While working up my previous posts it became apparent that my association with the Weapons of Mass Destruction community was much stronger than I had ever realized. Partly it was a surprise to me because at no time did I specifically seek out these situations or these people or my relationships with them; they were just in the stream of events and people I that encountered through the daily living of my life. Some astrologer types would say it was in my stars; but I definitely am not of that crowd. Their argument could include that when a child I watched the sun rise totally eclipsed. That was on July 9th 1945 12:18z near Wilder, Idaho exactly a week before the first atomic bomb exploded over Alamogordo, New Mexico July 16th 1945 12:29z at sunrise.
A few weeks later one of the most memorably painful experiences of my life was running a half mile barefoot on a gravel road to tell my cousin about the atomic bomb being dropped and that the war was over.
In 1950 my parents moved to North Richland, Washington for employment at Hanford and we lived about as near to the plutonium reactors as anyone. In fact in the spring of 1953 I was the closest child to the reactors. I could look our living room window and see them across a big grassy field. My home for three years was about a mile over toward the right side where the steam is blowing in the picture below.
The Richland Bombers, at Columbia High School, in Richland, Washington were my classmates, those years and they were the offspring of the people who created the plutonium for the first atomic bomb at Alamogordo and for the one that destroyed Nagasaki.
When I graduated from high school my parents expected me to move out and not knowing what else to do I went to Washington State College. This had a secondary advantage of keeping me out of the Korean War but required me to take Air Force ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corp) classes. At one point we were more or less required to take the qualifying test to become regular Air Force Officers and to some degree unexpected by me I was qualified to take Air Force pilot training. So I did.
In the summer of 1957 I got to attend the Ethical Culture Societies, Encampment for Citizenship in New York. Through them I got to meet Eleanor Roosevelt ,
whose husband president Franklin Delano Roosevelt had first authorized and later supported the development of the A-bomb. A couple of weeks later I had an extended private conversation with J. Robert Oppenheimer
who is the person most credited with creating it.
A month later, back at college in Pullman, I had my first time at the controls of an airplane which was with an ex-RAF battle of Britain pilot flying a Beechcraft Bonanza.
The Air Force gave us forty hours of flying light planes before we actually entered the military and I got my private pilot’s licence flying an Aeronca 60 horsepower airplane while still technically a civilian. This is a beautiful little airplane where among other things you learn to stall and spin and recover from those conditions comfortably. The USAF seems to have forgotten the necessity for those abilities and have lost some hot planes at the Air Force Academy due to hot all-jet-qualified pilots never having properly learned that basic skill.
When I entered the Air Force I went to Malden, MO, and got to fly the 225 horsepower T-34 which is a very nice well behaved airplane.
Then on to the T-28, which at first glance looked like a T-34, but with an 800 horsepower engine it was faster and a lot more solid feeling. This is an airplane that can really take abuse as a Captain Shard proved to me.
Then off to Laredo, Texas for six months of flying T-33 jets. And dit dah dit dit – dit dah dit – dah dit dit embedded itself into my brain. I had a really good time and did very well except for my instructor’s rating of my military bearing which he rated as the was worst in our class. But, I flew the airplanes well and even as a student got to lead four ship formations several times.
However, because my instructor rated me so poorly, I didn’t get my choice of assignment which was fighters and was forced much against my will to go to B-47 bombers, which for me was a disaster. The B-47, in its unencumbered form, without the external wing tanks pictured below, is arguably the most beautiful airplane ever to fly but its mission was a problem for me. It was built for one thing alone – to drop atomic bombs – and by my time that had evolved into hydrogen bombs. H-bombs are approximately 1,000 times more powerful than the A-bombs, like the one dropped on Hiroshima; and we carried more than one …. This plane preceded the still flying B-52, which is an much enlarged B-47. But the B-47 was a civilization destroyer, perhaps a humanity destroyer in the hands of the Strategic Air Command’s Curtis Lemay and that’s whose hands it was in. Truly, we are lucky we are still alive.
I told SAC (Strategic Air Command) of the Air Force that I didn’t believe in their mission that I thought it was unworkable for maintaining peace and that I didn’t want to participate in destroying humanity and therefore I believed that I was unreliable as a bomber pilot. I resigned seven times over the course of the next couple of months and they finally agreed with me and let me go with a mutually incompatible discharge. I still regret that I didn’t get to stay in the Air Force in some other capacity but that wasn’t possible by the time I left. For a long time I tried to work out ways of eliminating the need for war and studied that issue in the abstract for a long time and in 1978 published a translation of Sun Tzu’s, Art of War.
Soon after leaving the Air Force I came to Berkeley and associated, rather lightly, with some of the radicals but I always felt they were fighting the wrong way for the wrong causes and were in fact destructive to the US and to world peace and to themselves. After a while I was feeling that the human situation was impossible so it seemed the most responsible thing to do was to devote my efforts to something unquestionably peaceful. Thus, I considered the Unitarian school for the ministry, Star King at Berkeley but believe it or not I thought they were too doctrinaire. Also, verbal and social skills aren’t my strong suit. So, I fell back on my hobby photography and studied that for several years, while still considering the war problem. But, all to soon my worst fears came true and the Cuba missile crisis came upon us and my old Air Force buddies were in the air with their B-47s loaded with H-bombs and we came within one hour of Armageddon. But, I didn’t participate in that insanity except as a potential victim.
For some unknown reason, fate perhaps, I fell in with the daughters of famous scientists and aviators. Elanore Jones, whose father commanded Andrews Air Force base, near Washington D. C.; Gale Lawrence whose father and uncle were some of the creators of the atomic bomb, Janice Urey whose family was also part of that project and my fiance for a short time Sue Cunningham whose father was the first to separate plutonium which laid the foundation for the Hanford plutonium reactors. Generally I didn’t know any of these details at the time and I didn’t try to find my way into the atomic community, it just happened.
Even though I am getting older now and consider myself very happy I still worry about those same issues and still see no ultimate hope of humanity resolving those ultimate conflicts without doing things we all presently consider unthinkable. I feel a bit like Benazir Bhutto (who got assassinated last week) is reported as feeling; … I have long eyes and just do my life tasks as well as I can.