Mars Bluff: Aftermath

 Tales from the Nuclear Age

Copyright © 2013 by Charles Glassmire

 _________________________________________________________

Jan. 7, 2013

 Mars Bluff: Aftermath

         A SAC B-47 Stratojet bomber crew, on a simulated combat mission out of Hunter Air Force Base Georgia, aGregg House Rear Viewccidentally dropped a 30-kiloton Mark 6 atomic weapon from its bomb bay. The date was March 11, 1958 over the peaceful town of Mars Bluff, South Carolina, when suddenly a tremendous explosion destroyed the home of railroad conductor Walter Gregg. As described in our last entry, family members were wounded and treated in hospital, and one 9 year old required surgery. The Gregg house was destroyed along with two of his automobiles and a small truck. Ironically, there was no radiation spread from the weapon detonation, since the Plutonium core of the bomb was not inserted. Thus the detonation was only from chemical explosive, but for months afterward the Air Force periodically checked the family and the surrounding land for radiation contamination – and found none.

When the B-47 crew returned to base and landed that day, they found a strange reception. The aircraft parking area was surrounded by Air Police with weapons pointed. The aircrew was required by regulations to carry loaded sidearms; they were General Curtis Lemayimmediately disarmed of these and then were taken to, and locked into, a room in the Operations Center of the base. It was suspected that espionage had taken place in a deliberate weapon release. The crew was forbidden to contact anyone, including their families, and was informed they were to remain locked in until further notice. Later that evening, no less a senior staff than General Curtis Lemay, then Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force, telephoned and talked personally with the air crew. Satisfied the incident was purely accidental, he ordered their immediate release. They were charged to speak to no one about the event (and later they were all transferred to overseas assignments.)

Cub reporter Thom Anderson had ignored the advice of his preoccupied editors at the Florence Morning News to “check on it in the morning” and had arrived at the farm with a photographer. He diagnosed the event, including pictures, and the following morning the News headlined the story of an atomic bomb destroying the Gregg household. His paper contained four stories on the event, and carried much more coverage than the New York Times, which had to telephone Thom at the paper to try to get some details of the explosion for its New York edition. Thom also fielded inquiry’s from multiple foreign newspapers. He later was to become the Managing Editor of the News. Strangely, coverage of the story by the national press was to virtually vanish after three days, in stark contrast to the media hysteria typical of today’s nuclear coverage.

The Air Force announced they would make a fair settlement with the Greggs. They sent an officer who accessed the house Gregg had built with his own hands at a nominal value. They got no allowance for housing since they had moved in with their relatives. Their belongings were virtually destroyed in the wreckage, and were estimated at their depreciated value instead of their replacement cost. The officer insisted they provide a list of every item lost, together with its purchase date and original purchase price. The Air Force compensated them for a loss of between “6 to 14” chickens which roamed freely over the yard; lacking a body count, some of them were vaporized in the blast. Since Gregg’s vehicles were destroyed by the blast, the officer provided them a rental car for one week – claiming this was sufficient time to process their insurance claim and purchase another vehicle. Overall the Air Force offered them compensation of $44,000, for loss of property and personal injury.

The Greggs declined the offer and asked their congressman for permission to sue the Air Force. The request went to President Eisenhower, who signed his approval and allowed the lawsuit to proceed. Three years later they received $55,000, from which they had to pay their legal bills. The Greggs abandoned farming and moved into Florence- living there in a modest bungalow.

Immediately after the blast, the Air Force sent a special crew to control access to the site and search for any parts of the weapon which were spread over a wide area. After a week they turned over control back to the State Police and announced all bomb parts were the property of the United States government. A nephew of Walter Gregg, Clyde Gregg, allegedly found a piece of the weapon in a nearby field – he never admitted to the location of the piece, but rumor says it was offered for sale on eBay in 2005. Rumor also says Clyde turned down an offer of $6,000 and has stored the piece under a stuffed beaver in his home. It’s also noted the Florence Historical Society Museum contains several pieces on display for the curious to view and perhaps remember.

Now Days nobody talks much about the event in Mars Bluff. If one drives East out of Florence on U.S. 76 to the intersection of East Palmetto Street and University Road, there on the roadside one sees a historical marker titled “Atomic Bomb sign markerAccident at Mars Bluff…”. Asking local teenagers for directions to the atomic bombing site evokes a puzzled stare. There were some directional signs to the “Atomic Bomb Crater Site” but most have been stolen by students from the local college. Walter Gregg was in his 90’s in 2012, and he’s reluctant to discuss the matter anymore. He says the aircrew flying the bomber have all written to the family with their deepest apologies for the event, and some have even visited and stayed over a few days to become good friends of the family.

The Air Force took some preventive measures after the fact. It is said a multimillion dollar upgrade to the nuclear arsenal explosives now surrounding nuclear weapons insures they no longer can detonate from impact, but require a special electrical signal. Flying procedures now require that the safety pin securing the weapons into the aircraft must remain in place throughout the flight until approaching the target area.

Perhaps the citizens of Mars Bluff will sleep a little more securely tonight…

 (To be continued)

____________________

“Aircraft 53-1876A Has Lost a Device”, by Clark Rumrill, American Heritage Magazine, Vol. 51 Issue 5, Sept. 2000.

“The Day a nuclear bomb fell on South Carolina…”, by Anthony Bond, 26 April 2012, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2135832/, photos courtesy of the Columbia Star Newspaper.

”Man Recalls Day a Nuclear Bomb Fell On His Yard”, by David Klepper, The Sun News – SC, 11-24-3, http://rense.com/general45/Manrec.htm.

“Mars Bluff, South Carolina”, Wickipedia.

”Mars Bluff “Broken Arrow”, August 08, http://www.sonicbomb.com/modules.phop?name=News&file=print&sid=95

“Atom Bomb Dropped Here”, RoadsideAmerica.com/story/24951.

“Mars Bluff Bomb”, www.florencemuseum.org/artifacts/mars-bluff-bomb/

“March 11,1958: An Atom Bomb fell on Mars Bluff,SC, by Tom Horton, http://www.moultrienews.com.

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3 Responses to “Mars Bluff: Aftermath”

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  2. ab Says:

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