Monday, October 08, 2012

Not-so-phantom menace.

Seen at the Bradbury Science Museum in Los Alamos:

"Why, Johnny Ringo! You look like someone just walked over your grave."
To a child of the Cold War like myself, who grew up in the shadow of an Air Force base and a massive Lockheed plant, this was creepily like looking at a piece of The Bullet With Your Name On It. (Of course, like all nuclear warheads, it was actually addressed "Dear Occupant...")

30 comments:

Scott J said...

It's amazing how quickly that memory fades from the culture though.

My wife is a mere 5 years younger than me and back we when first started dating I stumbled across a rerun of the 1983 TV movie "The Day After".

She just didn't grok the concept of the fears that movie represented like I did.

y said...

**nods** I grew up near Tyndall AFB in the Florida panhandle, and I remember hearing my parents talk about Cuba and 'that thing with the missiles' when I was small. Eglin AFB wasn't too far away, a Ground Zero target if there ever was one; when I was old enough to understand, I had a lot of nightmares about it.

Richard Blaine said...

They made their bombs out of particle-board?

Talk about tight budgets.

Six said...

Yes, I am old enough to have done the Duck and Cover drills in elementary school. Ah, memories.

Roberta X said...

Seriously, Richard, lookit the machining on that thing. The old commie Roosians could do darned nice work when they were fixin' t'blow someboody up.


N.B.: I did most of my growing up in a house with a bombshelter in the back yard. It wasn't stocked for a long stay (it had been installed by a previous owner with the doors facing the secondary-target city we lived outside of, so even with the 90-degree turn at the bottom of the stairs, it was vulnerable) but we used it for tornadoes and at one point, my electronics lab was exiled out there.

The thing had its own well and drain and a hand-cranked air intake blower with a loooong filter in the intake, and double-reentrant caps on the air exhausts. There were bunk fittings and frame and provision for a fold-down table. It certainly made you think.

maddmedic said...

Having a radar base in the northern Minnesota woods near the grandparents farm was always intriguing to a youngster. But having a Dad whom fought the Communists in Korea set things straight.
Is hard to explain those days to those whom are clueless today.
Growing in the 60's and 70's and today still seeing schools and public buildings with the 'shelter' signs on them and then have a youngster ask you what that is for...
And today is not a whole heck of a lot better!!

Joseph said...

I remember the "Duck and Cover" drills too...but living 6 miles south of O'Hare airport on the outskirts of Chicago, I didn't really think they would do much good.

mikee said...

When I visited the Air and Space Museum and saw the way rockets and space ships were built, I was amazed they worked well enough to keep the occupants alive.

Swagelok fittings to maintain a seal against air loss to vacuum , nuts without lock washers, ridiculously flimsy LEMs built out of Mylar and good intentions - those folks deserve vast amounts of credit for making it all work.

As for the 60's, my parents house had a basement with lots of cabinets of canned goods and home-preserved veggies in mason . As I got older nobody replaced those home grown quarts of delicousness were not replaced. I took it as their assessment that the likelihood of needing it was decreasing with time.

Anonymous said...

I grew up near Offutt AFB and SAC headquarters. We'd watch the Looking Glass planes coming and going, and the Cold War was one of those things everyone had a relative involved with. Then I moved to near the Pantex Weapons Plant. It was a local joke that if the sun rose in the north rather than the east, the Russians were coming. I still think of Russia as the Soviet Union and still talk about East and West Germany. Missed the "duck-and-cover" drill era by a few years, though.

LittleRed1

Scott J said...

I also missed duck and cover drills. I was about the same age as Broderick's character when Joshua asked if he wanted to play a game.

global village idiot said...

"To Whom it May Concern..."

gvi

Tim Ellwood said...

Very cool picture, I would love to make it to that museum. My father was one of Julius Robert Oppenheimer's MP "bodyguards"
(guarded both from outside sources getting him, and from him leaking info to the soviets) during the testing at Site Trinity. My half brother was facility manager at Los Alamos for many years. The stories my dad use to tell........

Rob Reed said...

Another child of the Cold War here. In high school the common wisdom was we'd have 20 minutes warning before the bombs fell and I remember wondering if that would be enough time to lose my virginity before we all were turned into subatomic particles.

I never did come up with a better line than,"Hey, you wanna do it before we all die?" though.

Rob (Trebor)

Sigivald said...

What Mr. Blaine said - for all that it says "metal fragment", that looks uncannily like particle board...

Vernon said...

