90°F
weather icon Partly Cloudy

Veteran’s patriotism radiates

Those who study the history of Southern Nevada have surely learned about the testing of atomic bombs outside of Las Vegas in the 1950s. The acreage known as the Nevada National Security Site (formerly the Nevada Test Site) has been etched forever in the minds of longtime residents as the location where many viewed mushroom clouds from the rooftops of downtown buildings. Radiation? No problem. According to government educational films shown in public schools, all one had to do was “duck and cover” and they would be fine.

When the dangers of being close to above-ground testing became known, it was all but abandoned. The testing went underground, but the employees continued to work at the site. One of those individuals was Ernie B. Williams, who, after service in the Air Force, was discharged at Nellis Air Force Base and went back home to Nebraska. Work was slim there, and in 1954 he received word that the Nevada National Security Site was hiring. It was a natural fit for the former staff sergeant. In the Air Force he was assigned to special weapons projects, which meant he assembled and disassembled nuclear devices. So he made the move to Las Vegas.

He was hired on and, during his career of more than 34 years, he was sent around the world to oversee various projects regarding nuclear testing. There were 49,000 residents in Las Vegas, and he became 49,001.

“I was hired on as a federal employee, and I was in the nuclear business,” he said.

At the time, the Atomic Energy Commission had an office in Las Vegas, and Williams remembers the vintage address where he initially reported. “It was at 1235 S. Main St.,” he recalls. Several other enterprises have come and gone there since the ’50s.

He said that employees were furnished with government vehicles to travel to the test site.

“We worked six days a week, 12 hours a day,” he explained.

He said there were about 40 federal employees and several thousand contractors. He began work maintaining housing and meals for the employees, but was soon asked to participate in Operation Teapot, which he said consisted of 14 atmospheric shots in early 1955. Later in the year he was sent to Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

“We had Operation Redwing, 18 or 20 different nuclear shots tested between Eniwetok and Bikini Atoll. They were about 120 miles apart. I was present for most every of them.”

Williams said he was always on the upwind side, about 6 to 10 miles away, which shielded him from major radiation fallout. But he said he could feel the shock waves.

“Some of those atmospheric shots were pretty large. Probably in the 10.9 megaton level. It would leave a fireball in excess of 3½ miles wide.”

The earlier Teapot test in Nevada was authorized by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. This series of 14 shots proof tested a broad variety of fission devices with low to moderate yields. As a group, the devices combined several innovations — some previously tested, some introduced during the test series — creating a new pattern of fission device that would dominate the design of all later weapons.

Unfortunately, there continues to be cases of cancer attributed to the tests. Government figures show that the nuclear fallout can be expected to eventually cause about 13,000 cases of thyroid cancer, leading to some 650 deaths. Nevada’s atmospheric nuclear bomb testing also negatively affected many residents.

Each month, about 25 former Test Site workers meet for lunch to reminisce about their past experiences. And although Williams has lived in Nevada since 1954, he continues to be a member of the American Legion in his home state of Nebraska.

“I still go back to Nebraska on Memorial Day. I’ve been a member of (the American Legion there) for over 50 years now.”

When it comes to loyalty and patriotism, Williams has certainly served the nation through his test site employment in the nuclear field. But when it comes to honoring veterans on Memorial Day, Nebraska “nukes” Nevada every time.

Chuck N. Baker is a Purple Heart veteran of the Vietnam War and the host of “That’s America to Me” every Sunday at 7 a.m. on 97.1-FM.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
THE LATEST
Good changes on horizon

Changes are on the horizon for Boulder City residents. While change and the unknown future can sometimes be scary, in this case, it is not.

Being a dad brings great joy

Father’s Day was founded in Spokane, Washington, at the YMCA in 1910 by Sonora Smart Dodd. Its first celebration was in the Spokane YMCA on June 19, 1910. The Civil War veteran William Jackson Smart was a single parent who raised his six children there. Because Dodd’s father was born in June, she encouraged churches in her area to honor fathers that month.

Legislative session marred by partisan politics

When I began the 81st legislative session in the Nevada Assembly as a second-term legislator just a few short months ago, I was given a leadership position as minority whip. It has been my absolute honor to serve in this position.

Big questions not being asked

When a conspiracy theory becomes a fact, what does the mainstream media call it?

Passing ballot questions paves way for new pool

How should we define community in Boulder City? I believe our community is certainly larger than the sum of the parts that make up the town. Parts of the community have a greater impact than others of course. One of the parts is the municipal pool that was built soon after Boulder City became a municipality in 1960. The original pool was replaced around 1980 with the existing pool. After 40 years, it is not surprising the current pool facility is in very poor condition.

Pool adds value to community

The citizens of Boulder City are being given the opportunity to cast votes for what they value in a community. The upcoming ballot issue in regard to a new city pool runs much deeper than lap lanes and a dive tank. We are being asked to vote on community values.

Class of 2021 ready to succeed

A hearty congratulations are in order for members of Boulder City High School’s class of 2021.

Capitalists must value employees

As a former small business owner, I am a big proponent of capitalism. Capitalism is the primary engine that our economy is founded upon. Small businesses, entrepreneurship, free enterprise are some of the elements that make up the foundation that keeps our country’s economic engine purring.

Federal job guarantee gives workers choice

Ever hear the phrase: “I’m a lover not a fighter”? Or maybe you heard it the other way around. No matter. I like to think of myself as a lover but ready to fight for what I love and believe. What about you?