|U.S.S. Allen M. Sumner DD-692|
|The Atomic Bomb Tests|
Arne Schumacher's Operation Crossroads "ID" card
The activities of the Sumner during this period can be seen in the Ship's Deck Log for 1946
View the official newspaper of the Sumner during Operation Crossroads - Knots and Lines
Plans of the Day
An article about Charlie Blackburn's neighbor David Phillips
Operation Crossroads was an atmospheric nuclear weapon test
series conducted in the summer of 1946. The series consisted of two detonations, each with
a yield of 23 kilotons: the first was ABLE detonated at an altitude of 520 feet (158
meters) on 1 July followed by BAKER detonated 90 feet (27 meters) underwater on 25 July.
The series was to study the effects of nuclear weapons on ships, equipment, and material. The support fleet of more than 150 ships provided quarters, experimental stations, and workshops for most of the 42,000 men (more than 37,000 of whom were Navy personnel) of Joint Task Force 1 (JTF 1), the organization that conducted the tests. Additional personnel were located on nearby atolls such as Eniwetok and Kwajalein. The islands of the Bikini Atoll were used primarily as recreation and instrumentation sites.
In the ABLE test, the weapon was dropped from a B-29 and burst over the target fleet. In BAKER, the weapon was suspended beneath an auxiliary craft anchored in the midst of the target fleet. ABLE operations went smoothly except that the test weapon was dropped between 1,500 and 2,000 feet (457 and 610 meters) off target. The radioactivity created by the burst had only a transient effect, and within a day nearly all the surviving target ships had been safely reboarded.
The BAKER detonation caused most of the target fleet to be bathed in radioactive water spray and radioactive debris from the lagoon bottom. With the exception of 12 target vessels anchored in the array and the landing craft beached on Bikini Island, the target fleet remained too radiologically contaminated for several weeks for more than brief on-board activities.
A program of target vessel decontamination was begun in earnest about 1 August. This involved washing the ships' exteriors using work crews drawn from the target ships' companies under radiological supervision of monitors equipped with radiation detection and measurement devices. Initially, decontamination was slow as the safe time aboard the target ships was measured only in minutes. As time progressed, the support fleet itself had become contaminated by the low-level radioactivity in marine growth on the ships' hulls and seawater piping systems.
By 10 August, a decision was made to stop work in Bikini. The support ships were decontaminated as necessary and received a radiological clearance before they could return to the fleet. This decontamination and clearance process required a great deal of experimentation and learning at Navy shipyards in the United States, primarily at San Francisco.
During "Operation Crossroads" SUMNER operated as a part of Task Group 1.7, Destroyer Surface Patrol Group. The following shows the mission and units comprising the group:
TG 1.7 performed the following tasks during
A. Furnished RadSafe patrols
B. Anchored one ship at Bikini Atoll lagoon entrance, except when it was evacuated, and supplied arrival information to incoming vessels
C. Advised the Senior Officer Present Afloat (SOPA) about each arrival and departure from Bikini Lagoon
D. Deployed two destroyers to act as approach markers for the bombing aircraft in test ABLE.
TG 1.7 was composed of only one task unit [TU], TU 1.7.1 (Destroyer Squadron Unit), and contained the following ships:
Destroyer Division 71 [DESDIV 71]
USS Barton (DD-722) (Flagship), USS Laffey (DD-724), USS Lowry (DD-770), USS O'Brien (DD-725), USS Walke (DD-723)
Destroyer Division 72 [DESDIV 72]
USS Allen M. Sumner (DD-692), USS Ingraham (DD-694), USS Moale (DD-693), USS Robert K. Huntington (DD-781)
The following article is from the Atlantic Monthly, July 1984, pp. 45-75. It gives you an excellent picture of what the Tests were like for the SUMNER and the problems that followed for the crew.
Mulberry, Tennessee, eighty-five miles out of Nashville. It is an old two-story house. A dog barks as you enter. Your host calls from within. You immediately see a large, handsome face. Simultaneously you see that he is legless . It is his lefthand, resting on the arm of his automated wheelchair, that draws your reluctant attention. It is at least five times normal size, roughly ridged, corrugated, grayish: it resembles an elephant's trunk.
