2003 CPEO Military List Archive

From: CPEO Moderator <cpeo@cpeo.org>
Date: 9 Jun 2003 19:16:14 -0000
Reply: cpeo-military
Subject: [CPEO-MEF] Atomic soldier
Atomic soldier
By LAURA TODE, IR Staff Writer -

As a private in the U.S. Army in the 1950s, Augusta's Ray Buell took
radiation exposure in stride as part of the nuclear test process in

To weather a blast from an atomic bomb, hunker down in a foxhole. Sit
with your back to the blast. Make sure your helmet is fastened with a
tight chinstrap. Cover your eyes with your arms and spread your legs out
in front of you for stability. Be ready. The blast will throw you across
the trench against the opposite side.

When that happens, you'll needto roll over onto your back as quickly as
possible and unfasten your helmet's chinstrap. When the shockwave comes
like a wall of dust, if you don't get that helmet off, it can choke you.

But then, the chances of anyone reliving what Helena's Ray Buell and
other atomic soldiers saw during the U.S government's testing of nuclear
weapons is absolutely zero.

The flash produces an overwhelming white light  even with your eyes
clamped shut  and for a millisecond, Buell said he saw the bones in his
arms like a reversed x-ray as they covered his face.

The Army described the flash as 150 times as bright as the noonday sun,
but, Buell said, even that doesn't come close to describing the
intensity of the light. Buell will never forget the bones, and those
long seconds of pure white light; even 50 years later, he still
struggles to describe it to those who have no point of reference.

At just 21 years old, Army Pvt. Ray Buell rode out the shockwaves from
the detonation of eight atomic bombs, or "shots," in the trenches he
helped to dig in the rocky Nevada desert. Buell, along with other
draftees and enlisted men in the 369th Engineer Amphibious Support
Regiment, were the primary labor force at Camp Desert Rock, where the
U.S. government staged the majority of its above- ground nuclear tests
in the 1950s.

Buell guesses the closest he's ever been to a blast from an atomic bomb
was about a mile and a half. He says it's possible he may be one of only
a few people to have been that close and survived.

The blinding white light only lasts for a few seconds, and once it wears
off, Buell said, the sky fills with amazing colors he's never seen
since. Then, there's the familiar doughnut-shaped cloud of dust and
smoke that, almost in slow-motion, grows until it blocks out the sun.

The shockwave hits like a wall of dirt moving at 100 miles an hour. It
can shove a stationary tank quite a distance, and even if he's in the
cover of a foxhole it effortlessly bowls a man over.

Atop the cloud grows a thick glacier of ice, Buell said. As the
explosion bursts upwards it chemically and physically alters the
atmosphere and the fiery explosion creates its own mini ice age. As the
dust settles it's so fine and thick and so charged it hangs in the air
like fog. The heat that followed the shockwave felt like sticking your
face into a oven turned on full blast  hot, but not hot enough to catch
you on fire.

Buell was there, in the desolate Nevada Test Site, in 1952 for the
Tumbler-Snapper Series, which included eight atomic bomb tests that
ranged in size from Baker, that measured only one kiloton, to Charlie,
which weighed in at 31 kilotons.

Memories can fade over 50 years, but what Buell saw, he said he'll never

The men of the 369th Engineer Amphibious Support Regimen were laborers
charged with constructing elaborate military displays designed to
measure the effects of nuclear explosions on structures, equipment,
vehicles, and even livestock.

Hours after each blast they'd march in to survey the damage.

"You can't imagine what it does to some of these things," Buell said.

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