The Nuclear Bomb in Your Backyard

by Hugh Mungus

Folks residin' in either Faro or Goldsboro, North Carolina, can take the above title literally.

Think the U.S. has never been under nuclear attack?

Think again.

The year was 1961. The Cuban Missile Crisis was 20 months from exploding into an international incident. Vigilant regarding a potential Soviet strike, America failed to protect its shores against its own worst enemy - itself.

Operation Chrome Dome kept B-52s - equipped with live thermonuclear weapons - flying above the Continental U.S. on a constant basis. These bombers made unsuspecting Americans vulnerable to accidental nuclear attack by their own military, 365 days a year.

Perpetually sustaining a plane in the air will, in time, wear that aircraft down. On January 24, 1961, a B-52 en route to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base - adjacent Goldsboro, North Carolina - experienced such a scenario. Sometime after midnight, fire broke out in the plane's fuselage, when metal exhaustion sparked seepage in one of the bomber's fuel tanks. Three of the crew perished in their attempts to escape before the plane combusted.

Separating from the aircraft, a pair of Mark 39 thermonuclear explosives hurtled toward the ground. Although both devices came equipped with parachutes, only one of these safety apparatuses deployed. Consequently, one of the two bombs plummeted into a muddy field, after reaching a velocity close to the speed of sound.

Five of six safeguard mechanisms deactivated on the first of the two bombs, leaving a single trigger to prevent detonation. The second munition plunged headlong into the marshy earth, creating an impact crater five feet deep and 10 feet wide.

The military retrieved the former device, and rummaged for the latter - which was beneath swampy soil - perhaps moments from exploding. Excavations for the lost munition were carried out in secret, as the government alerted the media they were hunting for a missing seat from the plane crash. Since the search cost taxpayers half a million dollars, that must have been one really comfortable chair!

The first portions of the bomb were uncovered eight feet below the surface. More remnants were dredged from 12 and 15 feet. At close to 20 feet, chunks of the detonators and arming triggers were unearthed. When the military finally abandoned their efforts to uncover crucial elements of the device - including its plutonium core - the hole in the ground was 50 feet deep and 200 feet in diameter.

The pit was refilled in attempts to conceal what horror still awaits beneath. The owner of the land was allowed to replant crops he had cultivated prior to the crash, but was prohibited from ever digging in the location's general proximity. Although detonation of the device is no longer an issue, irradiation will be a concern for longer than it takes Dick Van Patten to be crowned People magazine's Sexiest Man Alive.

In our bonus round, see if you can guess which country on the planet the United States has nuked most. If you concluded "itself," you're correct, and win a free, lifetime supply of radioactive fallout.

One thousand twenty-one nuclear detonations at the Nevada Test Site, alone, and we still pretend the exponential increase in cancers is hereditary, caused by eating too much sugar, or a host of other bullshit excuses we're desperate to believe.

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