Association of Atomic Veterans. He said this is a forgotten group of veterans and it’s important for the public to know about them.

“The stories of Atomic Veterans are important for remembering our past — they are the stories of those who served, stories of their dangerous and secret missions, and stories of a complex and veiled history as the United States rose to prominence as the most powerful nation in the world,” Rep. Spanberger said.

You can learn more about the National Association of Atomic Veterans online here.