Was in SAC when Looking Glass went off 100% airborne alert. Was a copilot on one mission, but mostly pulled alert at Ellsworth AFB and Minot AFB (South and North Dakota). Flew with the 4th ACCS in an EC-135. Three radio guys and two missile officers in the back. Our job was for the missile officers to turn the keys and launch the missiles on command from the SAC general in Looking Glass. Understand that this would only happen if everyone else on the ground was now radioactive ash.

We knew there would be NOTHING left when we landed but we had to convince the Russians we believed there was such as thing as a winable nuclear war. We would have done it, too. The whole MAD madness could only work if everyone, including us, had no doubt we would.

But we knew. The bomber, tanker, and command and control crews knew there would be nothing left. The missile launch crews knew they would be vaporized or buried in rubble or sealed under a foot of glass made from fused earth. We did it anyway because there wasn't a plan b. It worked because we convinced them that "we may not win but we'll make damn sure you lose" and we meant it. Helluva way to run a world.

VJ

Geodkyt said...

My elementary school was in rifle shot of Fort Monroe, and light arty range of Norfolk Navy Base and Langley AFB. A grand total of about 30 reasonable targets in a 30 mile radious, if you added up the little nooks and crannies DoD scattered around. . . 90%+ of us were the brats of career military who had at least tens years in service at the end of Vietnam.

We knew we weren't going to make it if The Russkies Launched, and found it quaint when a few of the nuns still insisted on us doing Duck and Cover (LOVED the turtle cartoon!) in those post-Vietnam days. Didn't expect to get a warning, either, because we knew that only a brief SNAFU in the alert chain would mean the Canned Sunshine would arrive before the warning did, probably via low trajectory sub shots just off shore.

Nope, we expected a sprinkling of big-assed 10+MT citybusters, it being an article of faith amongst us boys that the Soviets couldn't hit precision targets, wouldn't try, and just to be sure, would just glass our corner of the state with a couple dozen massive warheads, from Colonial Williamsburg (Camp Perry, CIA training base & Yorktown Naval Weapons Station, where all LANTFLT's nukes were stored) to Virginia Beach (Fort Story on the strip, with Army transport & Navy EOD & SEALs, Little Creek Amphib).

"Fallout sheleters" in my hometown were where the cleaning supplies and old furniture were stored. "Bomb shelters" are what we hid from tornadoes in when we visited Mom's kin in Minnesota.

People just a handful of years younger than I am don't get it. Hell, my Minnesnowta relatives barely got it (there is absotively ZERO reason to nuke Winona County, for instance -- Hampton Roads beat out DC in terms of military value)

Bubblehead Les. said...

Vernon: Ditto from the FBM Submarine Force. We all knew that, if push came to shove, that Payback was going to be a Bitch.

Oh, BTW, we still have men and women in holes in the Ground, and the Ohio Class Boomers are still making Patrols.

And to the Enemies of the Republic? Payback is STILL a BItch.

Anonymous said...

Aussie here.
My parents bought a bush block 600km from the nearest city after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. it was to be our nuclear bolt hole. I was ten at the time, I remember looking at the blast and flash fire radii of a one megaton bomb laid over Sydney and realized we would need at least three days notice to be able to evacuate. I was very young, but very aware of the nuclear tripwire that was MAD and I didn't expect to live to be 18.
Trying to explain to kids born in the 90s the reality of that, of people being shot trying to jump the wire in Berlin, the reality of the iron curtain with no trade, travel or communication to most of Eurasia? They don't get it.

Anonymous said...

It is a particle board attached to a metal base, most likely for protection from scratches and bumps during handling. Long word on top is translated as "impermeability"

Anonymous said...

I lived in Tampa during the Cuban Missle Crisis. Later that year we moved to Huntsville, AL which it turned out was ground zero for more than a few deliveries.

We had bomb shelters here before there were tornado shelters.

JustSomeGuy said...

It's odd, seeing this. I don't much talk about those nostalgic Cold War memories with folks anymore. Too many blank looks or baffled but sympathetic nods. As Scott J. said, the memory faded so quickly.

I was between generations, I guess. Before me were those who pondered how hard it would be to carry on after such a devastating war and after me are all the folks who just don't grok worrying about nukes. I was stuck squarely in the cultural landscape of "the end of all." Didn't help living in close proximity to a large military installation, and figuring we were a secondary or at best tertiary target.

I look back now and chuckle at the morbid daydreams and bleak stories and essays I wrote. 'Twas a twisted time in my head.

During drills for close strike reaction in the military, I was reminded of those daydreams and stories. But those drills were taught with the unspoken but generally understood notion that you weren't actually expected to survive a close strike for long...just long enough to be militarily effective.

