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The Night 2 H-Bombs Fell on North Carolina

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
April 26, 2023 3:00 am

The Night 2 H-Bombs Fell on North Carolina

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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April 26, 2023 3:00 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, on January 23, 1961, a B-52 bomber crashed in Goldsboro, North Carolina. Two H-bombs—each 250 times more powerful than the bombs dropped on Japan, fell to the ground. Earl Smith dismantled those bombs, and he's here to tell us the story.

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Check out what the 2023 Ram 1500 has to offer by visiting today. This is Lee Habib, and this is our American Stories. And we tell stories about everything here on this show. On January 23rd, 1961, just four days after President John F. Kennedy was sworn into office, a B-52 bomber crashed near Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina. Two H-bombs, each 250 times more powerful than the bombs dropped on Japan marking the end of World War II, were thrown out and fell at a velocity of 700 miles per hour and crashed into Goldsboro, North Carolina. Information about this event was kept classified until 2013. This is the true story of that mission as told by the man who actually dismantled the hydrogen bombs in the aftermath of an accident that could have been the worst man-made disaster in history.

Here is Earl Smith with the true story of the Goldsboro Broken Arrow. Well, I graduated high school in 1956 in Hatton, Alabama. And like everybody else around there, the day after you graduate high school you go to Kalamazoo, Michigan. So I go to Kalamazoo to visit my brother. I had a brother and two sisters live there.

And my brother had a neighbor about my age, and so we decided to go downtown on a Saturday morning just to fool around. And so there was a recruiter station. I said, let's go and make that thing.

God, I think we're going to join. So it was in the morning, we were down there. So by three o'clock that afternoon, we was pulling out on a train for the processing station in the Air Force.

So anyway, when I went back, my brother was about to have a heart attack. He said, you did what? I said, I joined the Air Force. No, you didn't. Yeah, I did. I got to leave this afternoon. And I left. We signed up on a buddy plan.

After that, I never saw my buddy again. So he goes to California for schooling, and I go to Texas. And the first school I went to is called Munition School.

And they give you different tests to see kind of what you qualified for. So this first assignment, they send me down to Puerto Rico, the Ramey Air Force Base. So I go down to Puerto Rico there, and I'm doing the job what the Munition maintenance calls for, which is basically taking care of the bombs and the ammo and the storage area and loading them on a plane, what have you. Well, the Air Force decided to start an airborne alert with nuclear weapons. So we had 33 B-36 bombers down there.

So they started what they call Operation Curtain Razor. Every day at 1 o'clock, a plane would leave Ramey. And at the same time, another plane would leave North Africa. There's one always in the air and five on the ground, or five days on the ground, loaded with nuclear weapons, each one ready to go, and ammunition.

So anyway, when I leave Puerto Rico, they formed a new squadron called the 53rd MMS, which is Munition Maintenance Squadron. And we wound up at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina. Back then, I just figured I'd rather disarm a bomb than eat when I was hungry, you know, but real reckless, you know, back then. But I'm the same kid that when I was growing up, all the little neighbor kids older than me, they taught me into turning over a neighbor's beehive and stuff like that.

And I'd throw his bucket in the well, the old Doug Wells, and I'd do stuff like that. I was real daring. So I guess it stems from back from something like that. I had put in for bomb disposal school, but before you can get in, you have to, I understand, have to have a grade of 90 or above, I believe, from Munition maintenance for them to put the money behind you. And it's strictly voluntary, so I received an appointment after a few months to go to EOD school in Indiana and Maryland. Well, the school, like I say, was extremely hard.

You just literally live from day to day and hope you can make it through another day. Because the man when they're in the indoctrination, first of all, they take you out in this field. It's like about a 20-acre field. And they have everything that's ever been thrown, dropped, or projected from all over the world up to a V-1 and V-2 rocket.

It hadn't got to the big rockets at the time. And a man tells you, he said, gentlemen, before you graduate this school, if you're fortunate enough to graduate this school, you'll be able to walk up to any piece of ordinance out here and tell me what it is, what kind of explosive you've used in it, what kind of fusion system, and what country it's from, and how to disarm it. And everybody's punching everybody. Yeah, sure, uh-huh. Yeah.

But before you leave that school, that's one of the easier things you can do. You're not even getting into the big missiles and what have you. But really, the nuclear bombs hadn't entered my mind.

I just never dreamed that I'd have anything dropped in my lap like was dropped in my lap. But once I get back to my base after I graduate, and it happened to be my night on standby. It was January. It was actually January the 23rd, 1961, when the control tire called me. And they said, we have a B-52 coming in, tail number 0187, with fuel leaks in the Bombay area. Well, I knew that was serious, because when they go to let the landing gear down, possibly house parks could create a fire. And I lived off base. So it had been a snow on the ground. It was about 10 degrees that night. So I got dressed right quick, and I didn't bother to lace my boots on.

