SEATTLE -- Dick Layton is haunted by the history he witnessed in the South Pacific. Nearly 70 years later it helped earn him one of the highest honors in the state.
In 1946 Layton was a 19-year-old Second Class Petty Officer in the Navy when he was told he was going to Bikini Atoll for a top secret mission.
"It was very difficult to be there so young," said Layton, a retired doctor who now lives in Seattle.
Nearly a year after the U.S. dropped bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, the military wanted to see what an atomic blast would do to naval ships at sea. Layton was on a ship 12 miles from the atomic bomb test.
"I could see a huge lightning ball," said Layton, "I could feel the pressure and the heat and the sound, which was awful."
A few days after the test, Layton boarded the ships which had been in the blast zone. His mission: to retrieve radars that had been damaged.
He remembers getting drenched in dirty water. And when he went through radioactivity tests, "the Geiger counter went off the pin," Layton said.
Layton said he never suffered any ill effects from his exposure to radiation.
"So far I'm just fine," he said.
On Thursday, Washington Governor Jay Inslee honored Layton, now 86, with a "Governor's Recognition Award."
A governor's spokesperson said it is a rare award given to state residents who are responsible for special accomplishments.
Layton said he did not do anything heroic during his Navy career. Of all the lessons learned during the test, he wants one to last longer than his memories.
"I hope and pray for the rest of the world that we never get in a contest with atomic bombs," said Layton. "Life is too precious."