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Paul Mason

Decatur, IL-
Korean War Veteran of the United States Armed Services

"After it went off, we were ordered to stand up. We could see the shock wave coming in a line toward us. We stood there and felt the shock wave pass over us as it came by."

- Paul Mason
on his reaction to an atomic blast


The Atomic Test

"In the spring of 1952, the 278th Infantry Regimental Combat Team stationed at Ft. Evans, Massachusetts, received orders to go to Nevada and watch an atomic bomb go off. They took practically the whole company—about 200 or 300 people. The bomb we were to see go off was even larger than the ones we dropped on Japan to end World War II.

We were six miles away from ground zero in a trench that came up to my chin when I stood up in it. When the bomb went off we were kneeling in the bottom of it. When the bomb went off, that light lit up the bottom of that trench just like a huge flashbulb went off. A few seconds later I heard the most awful sound that I’d ever heard. I’ve fired a lot of weapons, but I never heard an explosion like that in my life. It was awful. It was devastating. We didn’t have anything to protect our ears or any other part of our body.

After it went off, we were ordered to stand up. We could see the shock wave coming in a line toward us. We stood there and felt the shock wave pass over us as it came by. After the shock wave passed, we left the trenches. We had M-1 rifles and we started up through the area toward the bomb site. The mushroom cloud did not form until after we stood up and felt the shock wave. Then we saw that mushroom cloud. It was kind of a purplish color and then it faded out to white. It was a pretty thing.

What we saw was supposed to be confidential. At first when we started through the area it didn’t look like anything had happened, but the further we went, here and there you would see fires in the green cactus due to the terrific heat of the bomb. This was a long way from ground zero yet. Then we got closer and there were sheep out there. Some had banks of dirt to protect them from the blast, and they looked okay yet. There was one that was staked out in the open, and it looked like it was cooked on the spot. The thing was laying there dead. Some sheep had wool burns. Some were blinded. It was quite an experience to see. They also had trucks, jeeps, and drums of oil near ground zero. Smoke was coming from the drums-it appeared it was burning inside the drums. The trucks and jeeps had all the paint burned off of them. One truck was kind of standing up on its nose. Upholstering was burnt out of everything. And this was quite a piece away.

We went up to 5,000 yards of ground zero. There was not cactus or anything on that desert. It was clear. Everything was burned off. The ground was melted together. You couldn’t even raise any dust. The ground was like a blacktop road. It wouldn’t give under us. We could tell the direction of the blast because of the way the cactus had been blown—kind of like the way snow is blown to the wind. We knew we were walking into radiation, but they claimed we stopped before we got enough to hurt us. I had a little battery-powered meter with a hand on it. Where we stopped off, that hand started to move, but they still claimed we weren’t close enough to get anything to hurt us. We didn’t stay there very long. We took a broom and brushed each other off and then went over each other with a Geiger counter. And they loaded us onto trucks and drove us out of there. That was the end of it."

- Paul Mason, Decatur, Illinois


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