I just wrapped the strings around them, tied them. But by the time I got to the base, they determined it had crashed off base of about 12 miles. So General Moore already had a helicopter waiting for me, because the EOD man has a first priority on what they call a broken area. The bomb that fell was a Mark 39 bomb, which is actually 3.8 megatons of explosive. And a lot of people don't know how much a megaton is. If you take a railroad car, coal car, and you load it heaping up with TNT, it would stretch all the way across the United States and back and forth Chicago. That's only one megaton.

This was 3.8. And you've been listening to Earl Smith, the true story of the Goldsboro Broken Arrow. You're going to want to hear the rest of this story here on Our American Stories. Folks, if you love the stories we tell about this great country, and especially the stories of America's rich past, know that all of our stories about American history, from war to innovation, culture, and faith, are brought to us by the great folks at Hillsdale College, a place where students study all the things that are beautiful in life, and all the things that are good in life. And if you can't get to Hillsdale, Hillsdale will come to you with their free and terrific online courses.

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Happy streaming. And we continue here with our American stories, and we just learned from Earl Smith that just one of the two hydrogen bombs that fell on Goldsboro, North Carolina in 1961 contained 3.8 megatons of explosives. Here's Earl making that statistic understandable to laymen. The experts claimed that it would uh with the fallout and everything if one of them had gone off it would kill everybody all the way from New York City all down the eastern seaboard to the tip of the Florida Keys. So pretty much wiping off the whole eastern seaboard. It was 250 times stronger than what was dropped on Hiroshima. That was only 40 kilotons. So this thing was it was just just a monster. So when we get out to the to the things he had to light under the helicopter and we're flying around and I see a parachute I said my god they're not supposed to be connected. So I said set me down as close as you can get to it and the guy said but I don't want to get too close.

I said it don't matter buddy you get me as close as you can. So General Moore tells me he said now you can't touch that bomb or anything until we get permission from Atomic Energy Commission. I said no sir that's not the way it works and that scared me. So I got off and see what to do and I woke up to the bomb. When I opened that access door and saw that red A, I mean I just I just turned cold.

I mean it's the scariest thing. I was 24 years old and and as the old saying what am I doing here you know that was something I just didn't sign up for. But it was it was it was armed and functioning and and I thought I really thought at that point when I couldn't find that other bomb I thought I was dying. I mean it's funny what you can tell your your mind you can tell yourself and I did.

I was paying I had the pains in the chest and everything was right around. I mean buddy I knew I was going I was going fast but I had to get get done what I could and I happened to look over in the distance there's about a five mile area that was literally lit up over parts of the plane burning and I saw an ambulance over with the big big cross on it and I started to feel better for some reason or other you know. So a few hours later a few hours later every general seemed like an Air Force showing up and General Moore who was General Moore was one star general and General Sweeney who was the the commander of Eighth Air Force of which I was assigned to. Anyway he starts asking me what all what did you do first blah blah blah blah and I said well sir I'm probably in a lot of trouble.

