NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) – A national hero was honored seven decades later at New Haven’s International Day of Peace Celebration.

Henry “Hank” Bolden is the ultimate survivor, living through a secret government testing program that claimed the lives of many of his colleagues.

A so-called atomic veteran, Bolden was just a teenager in 1955 when during the height of the Cold War he was sent to the Nevada desert and ordered to take part in a secret government program. The program, named “Operation Teapot” was testing the effects of nuclear radiation on the human body.

“I am extremely happy to be alive and be a participant in bringing to light some of the tragedies that were placed upon myself and other veterans,” Bolden said.

Although thousands of soldiers of all races were part of the testing, everyone assigned to Bolden’s unit was African American. A fact not lost on New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker.

“It is both shocking that our society thought that was okay and frankly it’s not surprising that our society thought that was okay,” Mayor Elicker said.

Bolden said he is one of just a few members of his unit who is still alive. He developed cancer as a result of his exposure in the 90s but thankfully he is in remission.

“I was used as a guinea pig without my knowledge and it’s something I would not want to live through again,” Bolden said.

The program was so secret that the government ordered the troops involved not to ever talk about what happened in the desert, even to family. That ban was finally lifted by the Clinton administration.

“I was always thinking that sooner or later someone is going to assassinate me to you know to keep me quiet,” Bolden said.

But now, Bolden is sharing his story and being honored for the sacrifice he made.

He is also living proof of the phrase “a lifetime of learning. He earned a college degree in jazz performance from the University of Hartford just a couple of years ago.