Interview with Raymond C. Baker

From the interview with Raymond C. Baker of Urbandale, IA conducted by phone by Wendy Los on September 27, 2011 from the Fort Worden  History Center.  Mr. Baker served in the US Army Headquarters, Headquarters and Service Company, 369th Engineer Amphibious Support Regiment at Fort Worden during the Korean War.  Here he describes being stationed at Camp Desert Rock, NV during the atomic bomb testing:

“At Fort Worden we found out that our whole regiment was being held in reserve to go and operate Camp Desert Rock, which later became the Nevada testing grounds.  Our Shore Battalion built Camp Desert Rock and our Headquarters Company operated it for the first six tests.  They made me acting first sergeant for the Headquarters Company for those tests. Nobody told us how serious it was.  I don’t even know if the people in town (Las Vegas was 75 miles away) knew what was going on, it was hush-hush. We flew from Seattle to Camp Desert Rock.  We lived in little eight man tents that had wooden floors and an oil heater.  At night it got real cold and in the daytime it would get over 100. We had four of these tents on each side of our little street.  There was a mess hall and a couple of other buildings nearby.  Our company of about 50 men was to go into five foot trenches about four and a half miles from ground zero to see what it would look like to experience the demolition of 2000 pounds of TNT from that distance.  Anyway, all you could see was a puff of smoke.  We were the first to participate in those things.  I don’t know who knew what, we weren’t told or warned about what we were going to do until we got out there.  Then they showed us this thing and said, ‘The next one is going to be an atomic bomb the same size that was dropped on Hiroshima.’  The real one was very, very impressive, it was beautiful also.  About half of the bombs, the big bombs, were dropped from airplanes, I think B-52s. The rest were detonated from 300 foot high towers.  They had a PA system, we could hear the bombardier countdown whenever the bomb was supposed to go off not when he let it go. 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1—at the count of three we had to put our hands over our eyes and close our eyes and bend down into the trench.  Then we had just three seconds before the bomb went off.  When it went off you could see the bones in your fingers with your eyes closed, the light was that intense.  Then the ground shook a little bit like an earthquake—it moved under you.  Then we could look up for 17 to 20 seconds and see the mushroom go up in the sky and all the colors like a mushroom and then all the debris coming toward us.  You could hear the noise.  The noise wasn’t as impressive as the debris and the cloud.  The cloud had blue and red and white and orange on the inside of it as it was rolling like a smoke ring.  I think it went up to about 15,000 feet.  It went up fast and you could see ice form on the top of it and then the ice would melt and go down the sides like frosting on a donut.  It was moving toward us.  That’s why we had 13 seconds before all that debris would get to us, then you had to put your hands over your eyes and duck down in the trench.  We were covered with debris.  Then the force would knock against the back of the trench and a vacuum would pull you forward.  Then you could open your eyes again because the dust and dirt had all cleared.  Then we’d get out of the trenches and go back to our tents.  At one time we had 150 officers assigned to come in and observe.  They would observe from busses about 12 miles away.”

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