Cecil Herald has the wonderful, creaky voice of the old-timer. A voice the movie makers would have placed with the old prospector or perhaps a Walter Brennan type character of the last century. But I knew Cecil was a part of a more awesome era. Cecil was a sailor, who in 1946, watched two atomic explosions at Bikini Atoll. Cecil was a part of something only Jules Verne could have dreamed.
During a telephone conversation I ask him if he was still getting around OK? " Oh yea, he said, "I'm 78 years old and I retired when I was 62. When I got out of the Navy, I had a license and started sailing the merchant ships." He was stationed aboard the Sylvania. "When we came back from Crossroads we sailed into Bremerton Wash., and decontaminated her."
I asked him if he saw both of the explosions at Crossroads? "Sure, they sunk the Sakawa with the airdrop. The Nevada was the target ship. We were way over on the port quarter. He missed his target a bit and it exploded over the Sakawa. It took it about 24 hours to sink. The watertight integrity of the Japenese ships were better than ours. She sunk anyway. The guys that saw it there, the guys who were on the crews on one end to monitor the stuff, before they would let us go in, said it drove it together just like an accordian. "
I asked him if he had goggles to watch the explosion. "No," he said,"We turned our backs to it, so we wouldn't get the flash, then we were able to turn around to watch the mushroom cloud. Same way with the underwater deal.
"After that they tranfered me to the ATA 124, it was a sea-going tug, we were hauling ammunition off the target ships and other stuff off the ships, and took it out to the 60 mark (fathoms) and dumped it, ya know.
"But then, when it came time for the underwater explosion, see, the ships steamed around in concentric circles around there, and we were in the ten mile circle, so we were ten miles from that baby."
I asked, "What was your job on the tug?"
"I was a warrant machinist, and uh, the skipper on there was a chief warrant, he had been a quartermaster. Woody Havens was his name. I was the engineering officer, so-called, on there. I just stood a regular bridge watch when we were underway."
I said, "That was the shot made a mess of things."
" Well sure it did, but we didn't know any better, ya know. We were back in there, and catching fish out of that lagoon and eating 'em; and going over to the officers club every day and getting drunk."
I told Cecil I had a video about Crossroads, just released by the government and I've been getting these for the other Crossroads vets and I wanted him to have one. He said, "That would be great!"
I invited Cecil to the breakfast we have scheduled for July 16. He said, "I'll make that breakfast unless something catastrophic comes up here."
I told him, "I'm really glad to hear that, Cecil, and there will be some other guys glad to see you there, too."
"I've never run across or talked to anybody from Crossroads after I got out of the Navy; that was in '46. Uh, we brought the Sylvania up to Bremerton, decontaminated it, boiled out all the heat exchangers and stuff. Where they took all that stuff out and dumped it I don't know, probally dumped it right there in the Sound, I don't know. That stuff was hit and miss, you know. They come on with their Geiger counters and they would tell the bosen mate to put this solution in the urinals to clean them out and one bosen mate told me. 'Hell! They put them in all of them except one, and the guys came through with their Geiger counter and he OK'ed that one right along with the others.'
"A lot of that stuff is like government stuff. Like this Desert Storm deal, the government says there is definitely nothing wrong with those guys. I had one, they moved him from Germany, him and his family right across the street from me, in a rental house, and that guy was a vegetable. And he wasn't like that before he was over there. So see, the government don't tell you everything.
I gave Cecil the internet address of the web site because he said his daughter in Colorado did that stuff and was interested in his atomic history. He said he would call her tonight and tell her.
Our conversation was drawing to a close and I told Cecil that I was so happy to have been able to talk to him, and that I would type up his story and get some information about the ships he mentioned and put them on the Crossroads section of the web site.
He said "Good! Good, I'm happy that you did too! Because you're actually the first one I've been able to talk to about that, uh, Crossroads, you know. No sense talking to your neighbors, or anything like that, cause that just goes in one ear and out the other."
Well, I said we are going to fix you up with some other Crossroads vets at the breakfast.
transcribed from audiotaped phone conversation
Atomic Veterans History Project
Cecil Herald was also at Pearl Harbor when Japan attacked on December 7, 1941. He saw what was happening for the Atomic Veterans and he wanted the same to be done for Pearl Harbor Association. He asked us to make a web site to tell the story of these veterans who were there on the day that the Japanese pilots attacked the harbor.
Memorial Day 2001, kicking off the 50th anniversary since that day, Washington Square Mall held an event, a brunch to serve the veterans and an event to honor their service. At one end was a photographer ready to take photos of the veterans. Cecil Herald was accompanied by Bridget Smith, web mistress for the Pearl Harbor Association (Oregon Chapter). She drove them to the mall across town as Cecil was not driving that far from home by this time.
Here's that photo from that event.Click for a higher resolution.