A GOOD STORY ABOUT MY NUCLEAR LIFE
THE FOURTH GRADE (FINAL)
the arrangement or disposition of people or things in relation to each other per a sequence, pattern, or method.
"I filed the cards in alphabetical order"
The triggering of a thermal nuclear device involves the perfect sequence of events in a perfectly timed order. If these things happen (in less than a second) it goes BOOM!
complete disorder and confusion. a state in which behavior and events are not controlled by anything
A nuclear explosion creates the epitome of chaos.
GROVER CLEVELAND ELEMENTARY
My elementary school memories are few. However, the fourth grade; now I have a story.
I was born just a few years after WWII, when Adolf Hitler was still fresh in our minds. Then the Cold War happened. We learned about propaganda, CIA spies and the nuclear threat that Russia imposed upon us. We worried about the Atomic Bomb. We worried because we lived on Rachel Street, which was just a few miles from the Long Beach Harbor and the Naval Base there. I heard the grownups say more than once; that the base would be a prime target for a nuclear attack.
The TV repeatedly showed the atomic bombing of Japan and the Bikini Island tests. I had an idea of what “ground zero” meant. There was the huge mushroom cloud, the powerful shock wave and the destruction in the aftermath. Even though it was a horrific scene, I always felt that whatever the problem was that made people use the bomb; it certainly ended that problem in a most efficient fashion. I felt relief.
The neat shows on television were the scientific ones that showed the soldiers as guinea pigs. They would be in trenches, in the Las Vegas desert, standing to face the blast. No worry though, the army had supplied the soldiers with dark colored eye goggles to protect them. The U.S. Army thinks of everything.
Disney showed a color cartoon that explained the atom by showing a genie being unleashed from a bottle. He was powerful like the atom.
The great mushroom cloud was very cool, but I always waited for the shock wave. I liked the way the shock wave hiccupped when the vacuum collapsed as the air rushed back to fill the void. I loved to see the buildings being blown away.
The best part that I saw was the little, fake, mocked up neighborhoods. Real cars would be in the driveway and lawn mowers were left out in the yard. I was pretty sure that the lawn mowers were real too. But the very, best part was when the scientists put automatic cameras in the house’s living rooms. They had manikin families in there. The dad was sitting on the couch reading the newspaper, with his pipe in his mouth. Then the mom was standing in the kitchen with her apron on and holding her spatula. The kids were sitting on the floor in front of a blank TV screen; all of them were smiling. The camera would cut back to the outside of the house and suddenly the shock wave would hit.
The lawn mower was never found even though the army spent many man-hours on that mission. Now for the very, very best part. The living room camera caught, in slow motion, the curtains as they started to blow into the house followed by hot dust and debris. Dad’s face began to melt away, with his elbow bent holding the pipe that was in his mouth. The grins were wiped from the children’s faces as they melted into the carpet.
The army eventually found mom's spatula still intact and they ordered hundreds of them at $600 apiece from a guy that worked out of his garage. The guy is now the owner of a company that makes army stuff; probably like Bechtel Corporation or some other bloated government contractor. And what in the hell did they build those damned cameras out of?
I enjoyed the television shows about the people who built backyard, underground “bomb shelters.” Building contractors advertised their ability to provide you protection from the nuclear fallout. How neat would it be to have a bomb shelter, with food and water and bunk beds and lots of flashlights and batteries?
The shelter would also have a big steel door to keep out the neighbors that didn't have enough foresight to build their own shelter.
The moral discussions were endless. Should you lock your neighbors out when the air raid sirens went off? If you did let them come into your bomb shelter, would you have enough room, food and supplies to sustain them? Do you take his children inside and leave him and his wife locked out? Should you save his 19-year old daughter? Should you lock out your wife? After the nuclear holocaust, you would need good breading stock to replenish the world.
Nine years old and I am contemplating these life and death questions. No wonder I am so screwed up. I had seen the mushroom cloud several times on TV as the bomb exploded into the atmosphere. There was the flash of light and then the X-rays that penetrated the body so the bones showed through the skin. I often thought about the shock wave that even leveled some cement buildings.