He is president of the National Association of Atomic Veterans. "About fifteen thousand strong. They were at various test sites. There was forty-two thousand veterans that participated in Operation Crossroads; twenty-seven thousand of 'em are dead."
In one corner is an old grandfather clock; the chimes are on the half hour. On a small end table is a photograph of a husky, muscular young man--an athlete, perhaps? He's a cross between a young Jack Dempsey and Robert Mitchum. It is our host, a number of years ago.
His voice is astonishingly gentle. "This is Jack Daniel's territory. Did you get to see it?
"I was a farmer. I was born and raised on the eastern tip of Tennessee, in the Cumberlands. My father was a coal miner for forty-some years."
BEING A YOUNGSTER, SEVENTEEN years old, I went into the Navy. On my birthday in July of 1945. And spent some of my happy days in the Navy. I'm fifty-five, as of yesterday.
I enlisted in Norfolk, Virginia. The last of July, why, I was shipped out on the aircraft carrier USS Randall. We were on our way to England and was hit by a mine. We were transferred onto a destroyer and came through the Canal and went to California. We were headed for Japan when the war was over. We went through two little minor battles in the Philippines, which was nothing major. We came back to Pearl Harbor and on back to the States. Then we got word that we was going back on another test.
The big news at that time was everybody was talking about the big bombs that they had dropped on Japan. Nobody knew anything about the big bombs, the two of 'em. For that reason, they told us we'd go back. We would probably be involved in two of 'em. The code name of that was called Operation Crossroads. That was in the Marshall Islands and the Bikini atoll. That was the only word that we received. We had no idea. Not only myself but the rest of the young men that was on board. It was a destroyer called USS Allen M. Sumner. We were advised there would be nothing harmful. Just a lot of excitement and have a lot of fun.
Who said it?
The PA system on the ship. Oh, yeah, I remember that. I remember also when we got there, before the actual bomb testing, we had to sign what they call a loyalty oath. That oath was not to disclose or talk about any of the explosion of the bomb or any of what we saw on the island. If we had, why, of course, that could mean time spent at Leavenworth or a huge fine. That kind of scared young fellas like myself to death .
After that, why, on July 1, 1946, the first bomb was dropped from an aircraft. We had been in the bay, running around, and early that morning we went to our flagship, the USS Mount McKinley. That's where all the brass were. Also the scientists were on board this ship. We were circling around Mount McKinley when the bomb exploded.
Mount McKinley was nine miles away. We were three miles away from Mount McKinley. So we could have been six miles or we could have been twelve miles from the blast.
We were standing in shorts. I had a T-shirt on, just like this. I had a little sailor hat on and tennis shoes. The brass on the Mount McKinley, they stayed undercover the whole time. They wore heavy clothing all the time. They were protected all the time. They told us it would be a huge bomb, so all us little ol' mountain boys on the ship, we were looking for this big monstrous bomb to fall. All of a sudden we saw this huge ball of fire come from the bottom and go up. I don't know how to describe this ball of fire. We felt the heat, we felt the shock wave. We rode out a way from it.
Within ten hours we were right back at ground zero. And passing by the target ships. The paint had been peeled completely off. Some of the guns were split in the middle and peeled back. Big holes in the bulkheads and there was a fire on the USS Independence. There were seventy-five target ships.
I was on the topside and they asked for a couple of volunteers to go on the Independence to fight the fire. We went on board and we fought fire for one hour on and two hours off. Maybe sixty, seventy guys.
Did they say anything about it being dangerous?
Nah, no. They wanted to make sure the fire was out, because they wanted to check the animals that they had on board. I fought fire for three hours. We went back on the LST while we had came to what they call a checkpoint. A scientist was there with Geiger counters, checking us as we come by, if we picked up any radiation.
Did the scientists say anything?
Oh, no. We didn't know what they was checking us for, had no idea. They never did tell us. During those few days we were allowed to walk around, swim. We were drinking the water that came through the distilleries aboard the ship. Washing our clothes in it. After we got back on the Sumner, we drank water that came from the lagoon there. We swam. We had no restrictions whatsoever. Nothing was ever said to us at all.
I was one of the guys on Bikini that was helping them bring down the cameras from the towers. The tower was steel and it was hot from the sun hitting it. I didn't know that radiation would hang around steel like that. I had no knowledge. In fact, radiation was never mentioned the whole time we were there.