Sorry, random thoughts.

JSG

Anonymous said...

Of course, like all nuclear warheads, it was actually addressed "Dear Occupant..."

Tam, you just have to write a book; novel, contrafactual, gun book, anything: with your writing skills and turn of phrase I'll buy it!

mike from oz

Stretch said...

Oct. '62. Duck and cover drills 2 or 3 times a week. LOS distance from Pentagon less that 10 miles. Dad was in Germany facing the Red Horde at the Fulda Gap. I did have an "Commanders' Weapons Effects Estimator" (mfg. by Nestler of West Germany). Circular device giving Blast Yield (KT) and safe distances for "Troops Open," "Troops Foxholes," armored and support vehicles. One side had "Air Burst." The other had "Ground Burst." During recess I'd let everyone know how big a blast over the Pentagon we'd survive; on the playground; in the classroom; in the hall. I refrained from telling them under the stairwell was safest. Even in second grade I had a well developed sense of self-preservation. I still have the Estimator. With Tam's permission I'll scan it and e-mail it to her for posting.
Funny thing - never got yelled at for 'traumatizing classmates' nor did we ever see counselors. Guess they thought we could handle it.

Ed said...

The Boston area, like many urban areas like Miami, New York City and Chicago, was ringed by a series of Nike-Hercules nuclear tipped anti-aircraft missile bases designed to take out Soviet bomber formations flying at above 10,000 feet eighty miles out. Intercept aircraft from Otis AFB on Cape Cod would break the sound barrier as they met Soviet bombers flying the polar route off of New England on their way to Cuba.

Multiple warhead Soviet ICBMs replaced the Soviet bomber threat even though their guidance systems were not as accurate as US ICBMs, leading to the dismantling of the Nike-Hercules systems. I remember seeing an illustration in "Scientific American" magazine of of the effect of a one of these supposedly "inaccurate" Soviet missiles that could flatten the entire metro-Boston area with the multiple atmosphere entrant warheads and the probable effects of an array of these missiles bracketing the city. Living in the middle of a triangle composed of the shipyard that built the aircraft carrier Lexington, a Naval Air Station with an ASW wing and an USMC attack aircraft wing, and an USN ammunition depot meant that we were on the target grid. Shelter building became irrelevant and futile. The mantra became "In case of attack, bend over, place your head between your knees, and kiss your ass good-bye".

The shipyard is now closed and equipment dismantled. The Navy air base and ammunition depot are also closed. Does that mean we would be safer, or still collateral damage?

Steve Skubinna said...

Grew up in a Navy family and hence had an absentee father at least half the time. So did just about everyone I knew back then. We dealt with it by not worrying about it.

So when I read people remembering the paranoia and fear of those times it passes me by - I knew, as did most of my friends, that our fathers were more likely to survive the exchange than we were, and would probably come back to find us all incinerated.

So when you're a kid, you deal with that knowledge by ignoring it. Dwell on that and you won't make it to your twenty first birthday sane. And the interesting thing is, we all desperately wanted to make that milestone because we all intended to follow our fathers' footsteps and enlist,

Cybrludite said...

New Orleans area here. Major port, naval shipyard across the River at Avondale, major railyards to support the port, large airbase with ANG F-15s & Navy P-3s & A-7s, NASA's factory for building Saturn V first stages & Space Shuttle external tanks, and a quarter of the nation's oil refining capacity between here & Baton Rouge. Yeah, I expected to have been radioactive ash long before I got to this point.

Cybrludite said...

And for the record, if an SS-20 was hitting the States, then things had gone really bad before the ICBM swap-meet. The SS-20 was a tactical missile. (In other words, it was designed to land on Germany...)

Anonymous said...

While a little too young for duck and cover, I did have a Army Engineer father who was on the team that developed this:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_Atomic_Demolition_Munition

Look at the video if you want to see crazy!

Justthisguy said...

Ah, I remember living in the Northern Suburbs of Atlanta, and being told that we wer way up high on the Soviet bomb list, because of that Western Electric plant there, which made all of the fiber-optic cable in the country at that time.

Ma Bell knew what was up. Look at telephone buildings built during the fifties. They all seemed to be made of poured concrete, with very stout doors, and no windows.

The fact that we can talk trash at each other on this here Internet is a direct consequence of worried guys in the fifties thinking about how we could maintain comms after a nuclear war.

Justthisguy said...

Ed, I think that means that you guys are no longer worth shooting at, having no military targets left, just annoying Bostonian Demonrat voters. You are Perfectly Safe.