Despite what many might think, these men were not crazy and they were not being punished. Amazingly, each man except for one volunteered to participate in this. It was July 19th, 1957 when five Air Force officers and a lone photographer stood alongside one another about 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas. The specific area on the ground had been marked “Ground Zero.
Population 5” on a hand written sign that was pushed into the soft ground located adjacent to them. Directly overhead, two F-89 jets come roaring into the view. Then suddenly one of them ejected a nuclear missile carrying an atomic warhead.
The men wait, and the countdown begins. Just 18,500 feet above them, the missile was detonated and blew up. Therefore, these men intentionally stood directly under an exploding 2-kiloton nuclear bomb. One of the men even looked up while wearing sunglasses to say that a person would have to see this with their own eyes to believe it.
The narrator was enthusiastically shouting, “It happened! The mounds are vibrating. It is tremendous! Directly above our heads! Aaah!” The footage was ascertained from the government archives, and it was shot by the United States Air Force (at the behest of Col. Arthur B. “Barney” Oldfield, public information officer for the Continental Air Defense Command in Colorado Springs). The point was to depict the relative safety of a low-grade nuclear explosion in the atmosphere. To further prove this, two colonels, two majors and a fifth officer volunteered to stand under the blast. The cameraman, George Yoshitake did not volunteer.
It was at a time when the country was concerned about nuclear fallout. The Air Force wanted to take the initiative to reassure its people that it was safe to use atomic weapons to counter the similar weapons being developed by Russia. But they did not win this particular argument.
This film provides a number of things to ponder and worry about. One odd detail was how the bomb exploded in complete silence with an abrupt white flash. The soldiers flinch before there is a slight pause in the action. Suddenly, there is a roar. (“There it is! The ground wave!”). The sky went black and air seemed to turn to fire.
Simple physics can explain the pause. Light travels faster than sound which is why the light came before the sound. Many movies will artificially shift the sound in order to make the viewer think the flash and the sound happened at the same time.
‘A Long, Thundering Growl’
It is different if you are actually there. Alex Wellerstein is a science historian who came upon an unaltered and scary recording. He posted it on Restricted Data; The Nuclear Secrecy Blog. Supposedly, it came from a Russian correspondent that had been sifting through the United States National Archives. The Russians uncovered a recording of an American atomic test from 1953. It shows a big flash of white that blanks out the entire sky; followed by a thick cloud of ash and finally a fireball appears. Thirty seconds passes. Wellerstein said,
“Put on some headphones and listen to it all the way through — it’s much more intimate than any other test film I’ve seen. You get a much better sense of what these things must have been like, on the ground, as an observer, than from your standard montage of blasts. Murmurs in anticipation, the slow countdown over a megaphone; the reaction at the flash of the bomb; and finally — a sharp bang, followed by a long, thundering growl. That’s the sound of the bomb.”
The sound is one no person would want to hear in their lifetime, but this is the safest way to eavesdrop. The initial two minutes of the video does not have much happening. Then the countdown starts, and at 2:24 from the top the bomb explodes. At 2:54 the blast hits.
A Postscript: What Happened To The Guys In The Bomb Video?
The list of the people who were in the film included, Col. Sidney Bruce, Lt. Col. Frank P. Ball, Major Norman “Bodie” Bodinger, Major John Hughes, Don Lutrel and George Yoshitake (the cameraman, not seen). Based on some follow-up research, the following information was gathered:
- Col. Sidney C. Bruce — died in 2005 (age 86)
- Lt. Col. Frank P. Ball — died in 2003 (age 83)
- Major John Hughes — died in 1990 (age 71)
- Major Norman Bodinger — not listed in the database so he may be alive
- Don Lutrel — died 1987 (age 63)
Furthermore, the United States government has shelled out about $813 million across 16,000 “down winders” to compensate for the illnesses that were allegedly connected to the bomb testing program. These tests were conducted to prove the safety of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, but clearly they were not safe at all.