I didn’t seem to hear a mystical voice out there on the fringe, but my own voice speaking to me from within, as if it wasn’t me. The inner voice said, “Take heed of these important times….Take heed of the signs of the times, because something positive is taking place. Something positive is being prepared that will astound the world.”
This is why I kept asking myself, “What have I been holding back?” Up to now, I figured my story would all flow out, filling you with both knowledge and understanding. It has not flowed out before now because I had no idea what its limits were, where it was going or even its very beginnngs. Now I know.
* * *
Decades later someone would ask Joe McGrath what it was like to actually see an atomic bomb explode. They had, they said, seen newsreels of mushroom clouds, but always in black and white, and never with sound, and they wanted to know about his total experience, and what it really felt like to be there, Joe wrote out his answer, then made a copy of it and added it to his memoirs. His reply reads as follows:
“There is sanctity to our remembering our lives. It probably escapes most of us that we live in a constant reality, and we believe we are unable to recall our feelings exactly from decades ago. I know, however, that this is how I felt, truly how I felt, standing some two or three miles from an atomic bomb demonstration in which the government was detonating a weapon the exact same size as the one dropped on Nagasaki more than fifteen years earlier.
I return now to that very hot day under a blazing Nevada sun. I am wearing the army olive drab field uniform, and it is miserably hot beneath my steel helmet. I know I am about to see something scary and awful and wrong; I expect it to be like watching someone hurt a child or steal someone’s life. Golda Maier said, ‘I can forgive our enemies for what they did to us but I cannot bear the thought of what they made us do to them to survive,’ and similar thoughts are gathering in my brain.
I tune out the speaker’s explanations of what will happen. I have become accustomed to the breath-like movements of the Nevada desert and I know it is uncommon for the panoramas of scenery to lie perfectly still like a painting on a wall. As always, the desert appears to be alive and breathing in and out of its vastness and through mystically selected orifices, like air spouts on the heads of swimming whales. Its breath is dust, dust rising and sweeping, dust twirling and dancing in the cosmic reality of all spinning bodies in creation. The small torrents of dust out there in front of us are the very innocence of a parched land claiming its space in the universe.
To me the big bomb about to be demonstrated belongs somewhere in the pallor of immorality; it is like the gripping matter of a confession not yet told honestly, not yet seeking absolution, still being toyed with in an olive-drab world that I am forced to enter because of draft papers with my name on them, and the same process identifying me as a number holds me there in its impersonal captivity under the heralded cause of a nation I serve willingly because of its counter appeal to the idealistic.
The allegiance I have held is now challenged by a monstrous reality, and I stand as if paralyzed, equipped only with the limited offsetting power of curiosity. Though all is fast becoming foreign, I am still me and cognizant of what is happening but not of what it will look like through the lenses of these pitch-black goggles, what it will sound like, or what it will reveal of the city, Nagasaki, mentioned in Dr. Spencer’s altered scientific speech.
I am, in no small way, uninformed, and like the desert I am breathing in and out little puffs of air, as if in expectation of something too disturbing to discuss with those around me. Before putting on the goggles, I am mesmerized by the dust devils, those persistent natural cyclones twisting and curling as they lead my eyes to what is so hideously called ground zero.
The black safety goggles put each of us very effectively in a state of isolation. We are alone and separated, the induced blindness transforming our surroundings from the bright light of a desert day to a deeply buried and claustrophobic mine shaft. Entombed as I am in the blackness of those sightless goggles, and before fear has time to set in, my lenses seem to evaporate as the bomb’s ignition appears in my eyes. I am shocked by the huge sphere of boiling fire; it’s as if the sun has exploded. In a panic I try to size its magnitude but before I can it fills the lenses til there is no limitation to its mass, no perimeter to its blaze.
I grab for the goggles expecting they had been blown away. They are still tight on my eyes. Repulsive gray crusted formations like smoldering disfigured moons float above the surface of hell, all in strange orbits. I feel a line of poetry from high school bubbling up but am unable to bring it into my conscious mind, for no clear thinking is achieved while this jarring nuclear imagery exists.
My ears must reckon with two sets of noise: more than six hundred voices clamoring amid their blind awareness as they deal with expectations of extraordinary possibilities and then the shocking sound of the breaking of the universe as an implosive atomic bomb converts over five thousand pounds of high explosive into a critical mass equivalent to twenty-one thousand tons of TNT. The sound is that of a Titan wielding an enormous sledge hammer, shattering with one fierce blow the very sun in the sky as if it were made of millions of thin overheated sheets of glass. Off in the distance the sky crumbles sounding like cracked expanses of ice that fall earthward in unending, deafening crescendos.
The ball of fire is still an orange-red inferno when the command, “All Clear” gets repeated by that crackling voice and then blaring instructions erupt over the speakers: ‘You may now remove your eye protection. Take off your goggles, men!’ Black goggles and helmets crash unheard to the ground as we tear them off to view the target with our own eyes. I stand agape at the proportions and energy of the billowing mushroom cloud that has already soared forty thousand feet into the air.
As I stare open-mouthed a land-locked tsunami, the force field radiated from the base of the mushroom, hurtles toward us at such high velocity I can’t even estimate its speed. Like the wall of China being propelled by rocket engines, disintegrated and vaporized rocks and boulders, desert dirt and vegetation rush at us in a tall wave that threatens instant crushing death.
I suddenly realize that if the distance between that unimaginable destruction and where we are standing has been even slightly miscalculated we will perish horribly and our existence will be hushed into oblivion. I know our flesh will be shredded and burnt off by heat in thousands of degrees til we look like huge bleeding lizards, just as it was described by a survivor in Japan, and I wait in terror for it to destroy me. The tsunami doesn’t reach us in its full force and only some disturbed air flying before it swirls about us,
I look around at my comrades and wonder what the hell we are doing here and why the hell they are showing this dreadful thing to us and I see clearly that the authorities among us are lunatics. I see that, and I am nineteen years old and I belong to them by law. I am a reluctant quest to a party of horrors by my local draftboard.