An Operation Tumbler-Snapper Participant Shares his Story

After our last stop in Chicago, StoryCorps’ East MobileBooth arrived in Fort Wayne, Indiana. We set up shop right next to the Allen County Public Library in downtown Fort Wayne, where we will record nearly one hundred stories. We have been fortunate to work with our host Northeast Indiana Public Radio and with over ten local organizations to bring in participants from all over Northeast Indiana. As always, the stories recorded have been incredibly diverse, from giving birth to twins in a field to finding love at an old age, and to leaving and returning to the Midwest.

Fort Wayne residents visit the MobileBooth on Opening Day

One of the stories that I have personally had the pleasure of facilitating is that of Don Derrow, who came in with his son Stuart to share his experience in the military. Mr. Derrow served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1951 to 1954. Unlike many of his peers, Mr. Derrow was not deployed to Korea. Instead, Mr. Derrow was sent to Europe, and after a three-month stay there, he was given a far more unique assignment: he was among the Marines who participated in Operation Tumbler-Snapper, an atomic bomb test that took place in the Nevada Proving Grounds in the Spring of 1952.

Don and Stuart Derrow

According to Mr. Derrow, he and his fellow Marines were stationed about 4.5 miles from the blast site (though he later heard they were actually a mere three miles), making them the human beings to be closest to an atomic explosion aside from the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They wore no special protective equipment aside from their uniforms. They were told to begin walking towards the blast site, a fake village built out of plywood and populated with dummies, as soon as they saw the light from the blast go off. Since light travels faster than sound, the sound waves hit them just as they left their foxhole. According to Mr. Derrow, just like waves in the water, you could see the sound waves coming toward you.” Once at the blast site, the Marines observed the effects on the fake village and returned to be debriefed-and to be tested for radiation with a Geiger counter. Fortunately, he never tested positive.

The atomic blast aside, Mr. Derrow’s time at the Nevada Proving Grounds was rather uneventful. In fact, he had good reason to want to go home: he’d been married just ten days before being sent to Nevada. What did he do with the other Marines to pass the time? They played checkers while lying on the desert sand, though one of his more adventurous friends did go hunting for rattlesnakes.

Still, Mr. Derrow considers himself lucky to have been in Nevada instead of Korea. He believes that out of sixty men in his unit deployed to the Korean War, only twelve came back.

StoryCorps’ East MobileBooth is thrilled to be in Fort Wayne through July 31st. Next, it will head to Central Pennsylvania. Visit our website for a complete list of StoryCorps booth locations.



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