He said what do you mean? Well when General Sweeney found out that I had been told by General Moore that I had to get permission from atomic energy commission he turned to his aid and said get General Moore over here. I said oh lord I'm in trouble. So General Moore comes up and the very words he said to General Moore he said General Moore if you don't know this man's damn job I suggest you have him up to your office about two to three times a week for coffee and donut so he can explain to you what the hell he does. Oh lord my heart just sunk because General Moore is going back to Eighth Air Force and here I'm going to be stuck on base with this general and I'm a little old airman first class enlisted man you know and he made him look bad made him look real bad. Nothing ever came of it but that was I was more scared of that than I was the bomb. I wasn't worried about the bomb I knew I could take it well about an hour and a half later three more EOD men a Sergeant Fletcher and a Sergeant Fincher and a Sergeant Evers they came out in the pickup and we proceeded to disarm the the first bomb and what happens those bombs are so powerful they have to be let down by parachute because they blow the plane out of the air but they can be set up to 46 hours this can be that long a delay because they don't worry about the Russians coming up and disarming them because they don't do exactly the steps as they're supposed to be it'll blow up anyway so we knew that part too so you got to do one disconnect one ckt wire and then wait three minutes or so and then you know the steps you have to do it exactly so that's that's the reason for the parachute so anyway we get this bomb taken care of and I called out the motor pool for them to get a to bring a flatbed truck out so they could get down and a lift to get this bomb to go back to the base or just it's taken care of well eight and a half hours after this happened this lieutenant Ravel shows up with a crew from SAC headquarters Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and he comes marching out there like little Lord Fortinroy taking in charge well the first thing he did was we we finally found the second bomb and it was well it really didn't take about about three days before we really got to the part because everything had to be done we had to be real careful digging because we had 92 detonators that were live and those had to be each one had to be counted for and put in a little container and get back to the base well when they got down and dug deep enough to for the big after body part where the parachute was still in well Lieutenant Ravel and his group removed that out of the ground you have just that after body well I was the lowest ranking man and on there so I got the good duty of getting down in a hole down in the muddy water and icy water and everything reaching down in the hole and pulling up parts of the bomb and identifying what each one was and I reached down I got the the nuclear core righted up between my legs and I hand it to some I don't remember who it was but I told him I probably won't ever have any more kids and I didn't after that so once we got all of that stuff out in a tritium bottle then there wasn't really anything else for us to do but we were able to for them to you know that's explosive to where the big the big diggers couldn't come in and the local people wouldn't drink the water they were scared to death they wouldn't drink the water so we got permission to bring three of the old timers around I can't remember even what their names were but anyway I took a a cup and poured some water in it and I drank it and I said you know you think I would drink it if you know so that kind of gave him peace of mind so I never heard any more thing about that but they told us to didn't want the public to know what we were looking for there was one a part had which right about three thousand pounds which was uranium 235 and 238 it hit hard pan and kept going and we were looking for this that's what all the digging was going to be about but they told us to tell everybody when they were a reporter anybody asked if we were looking for a part to an ejection seat which made made a lot of now that's what we actually had to say but one one poor man was a scarecropper and he looks up and sees this humongous parachute with something in he thought the Russians were invading so he grabbed a pone of cornbread and some milk and some blankets they found him seven hours later under some bushes where they were looking for major Shelton he he was something who killed him the body three bodies were killed and two bodies were in the wreckage immediately close to where the bomb was but uh five men survived one man captain Maddox he didn't have an ejection seat so when everybody else ejected he said he saw he saw a hole and he just dove for it never dreaming he'd get out so he made it through and then uh he he hitched a ride somewhere back to the base he still had a parachute and the gate guard was talking about going to arrest him thought he stole a parachute but nobody to my knowledge has ever escaped jumping out of a jet plane and survived and you're listening to Earl Smith and my goodness what he was up to that day in North Carolina well we never knew about it until fairly recently there's been a book written about it a big bestseller it's being optioned as a movie the Goldsboro Broken Arrow is the thriller by Joel Dobson the book inaccurately recounts the story from the perspective of Jack Ravel and that's why we're bringing you Earl Smith's account he was the guy who did the work not the guy who wanted the credit and we know the difference between those two when it comes to political theater and showboaters when we come back we're going to continue this remarkable story the story of how one of the world's greatest man-made disasters was averted here on our American stories digital currency is helping to form the base layer for a new global commerce infrastructure and stable coins like USDC issued by circle help to bring faster payments at internet scale from merchants at the point of sale to corporations that want to pay global suppliers and even employees more efficiently visit podcast to learn more you wouldn't settle for watching a blurry tv would you so why settle for just okay tv sound upgrade your streaming and sound all in one with roku stream bar this powerful two-in-one upgrade for any tv lets you stream your favorite entertainment in brilliant 4k hdr picture and hear every detail with auto speech clarity whether you're hosting a party or just cleaning the house turn it up and rock out with iheart radio and room filling sound learn more about roku stream bar today at happy streaming nissan is driving the thrill of its vehicles innovative design into the spotlight in thrilling design the brand's 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continue here with our american stories and we love telling you these stories from history because they're important and my goodness these are things ordinary americans do that are well they're just extraordinary let's return to earl smith picking up with three other men who helped him dismantle the hydrogen bomb back in 1961 in goldsboro north carolina they're the real heroes too like i said they're they're they're all dead now and what had happened before this before i found out about all this uh somehow this lieutenant revell had found out the other three guys were dead so he thought i was dead too so he proceeded to tell