The US military detonated a nuclear bomb above 5 officers.

The US military detonated a nuclear bomb above 5 officers.

Nuclear Test

The Astonishing Tale of the Air Force Volunteers Who Stood at Ground Zero During a Nuclear Test

The history of US nuclear testing is filled with bizarre and reckless experiments, but one truly astonishing event took place in the late 1950s. In July 1957, during an atmospheric nuclear test at the Nevada Test Site, five US military officers volunteered to stand directly underneath the detonation of an unguided nuclear air-to-air rocket. Col. Sidney Bruce, Lt. Col. Frank Ball, Maj. Normal “Bodie” Bodinger, Maj. John Hughes, and Don Luttrell were the brave volunteers who willingly positioned themselves 18,500 feet below the rocket explosion. Little did they know that this decision would have profound consequences for their health.

The purpose of the test, codenamed “John” as part of Operation Plumbbob, was to determine if the Genie rocket—an anti-aircraft defense against Soviet bombers—could be accurately aimed and hit its target without a guidance system. While nuclear air-to-air rockets were already a questionable concept, this particular event reached new heights of recklessness. The decision of these officers to place themselves at ground zero was not required, with Popular Mechanics reporting that they volunteered for the position.

The exact reason behind their decision is unclear, but one theory suggests that it was an attempt to alleviate concerns about potential nuclear fallout from nuclear air-to-air missiles. Nevertheless, the US government footage shot by a cameraman named George Yoshitake captures the astonishing sequence of events. The video shows the five men standing at the designated “Ground Zero: Population 5,” gazing upwards at the F-89 Scorpion interceptors flying above them.

As the countdown commences, anticipation builds. The Genie rocket is launched, growing brighter by the second. The intense light forces the men to shield their eyes, and the subsequent explosion startles them before the fiery fireball from the nuclear blast engulfs the sky. In the aftermath, the five men shake hands, congratulating each other on their brave feat. “My only regrets right now,” Col. Bruce humorously remarks, “are that everybody couldn’t have been out here at ground zero with us.”

However, this display of bravado came at a grave cost. Decades later, it was revealed that all five men, along with the cameraman Yoshitake, developed cancer later in life. Yoshitake suffered from stomach cancer and passed away in 2013 due to complications from a stroke. NPR attempted to discover the fate of the other five men but only managed to determine their time of death, unable to confirm the specific types of cancer they developed.

This alarming incident highlights the dangers that atomic cameramen, photographers, and videographers faced while documenting US nuclear tests in Nevada and the Pacific Ocean. Many of these individuals paid a tragic price for their work, with “quite a few” losing their lives to cancer. The connection between their illnesses and exposure to radiation during the tests is undeniable.

While Christopher Nolan’s film “Oppenheimer” delves into the early US nuclear bomb tests and radiation effects, it fails to capture the full extent of the reckless oddities that characterized nuclear testing. The story of those brave Air Force volunteers, who willingly stood at ground zero during the detonation of a nuclear rocket, highlights the inherent risks associated with these experiments. It serves as a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made by those involved in pushing the boundaries of atomic research, as well as the potential long-term consequences for their health and well-being.

Ultimately, the tale of the five Air Force officers who stood at ground zero during a nuclear test stands as a testament to their courage and the extraordinary lengths people were willing to go to further scientific understanding. It serves as a reminder of both the dangers of reckless experimentation and the sacrifices made by those who dedicated themselves to the pursuit of knowledge, even when it came at a steep personal cost.