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My Story | Atomic X-ray

Atomic test5 flatfin 10_
Illustration by Janice Kun.

Canadian veteran Alan Blunt of Port Alberni, B.C.,
describes how he got to see through his own hand


I was in grade 10 and wasn’t getting very good marks and I decided there must be better things to do than go to school. So I joined the military. I joined the Queen’s Own Rifles in Winnipeg, did basic training in Edmonton and joined the 1st Battalion in Calgary. After advanced training, we were on call for the Suez Crisis in 1956. So I went there first.

Back in Canada in 1957, one day I went down to read the orders, posted every day at 1600 hours, to get an idea of what we’d be doing the next day. My name was on the list to report to the southeast corner of the parade square at 0800 hours the next morning.

We formed up in three ranks. I didn’t see anybody I knew. It was different NCOs and different sergeants, so I’m wondering what the hell this is all about. They told us, “We’re getting ready to go on an exercise, but it’s a special exercise and you guys were handpicked for it and blah, blah, blah.” So we all looked at each other and said, “Well, okay.” Every time we asked what we were training for, they wouldn’t tell us or said, “We don’t know.” It finally came down the pipe that we were going on an exercise with the American army. We figured that was okay.

They segregated us from the battalion and we did our own thing: we trained hard, 24/7, and we went to Wainwright, Alta. We trained for a good six or eight weeks, then we were brought back to Calgary and they said, “You’re out of here for three days, then back here at 0800 Monday morning, prepared to go.”

“Where we going?”

“We don’t know.”

“Oh, okay.”

Monday morning, we formed up on the square. There were sleeping bags piled there. They said, “Grab a sleeping bag and get in the trucks. We’re going to the airport.” Next thing I know, we’re going through Calgary airport and a Calgary Herald headline says “Canadian Troops to A-Bomb Test.” That’s the first time we knew where we were going. We flew to Las Vegas, got on buses and I asked the driver, “Where are we going?” And he said, “Well, you’re going to go test some A-bombs, so hang on.”

We were taken to Camp Desert Rock in Nevada and we were there for almost two months during Operation Plumb Bob. One day, they took us out and said, “Look down the desert—see that tower?” I said, “Yeah.”

“It’s an atomic bomb.”

“Okay, big deal.”

They had a countdown and they said, “We want you guys to turn around, put your weapons down on the desert. Turn your backs, cover your eyes and don’t look.”

Well, you don’t tell kids not to look. The bomb went off and in the light I could actually see right through my hands and into another guy’s body. Everybody saw that. We all turned around to look.

Then we saw the mushroom cloud going up, and somebody yelled, “What the hell is that coming?” It looked like a giant dust storm. It was the shockwave and it took 30 some seconds to hit us. It was just like someone grabbing the rug and flipping you right up in the air and over and down on the ground: Boom!

And that’s how I got to see an atomic X-ray of my own hand.


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