the story like all the other how he took care of that bomb which was a bunch of crap i mean just out and out blatant lie because he had nothing to do that bomb was ready the time he got shot come on was taken care of ready to go back to the base and i imagine he was quite shocked when he found out that i was still alive after i come come up there and there was a lot of a lot of publicity about it after i got back home this movie producer called me from paris france and he said he was making a movie called the cold war and he loved to tell my story in it and he said i'll fly you back up there and we'll pay all your expenses and everything and i said okay so we i went back up there in april of that year well the man who uh kurt keller who is a principal person he is he wants everything to be historically correct and he's the president historical society for goldborough well this lieutenant when he was telling his story me or neither three of the other guys were ever mentioned about anything never mentioned never mentioned so that set me on fire about getting everything straight so that's when i went back they they as lute or kurt keller invited me up to uh tell the story as matter of fact uh when we made this movie the man is flying over from paris the guy who's the uh director or president of historical society he said this lieutenant ravel was invited to be a part of it too he said i'll take bets he won't show up and guess what he didn't i was sure hoping the hell he would i was after all that he told and this stuff and and after three dead men uh sergeant fincher sergeant fletcher and sergeant uh evers but all they'd done and they couldn't defend herself and the way he did that i i lost any respect i ever might have had about him and then when they write this book they write this book uh i think they ended up being two books i've only seen one uh broken arrow over goldborough the man that wrote that i i finally had talked to him and i said i don't hold you i i said first of all i asked him where did you get this information he said well from lieutenant ravel i said well he pulled you a bunch of crap and then i proceeded to tell him about what really happened and he said well i figured he was an officer and a gentleman and i said well you kind of figured wrong on this one because he he he wasn't uh turned out to be other than that but he never showed up when we went to film this movie but that's the way it that's the way it happened i i remember everything just just like it was yesterday i don't because when something like that is it's so vivid i mean something it's so important you just don't forget it but like i say i never thought we were told to never ever mention it they say you don't ever speak of this you don't ever you ever you never never ever ever speak of it so that scared this old boy so i kind of put it out of my mind you know well first of all they said something that bothered me for many years because they were telling everybody that all the parts were found and i knew that piece of uranium 238 was still in that ground and i didn't know where did anything it might have moved where it might have finally started doing something to the water supply and it bothered me for many years about the people living down there and and and uh but uh we were told and uh you you don't talk about this you don't you know but they were telling the air force was telling we were looking for an injection seat to see what killed uh major shelton and they spent a little over a million dollars digging now now me now million dollars in 1961 was a lot of money a lot of money so they they let us know right quick you don't talk about it they know and president kennedy had only been in office four days and that was his first first uh speech i think he had to make about our press report i guess but like i said i know there were a lot of generals another general there and uh and a lot of media had started showing up until they finally had they well they threatened with a 25,000 dollar fine that's what now they couldn't keep them out but that's that's what they did but it was boy that's hell no don't you don't say a word about this don't say a word about it you know so uh i don't think that uh there is i thought for a long time i worried about it but because when you think about it uh the radiation would have come from from the core and we got the core out but this this other is buried so deep at iranian that's where it comes from out of ground anyway so so uh it's still on the ground they're doing they do regular testing on it but my later years i i got in i mostly selling rvs up dandy rv up in uh uh oxford and these men came in and they were eod men so i mentioned to one of them i said you know i i was ex-eod man i said i worked on a little job up in north carolina and he looked and looked at you you worked on that job i said yeah i said it sure did i said i was i was on standby i had it by myself first hour and a half he said you know it's all over the internet and i said well no i mean so boy i finally got and got on there and after reading all that stuff my blood started boiling all that crap he was telling you know and uh i mean not only just for myself for the other men that risked their lives when you go out on something like that you don't know what's gonna happen and uh but for him to come in and try to take credit for something somebody else did it's just not right no what no way in the world i i don't i don't hold any animosity toward him he's at the time i i could broke his neck when i first heard about it but but uh you're not supposed to hate and i mean this the whole thing was just i mean just just just like something something that never uh it's never happening and you've been listening to earl smith telling the story of disarming a hydrogen bomb no two hydrogen bombs that fell on north carolina back on january 23rd 1961 this event was kept classified until 2013 and by the way assuming that everyone had died lieutenant jack ravel decided to well do what we all know people like this did what he thought he could do take advantage of an opportunity and take credit for work done by other men no surprise that he wasn't showing up wherever earl smith showed up because my goodness earl would have had detailed memory of disarming that bomb that let's face it lieutenant jack ravel simply couldn't or didn't have a great story and by the way we always welcome your stories send them to our american stories dot com and this is just a look you don't hear a guy talking about himself in heroic ways he he did what he was trained to do and he did it with a bunch of guys and a whole bunch of guys died probably trying to get this plane to land safely and not create again what would have been perhaps the worst man-made disaster in human history earl smith's story the story of a man who disarmed a couple of h-bombs in north carolina back in 1961 the year of my birth here on our american stories every week with xfinity flex is a free filled week so get ready to get out of your comfort zone and try something new no strings attached cozy up with the family with hudson and rex explore documentaries like planet insect check out live concerts like billy eilish live at glastonbury or true crime stories in the first 48 and 60 days in plus dust off your 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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-04-26 04:15:01 / 2023-04-26 04:27:51 / 13

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