On July twenty-fifth we were told they were gonna detonate another bomb. This was planted ninety feet under the water. We made it out to the Mount McKinley and started circling. We saw the bomb go off. The code name was Baker. Now, that was larger. When this bomb went off, it had a sort of vacuum to it. It looked just like a mushroom starting from the ocean. It just went right up into the air pulling sand, water, and debris from the ocean. And that formed a huge cloud above us. We were caught in the downwind of that, and the spray from that came aboard our ship. We had to be washed down because of it.
The scientists came aboard with their Geiger counters. We still didn't know what they were doing. In ten hours we were right back again on ground zero. There was a lot of confusion going on. There's a bunch of guys got caught going swimming the second day, and they were punished for it. But again there was no restrictions for us. We had a lot of fun over there, we really did. We didn't think of anything wrong.
Along about the last of August I discovered some red burns about the size of a silver dollar. Five or six of 'em, on both feet and legs. I went to first aid and they put a white salve on with a tongue depressor. And put a little piece of gauze on every one of 'em and they give me bed rest. That disappeared. About a week later both feet and legs begin to swell. They give me bed rest again. And that went away. But it kept coming back on me while I was aboard ship. I was still unable to wear my shoes, because of the swelling of feet and legs.
We came back to Pearl Harbor sometime the last of November. I was admitted to the hospital. They started running further tests on me and said I had kidney problems. They transferred me to California; that was in 1947. I was given a medical discharge.
They told me to go home and if the swelling continues, just get in bed and elevate my feet and legs until the swelling goes down. But the swelling continued to get a little worse each time. It would come up on my leg a little further. Until they got so severe, why, I was admitted to the VA hospital, in 'seventy-six.
In March of 'seventy-seven they removed my left leg, because it had bursted open so many places that it was so painful. One month later, after being discharged, I was admitted to the hospital with a swelling of the right leg. In August of 'seventy-seven my right leg had bursted open from the knee down to the ankle bone. Then it had to be removed. Immediately before I left the hospital, my left arm began to swell on me.
Within the last two years they've been trying to get me to come up and have my left arm amputated. The last six, seven months I've been ill all over again. Coming back from Washington, D.C., in March, I tried to go to the VA hospital to see a doctor. They refused to admit me or refused to allow me to see a doctor. Because I wasn't there on a scheduled appointment.
I entered a private hospital down here. After being operated on twice emergency surgery here, within thirty days apart, they found cancer of the colon and liver, and it's terminal. Meantime, I've been fighting with the Veterans Administration to gain service connection out of this whole thing. They have turned me down for the sixth time.
They admit that I was exposed to radiation while over there, but not enough to have created my problem. Their one doctor said it was impossible for me to have been exposed to enough radiation to cause my problem. Three doctors on my behalf said I was exposed to anywhere from a thousand to eighteen hundred rads. Their doctor, from Stanford University, said that the swelling I had in the service was not the same swelling I had today.
I'm not angry about it. I forgive 'em. But I don't understand why they didn't find the cancer in me. Cancer doesn't come on you just overnight. I had really a lot of faith there for a while in the veterans' hospital. But they treat you up there like you're one of two: you're either an alcoholic or a drug addict. I don't drink alcohol. I'm what you call a good Christian man. I know I haven't been all my life, but nevertheless, I haven't drank in the last fifteen years. I have been in the VA hospital since 1976; if they would have found cancer on me at that time, I could have probably had a few days more to stay on this ol' earth.
No, I'm not bitter. I'm proud the way we live. I'm proud of our Constitution, and I'd fight for that any day. If they called me tomorrow, I would go and fight. That's not my point. My point is the Veterans Administration promised all the veterans that they would be taken care of if they became ill or down and out.
The doctors in veterans' hospitals are overworked, underpaid, and they have such a bitter attitude against the government if you talk to them privately. You can't condemn the doctors. I feel they will do what they can. But they're not going to overdo. There you're a number. Or, again, you're either a drug addict or an alcoholic.
I fault the Veterans Administration and Congress. Congress hasn't bothered to change the law since 1946. 'Cause I don't know if they're afraid to get into a bucket of worms that would create other problems. All the atomic veterans want is a little treatment for ones that are sick, a little justice.
