Aboard the USS Saint Croix, 1 August 1946. As the Victory ship USS Saint Croix passed through the Bikini Channel and out to the open sea, my shipmate and friend, David Morris, and I watched the heavy cruiser USS Fall River from a 5″/38 gun mount on the fantail until she was out of sight. She had been our home since January ’46 and we felt like we were losing a friend. It took 16 days to get to San Francisco and with 1,500 men on board, the troop compartments were crowded, hot, and stuffy, the mess facilities not much better, and the lines for the head were long. The troops spent as little time below decks as possible and space on the main deck was at a premium. The bull sessions knew no bounds. Subjects ranged from the atomic bomb tests, to plans for the future, and to the girl back home. There was reading, listening to the radio, and, of course, cards and dice.
On 18 August, the Saint Croix steamed under the Golden Gate Bridge and there wasn’t a dry eye on ship – even among this group of now-seasoned “old salts” who had just come from one of the most important events in history.
As serious safety concerns about radiation contamination began coming to light, in August, the decision was made to clean-up and suspend work at Bikini. On 8 September 1946, President Truman postponed Test Charlie, the third postwar atomic bomb test.
My job at Operation CROSSROADS was finished; however, the aftermath of the damages – both visible and invisible – would linger on for years. The many lessons learned were still to come.
(Excerpted from Operation Crossroads – Lest We Forget! by William L. McGee.)