Interview With Thomas Crowe

From the interview with Thomas Crowe of Logansport, IN conducted by John Clise by phone from the Fort Worden History Center on March 1, 2005. Mr. Crowe served in Company E of the Shore Battalion, 369th EASR at Fort Flagler during the Korean War era. For six months of his service, he was stationed at Camp Desert Rock, NV. Here he tells of that experience:

“We went down by train to Las Vegas in December of 1951,and then we were stationed in Camp Desert Rock, until June 1952. It was nothing when we got there, just desert and a couple of tents. But we built the camp, put in all the light poles, built the water towers, the whole works, and the tents, and then later the permanent buildings for an entire series of atomic tests. We were sent to also operate the camp during that period of tests. I had worked in the PX up at Flagler for a while. Since I had, I was given the job of running the PX and beer hall at Camp Desert Rock, and that’s fantastic duty.

I was one of the most popular people there. It was a branch of the Nellis Air Force Base PX. We weren’t allowed to make a profit, but we couldn’t help but make some kind of a profit. We had two tents originally, one for the beer hall which we decorated with pin up girls and candles and beer bottles, the other one was the PX. I was able to select my own crew, so I was able to select those guys that I knew would do a good job for me. We had a very efficient, very good operation. That beat building, digging ditches up where they were setting the tests off.

We were not (involved in) preparing for the tests, but we were up at the test site. I was only there once, but most of our people were there more than once for a test, which is a fantastic experience. One of the other companies from Fort Flagler built, set up all the buildings and got in the livestock and everything for those tests. They then came in and cleaned it out afterwards without any real protective gear, cause the government didn’t know what they were doing anymore than we did. They claim to have lost the badges that we were supposed to have on that showed what our radiation was. They don’t even act as if we were ever out there. Some of our people feel that all the illnesses they ever had were from that, but I’ve never had any problem with it whatsoever. But I wasn’t that close to it either.

That was a great experience and Vegas was a great experience in those days. There wasn’t a building in town more than two stories high. Military people were few. When you went to Seattle, you would wear civilian clothes. But when you went to Vegas, you wore your uniform. You were treated like a king because there were so few military people there.”

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