Then one day I found a Civil Defense pamphlet. It was so neat. It told me what I could do if I didn't have the $8000-dollar contractor built, underground bomb/fallout shelter; which I always assumed my family would have. I never once contemplated a scenario where my family would be held at bay by a shotgun wielding neighbor blocking our entrance to the safety of his shelter. (The shelter belonging to the neighbor with the 19-year old daughter of course).
Maybe my father's pleading to the neighbor that I was an only child would get me into his shelter. Maybe I could be on the bottom bunk bed with the 19-year old girl on the top bunk. Maybe.
Anyway, the pamphlet went on to suggest that I could simply dig out some of the dirt from under my houses concrete slab foundation. Then, I could crawl in between the concrete slab and the ground; dirty, but apparently effective. Oh yeah; it said that I would need blankets to cover the opening to the outside. Also, and this was stressed, if I must leave for any reason, upon returning, I was to be sure to have someone sweep my clothes off with a broom to remove any radioactive dust particles from my clothing! I was only 9-years old and even I couldn’t believe that this would work.
Let's see . . . a shovel that’s maybe five dollars. Next the blankets on my bed would do just fine. No special broom was mentioned so I guess that a regular kitchen broom would work. Heck, almost everyone has a shovel. And if not, I could run over to the neighbor and just grab one from his garage after he locks himself and his family in their shelter. Yes, the one with the 19-year old daughter. Don't worry; he is the one that is going to be pissed off when he realizes that he could have gotten off for almost nothing.
Most of this talk didn't cause me any trauma. However, school scared the heck out of me. Bomb drills at Grover Cleveland Elementary had replaced fire drills, only we had them more often.
What we would do when the sirens blew, was to line up single file and calmly follow the teacher across the campus and into the auditorium. We were trained to face a seat and then to put the seat bottom down. Then, to kneel in front of the seat and put our left arm on it. Next, we were told to place our head on our arm and then to take the right arm and cover our head or neck, the choice was ours. It would possibly be our last.
As we walked around the back of the auditorium, towards the front door, I would notice a steel ladder, permanently affixed to the side of the building. It was the access to the roof for the maintenance personnel.
I developed a plan. I would always work my way to the back of the line of kids. This I practiced every time that we had a drill. My idea was to fall out of line and climb up the ladder to the roof. That way I could embrace the blast. I would get to see the flash of light and the X- rays that would allow me to see the bones in my hands. The mushroom cloud would appear, and then the shock wave would annihilate me, just like I saw on TV.
How much better this would have been, than to be cloistered in the dimly lit theater waiting to die? All while my friends were sniffing an elementary school auditorium seat and missing the show of their lives while waiting to be annihilated; trying to decide if they should cover their heads or their necks? Not me!
I realized that I had a problem with my plan. How would I be able to tell the drill from the real thing? I looked for patterns in the way the drills were carried out. I tried to observe the behaviors of the teachers and the principal. There seemed to be no way to compare their actions during a drill to their actions during the real thing.
One day though, we started another drill. I saw the principal give my teacher the “hurry up” sign, as we approached the rear of the auditorium. This was my clue. This was the real thing. My heart beat out of my chest. As the line of students rounded a corner of the building, I held back until I saw that they had turned their final corner. I finally stepped around my corner and saw no one.
Perfect. I hit the ladder running, jumped up and climbed to the roof. Nice view, but a little scary now that the realty of dying was imminent. I thought of my parents, my grandma, my cousins, my uncles and aunts. I stood, looking over the houses in the direction of Long Beach and the Naval Base waiting for the flash of light. The time passed and finally; I heard a loud roar. I looked down to see half of the schools children looking up at me and laughing. The teachers were hollering for me to stay up there. “Don't come down someone will come up to get you,” shouted a teacher.
After the principal, the teachers, the school nurse, the police and my parents talked to me, I still had the child psychologists ‘appointments. I only had to see him three times. That was my nuclear experience and little did I know that I would have a couple of more in my future.