I draw what they call a non-service-connection disability of five dollars a month.
Five dollars a month?
The reason is, 'cause my wife works and she makes over the maximum of four thousand eight hundred dollars a year.
The loss of your two legs is not service-connected?
That's a fact. Now they want my left arm removed because it was swollen five times larger than it is now. It was heavy, awful heavy. And it was distorted so ungodly-looking. Now I'm watching it very close, afraid that gangrene is setting in, because I'm losing a lot of weight. I've lost eighty pounds in that last deal. I was a big husky young fellow, barrel-chested. Six foot even, two hundred twenty-five pounds. Now I weigh a hundred and twenty-three pounds.
When they turned me down from getting into Bethesda, the Japanese people heard about this. I received a letter from a doctor in Japan stating that if I could find my way over there, they would treat me the best they could and the best they knew how. The newspapers locally here and the radio station got ahold of that. They started a collection: We're gonna send John Smitherman to Japan. The people of Lincoln and Moore County did their best in sending in donations. They ended up with about eight thousand two hundred dollars.
On July twenty-eighth of 'eighty-two I flew to San Francisco and met with a lady doctor from the radiation research center. They had raised enough money on the California side to send her along with me and learn some of their methods of treatments. I stayed over there for thirty-one days and got, oh, a total of twenty-two treatments.
I was called a hibakisha while I was there. In Japan a hibakisha is a survivor of the bomb. I met many of the hibakisha while I was there. They were laying in various types of beds. Some of 'em similar to my condition, some of 'em with severe burns, some of 'em blind. Some of 'em half the body was gone, but they was still maintaining life.
The hibakisha were so kind to me. The ones that could stand, they stood. The ones that could sit up, they did. And the ones that could raise their hands and wave at me, they did. The others just laid there in the bed and looked at me. It was a real choking, breathtaking situation. And made me proud to line up.
I don't believe the President of the United States could have been treated any better than I was while I was there. People would see me coming down the street, they would run across just to touch me. There were several honors bestowed on me when I was there. But the big honor was that I was the first American veteran to go to Japan and receive treatments. They had a boat called the Lucky Dragon that some of the sailors was caught in the downwind of that and they died. All the fish they had on board were highly exposed. They had me sign the ship's log and made me an honorary seaman of that boat. The mayor of Hiroshima allowed me some forty-seven minutes, an interview.
Back home even the governor of this state of Tennessee hasn't recognized me. It is difficult to understand why we would have to go to the very country that we tried to destroy and receive those type of benefits without having any animosity at all thrown against me, none.
I took the same kind of treatment they were taking. When I came back from Japan, the doctors over there told me it would be shameful if I weren't allowed to continue those treatments over here. Because if I waited six months after that, the treatments I received over there wouldn't do me any good. After coming back, they tried to get me into several hospitals for this treatment, UCLA, Mayo Clinic. But the government would not allow that, because if I was admitted and treated in this country for radiation exposure, I'd win my case. It would be an admission of liability.
Part of that problem is due to a gentleman whose name is Taft. In his statement before Congress that passed Public Law Bill 9772, which helps Vietnam veterans, there was an amendment tacked on that would help the atomic veterans. He said it would be a detriment to our overseas operations. If they caught wind of it over there, they would have to remove all their nuclear missiles.
I'm not bitter at the government. I volunteered because I wanted to be a proud sailor. But at the same time I'm angry, because they should have advised us of the hazards. I'm proud of our government. I'm proud of the freedom we have. I'm proud of the people. You can go to a church of your choosing. You have so many rights. I can drive the automobile without getting permission. I'm just proud of our society, and I would fight every day to protect that society. I have two girls and two grandchildren. I would certainly protect their rights, like my forefathers fought to protect mine. Regardless of what they're doing to us now.
In the last four, five months we've found definite proof that was hidden in the vault of a library of one of the Los Angeles branches, of the men that were in Operation Crossroads. The scientists that were there stated there's gonna be a lot of repercussions from the men involved in this testing. We submitted this to a judiciary committee in Washington and it didn't get any publicity whatsoever.
