“It happened! … It is tremendous! Directly above our heads! Aaah!”
On July 19, 1957, five Air Force officers volunteered to stand 18,500 feet below an exploding 2-kiloton nuclear bomb about 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
Yes, you read that right. At the height of the Cold War, five men (and a sixth, the cameraman) stood directly below the explosion of an atomic warhead in order “to demonstrate the relative safety of a low-grade nuclear exchange in the atmosphere,” according to NPR’s Robert Krulwich.
As Krulwich writes, “You have to see this to believe it.”
So what happened to this “Ground Zero: Population 5” gang? Apparently there is a relative safety to this process. George Yoshitake, the cameraman, is reportedly still alive today, hangin’ tough at age 84.
As for the other Air Force men? Science historian Alex Wellerstein did some research for Krulwich, and here’s what he found:
• Col. Sidney C. Bruce — died in 2005 (age 86)
• Lt. Col. Frank P. Ball — died in 2003 (age 83)
• Maj. John Hughes — very common name, but I’m guessing he is Maj. John W. Hughes II (born 1919, same as the above) — died in 1990 (age 71)
• Maj. Norman Bodinger — unclear (not listed in the database), he may still be
• Don Lutrel — I think this is a misspelling of “Luttrell.” There is a Donald D. Luttrell in the DVA database, US Army CPL, born 1924, died 1987 (age 63). Seems like a possibility.
If any of you reading think we’ve messed up, and someone we call dead is alive or alive is dead, please write me immediately. But this is our best effort.
It is a little more complicated than it sounds. Take a few moments and read through the full NPR post for more context.
But, man, that’s quite a story.[NPR’s Robert Krulwich via The Daily What]