Veteran Gets to watch First Atomic Cannon Test in Nevada, 1953

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I had the good fortune of meeting a retired Army Sergeant Major (E-9) named Frederic Barnett at a gym, where his son brings him for physical therapy. Mid-80s, uses a rolling walker, SGM Barnett is very affable and I approached the both of them and gave them the VeteransTales site address. I said I wanted to hear some of his stories, and would bring a tablet and let him tell some of them the to me and I’d write them up.

29-30 years in the service serving all over the world, he was itching to tell me about his first duty assignment, as an E-2 private, in May, 1953, when his unit, the 136th Ordnance Company, Special Weapons unit, was trucked from Ft Sill to Frenchman’s Flat at the Nevada Atomic Test Facility, to sit on the ground and watch an atomic fireball. Since 1951 the Air Force had been dropping bombs to test the for all sorts of effects on buildings and people.

But this was 1953, and they wanted to test a cannon, which shortly after this this test, would be deployed to Europe and serve as a mightly deterrent as the Soviets had not been able to build one.

It was called “Operation Grable” and this was the first and only firing of a nuclear shell from an artillery piece, the M65 280mm “Atomic Annie”. It was a 6.25 mile shot, air detonation at 200 feet.

SGM Barnett said they just sat down, and every tenth man had a “film badge” which lit up after the blast.

Then they stayed over for a few weeks at camp Desert Rock  before being shipped back to Sill. No medical exams were ever conducted.

He had never seen any of these photos until I gave his son the links to the various places they could go to look at film and photos.

This was one of the most unique events in American military history as it was witnessed by so few first-hand and was never repeated.

We’re lucky to have been able to get know SGM Frederic Barnett.

I think we’ll set up a hotline so others who want me to tell their stories for them can call in and I’ll print it up and publish it. 804-318-1750 or  VassarB@gmail.com. Just leave a return call number, Branch and period of Service,  and I’ll get back to you.


About the Author:

Vietnam era Army JAG, Asia, 17-yr Cold Warrior in Soviet-China Bloc green zone, Been shot at and hit, but in crime, not war; twice-broken nose for lying (same fellow) hence good law school candidate; Could have been Somebody in Corporate world and politics, but at every crossroad chose to be a man with a tawdry past instead. Gave up law and am now a redeemed American.
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