Those men that did get exposed to radiation, it was just as if the enemy had pointed at you point-blank and shot you with a gun. Our injuries didn't show up until thirty, forty years later. It is now hard for me to go back and say, Uncle Sam, hey, you did me wrong as a kid by exposing me to all that radiation. It's settled in my body and been in my body all this time. See, I had a chromosome test in Japan. The blood cells, they found it. Why don't they run chromosome tests here in the United States on the atomic veterans?
I've written to the President. I've never gotten a reply from him, because he always throws it back to the Veterans Office. The Veterans Office says, Let's throw it back to the local Veterans Administration.
The Bible teaches you not to be bitter. It also says to turn the other cheek. I thought several times before turning that other cheek. Was I wrong to? I did a lot of soul-searching. I don't believe that I was wrong. I did what I was told to do while I was in the service. My record reflects that. You won't find a blemish on my record, as far as having court martials or getting out of order in any way.
I've been a little country boy from the mountains. When my Uncle Sam told me to do something, I did it. I signed the loyalty oath, yes, sir. We never did mention any of this. When I came back, I didn't even tell my wife. I didn't tell my mother about it. But when I started having the problems, I said to myself, What could he do to me now that he hasn't already done? So I let it all come out. I feel that Uncle Sam has a duty to protect the veterans.
If my dog that you saw coming barking at you when you came into the house would have bitten you, I would have an obligation to take care of you. I, for a fact, knew that my dog wouldn't bite you. But if he had, I would have had an obligation. Now, if Uncle Sam has this monster locked up and he gets out and he harms people, why shouldn't they have the same obligation? I'm not immune to it, but they are.
They knew their dog would bite?
Oh, yes. No question. The very first bomb they tested was in New Mexico in 1945. It was on July sixteenth. That bomb was so wild, they really didn't know what they exploded. Here again, just one month later, they detonated two more bombs. Those bombs that destroyed two cities didn't destroy any military installations, but old men, women, and children. Then seven, eight months later, without getting too much data, went right in and detonated two more. They didn't even have the proper equipment to gauge the beta or the alpha radiation that I was exposed to. These tests were certainly not on behalf of any of the men involved. I feel personally we were all used as guinea pigs.
He indicates a painting on the far wall. 'You'll notice the picture hanging above the television there. You see who its signed by? My wife did that." A proud husband.
A small gold statuette is on the mantelpiece. It is John Smitherman, snappy, standing with his legs crossed. The inscription below reads: "My first solo flight, September 9, 1965."
I'm proud to have met my wife and taken her on as a partner. I'm proud to be living here in this old 1820 home. I'm proud of the fact that the doors are wide and I can get from room to room in my wheelchair. I'm awfully proud to see her walk in that door. And I'm proud that I can wake up each morning that I have been and smile and get the same smile from her. But when I'm gone, then what will she do? For that reason, with every ounce and up to the very last breath I draw in my body, I will be fighting to try to overturn what they're doing to me and the other veterans out there that's in far greater pain than I am.
If Uncle Sam don't pick up and give my wife, and all the other wives, some benefits before I leave this ol' earth, I think he will have sinned so much that he will answer some of these days to somebody a little higher.
John Smitherman died on September 11, 1983.
(Note: John's story was used as the basis for the film Radio Bikini)
Excerpt from the New York Times dated May 10 1982
Representative Albert Gore Jr., Democrat of Tennessee, in a statement before the House of Representatives, May 4, 1982: "I take this occasion to express my thanks to the nation of Japan for agreeing yesterday to offer treatment for one of my constituents, John Smitherman, who was the victim of two atomic bomb blast tests near Bikini Atoll when he was stationed on the USS Allen M. Sumner.
Immediately after the two tests in which John participated, he began experiencing symptoms which have now resulted in the amputation of both his legs, and his left hand is now swollen to five times the normal size.
Medical evidence indicates that it is indeed related to his intense exposure. The Veterans Administration has refused to give him compensation. The National Naval Medical Center has refused to give him treatment. But the Radiation Research Foundation in Hiroshima, Japan, agreed yesterday to provide treatment to this American veteran, and I would like to thank Japan for doing so."
To learn more about Operation Crossroads and the Atomic Tests we suggest you visit http://www.aracnet.com/~pdxavets/crossroa.htm