As an adult, I suppose I would have noticed that Hanford was protected by antiaircraft guns, interceptor fighter aircraft, and, starting in 1954, four entire defense batteries of Nike supersonic missiles.
Maybe I would also have understood that I lived next to an atomic weapons installation that was a prime Cold War target for Soviet nuclear attack. Because of its location, north and west, Richland/Hanford had the shortest warning time ahead of an enemy attack and was considered highly vulnerable due to its importance.
But I was just a kid, and, as a kid, pretty much oblivious to all of this. I went to school, I had fun, I ate ice cream, and I ducked and covered on a weekly basis. I clearly remember diving under my desk on my teacher’s command of “Drop,” crouching tightly in fetal position, covering my eyes and the back of my head, not really understanding what we were hiding from.
The Atomic Energy Commission’s Bert the Turtle was our Duck and Cover role model.
There was a turtle by the name of Bert
and Bert the turtle was very alert;
when danger threatened him he never got hurt
he knew just what to do…
He’d duck! [gasp]
And cover! (male) He did what we all must learn to do
(male) You (female) And you (male) And you (deeper male) And you!’
[bang, gasp] Duck, and cover!’
Hey, I wasn’t worried. Just like children who lived around other US military installations in this high-risk Cold War era, duck and cover was all we needed to keep us safe. And I could duck and cover with the best of ‘em.
In case of nuclear attack, which was a very real possibility there next to Hanford, I suppose that crouching under the desk in fetal position would protect against injury from glass shards showering the classroom from broken windows. And maybe, arms over the back of the head would at least temporarily keep down radiation burns on that part of the body. But, what about slow death from radiation poisoning? Don’t think the under-the-desk-fetal-position-thing addressed that.
And, now, as an adult, I am struck as well by the irony that, there in idyllic Richland, even while practicing our duck and cover moves to ward off the effects of radiation after an atomic blast, we breathed, ate, and drank those same fission products, released onto our town from the Hanford facility, on a daily basis.