I am only ten years out of Grover Cleveland Elementary School and I am now a seaman on the aircraft carrier the U.S.S. Hancock CVA-19 in the South China Sea. It is there that I took part in one of several battle drills in the Gulf of Tonkin.
One of the drills preformed was a scenario involving a large nuclear blast that occurred in the ocean some distance from the ship. Apparently, there are a set of procedures for turning the ship in an attitude that best buffers the shock waves from the blast. I guess that it is possible to surf an aircraft carrier if you know what you are doing.
Condition ZEBRA is put into place when we seal up the ship by closing all the watertight doors. Since radioactive fallout deteriorates in half-lives; after a nuclear explosion, a ship can use a sprinkler system to continually wash radiation particles from it by using sea water. Most of the doors can be locked down to create water-tight compartments. You have probably seen that in movies, the doors that are oval and have a steel wheel that turns to seal the door shut. Sounds good, and it is probably better than being on the ground during a nuclear holocaust, I guess. Thinking back, it would be so much better than being on the roof of Grover Cleveland Elementary School, In Lakewood California at nine years old.
I have no real idea how I got involved in this epic battle scenario. I worked as a Personnelman in the Education and Training Office. It was not a very tactical position. Some Chief Petty Officer volunteered me for a “special job.” Probably because as an office worker it made military sense that I could write on a chalkboard, as opposed to some sailor from the engine room.
A team of men covered me from head to foot in a mummy like costume made of heavy water proof canvas. I was wearing a gas mask. In my right hand was a Geiger counter. No shit! (This was so much cooler than even the flashlights and the tons of batteries that we kept in our fallout shelter). In my left hand was thrust a small chalkboard. On my chest was pinned a small pocket dosimeter so that I could record the amount of Rankin’s of radio activity that I was about to be exposed to. This was getting better and better all of the time.
The instructions that I was given were simple. I was to go out of the door on the island structure to the flight deck and walk around the flight deck for only five minutes. Then I was to take a reading from the Geiger counter, (how cool is this?) then write down the findings on the chalkboard and take them to a designated porthole on the island structure and hold them up to the window. Someone would be there to read the numbers and pass the information on to someone else that cared about such stuff. I was not to leave until the reading was taken. Then I was to take the port elevator from the flight deck down to the hanger bay. Someone would meet me there. I was told again that I was being radiated so I was to spend as little time as possible outside.
The day was gray and overcast. The color of the water matched the gray of the sky and matched with the gray of the huge ship it was a monochromatic and an almost colorless world save for an occasional cautionary sign painted here and there. Only in a dream on the threshold of a nightmare could I ever remember being in such a black and white world.
The ship had nearly three thousand men aboard it. It had been many weeks since I had experienced such solicitude as this. There were not any men bustling around. There were no brightly painted jets turning up their engines to roar down the catapult. The flight deck looked so long, wide and empty as the aircraft were stored in the hanger deck below. I could see 150 yards from bow to stern. I could hear my own breathing in the gas mask. I began to shrink.
Moving away from the island structure and walking to the port side I followed the number four arresting cable until I could look down the fifty or so feet to the water. The ocean was flat and calm, as the ship rushed forward, not even a white cap to add some contrast. Slowly turning around I looked back up at the conning tower that was another sixty or so feet high. I scanned the radar towers, the catwalks and windows . . . nothing. No movement. Everyone was safely locked away. I had to turn my body like a zombie to compensate for the gas mask’s eyeholes. I scanned right towards the stern waiting for a jet to float in at 150 miles per hour and again, nothing but grey sky. I stopped to inspect the twisted braids of the number four arresting cable. Finally coming out of my trance, I took a reading on my Geiger counter and wrote the numbers on the chalkboard. Walking back to the designated window, I felt for my dosimeter, and it was still there. I was hoping that I could find a way to keep it after the drill was over.
Approaching the window, I had a funny feeling that I was in the wrong place. There was no movement; no face looking outside for me. No sailor was waiting with a chalkboard to copy my numbers. I knocked on the window, shouted and waived . . . nothing. I left the window and headed for the other porthole only a few steps away. Arriving, I found no face in that window either, just darkness.
After making two trips back and forth between the two windows, I paused again to gaze at the quiet. I drifted towards the first window again and looked in, still nothing. The second window revealed . . . nothing. Ten minutes had past and I was getting radiated. Well, if it wasn’t a drill I would have been.
Everything was just too big. The quiet, the 900 foot long, empty flight deck and the distance to the bow seemed enormous That's it; I will walk to the bow and then turn around to see the view looking all the way aft.
As I floated over the deck, I watched the distance to the bow shorten until I was looking down at the water as the giant steel war ship cut a path through the gray ocean.
When I went as far as I could, I turned around to get a panoramic view of the radar antennas on the conning tower, ever so high up into the grey sky. I could sense the massive horsepower and the enormous inertia. It was an invincible energy. Have you ever pick up a loaded revolver and experienced that instant feeling of power mixed with a little fear? You have the power to kill the man next to you in an instant, be it friend or foe. You checked yourself; it passes. And in an instant, your sanity returned. The gun is just a tool to have handy when you need it, like a hammer or an Atomic Bomb!
Take that feeling of power that you had for just that split second: could you handle that feeling if it were intensified a thousand or even a million times? Just turn around ... three hundred yards of cold steel, sixty jet airplanes with nuclear missiles and bombs, huge guns on the ship, helicopters and a few thousand men and a marine detachment to boot. All were mine and I had nobody else to play with; the toys were all mine. This is not a video game. Ok I was tripping again, sorry.
I turned around and it was all there: the flight deck now stretched the whole 300 yards, the antennas on the conning tower reached for the sky. The windows on the bridge, raked forward to prevent the sun's glare.
The windows on the bridge, oh crap! That was the only place where living men are watching the outside world. I'll bet that they were wearing dark glasses to prevent getting blinded from the impending nuclear flash!
The thought of being watched awakened me from my surrealistic daydream, my day of perfect peace and the solitude of my day of being so little among the immense ocean and the giant ship of war, the infinite grey sky and the quiet solitude. BUSTED!
How many people besides the Captain were behind those windows? I must think. I stood a watch there counting planes as they recovered. There is the Captain and the two officers that are navigating that makes three and then the 20JS sound powered phone talker standing behind the Captain. That's four and maybe the ships navigator and how many judges are watching and evaluating the Captains performance during this drill?
How bad is it going to look for the Captain if I, his sacrificial lamb, is left out in the nuclear winter? I wonder if they will see my skeleton when the X-rays hit. I should never have walked forward to the bow where they could see me. Passing this test is part of the Captains’ evaluation to be promoted to Admiral. Now some daydreaming seaman is going to ruin the career of a good officer and worse we could lose our liberty in one of those exotic ports that I joined up to see. These were the ports with the very important hostess bars where we could drink alcohol at eighteen years old.
Thinking fast, I raised the chalkboard over my head with my left hand aiming it right at the Captain’s window, which was about five stories up. With my right hand, I pointed over my head at the chalkboard a couple of times. Then I pointed down towards the designated window and began walking to it, “just like me and the Captain had it all planned.” As they all watched I calmly walked to the conning tower and this time there was a face in the window and a sailor that held a chalk board to record my Geiger counter readings.
Then, I calmly walked over to the port side elevator, stepped on the down button and disappeared out of their sight into the hanger bay below the flight deck.
As soon as I stepped off the elevator, I was met with a hard spray of salt water from two fire hoses and team of Hazardous Material Technicians in mummy suits of their own. They had been waiting and waiting for me and they had stiff brushes on long handles ready to thoroughly scrub me down. After they peeled off my canvas suit, they were ready with the stiff brushes to scrub my naked skin free from the radiation.
This is when I loudly reminded them to “STOP, THIS IS ONLY A DRILL!”
P. S. I still have the pocket dosimeter.