“A sobering, but entertaining read.” -Mark Barnes, War History Online
A Publishers Weekly BookLife selection for the November 2020 Spotlight on 15 military history books by veterans.
75th Anniversary of Operation Crossroads
This year marks the 75th Anniversary of Operation Crossroads, the postwar atomic bomb tests at the Bikini Atoll in 1946. To commemorate the occasion, a special series of posts will present highlights from Bill McGee’s naval memoir, Operation Crossroads – Lest We Forget! An Eyewitness Account, Bikini Atomic Bomb Tests 1946, along with declassified videos and archival radio broadcasts. Come aboard the heavy cruiser USS Fall River as atomic veteran and naval historian William L. McGee provides his eyewitness account of the dawning of the nuclear age.
About the Book
“On 1 July 1946 by the Bikini calendar (30 June in New York), millions of people around the world waited anxiously by their radios for the results of the first postwar test of the atomic bomb. No one knew what to expect,” writes William L. McGee in his naval memoir, Operation Crossroads, Lest We Forget! An Eyewitness Account, Bikini Atomic Bomb Tests 1946.
In the summer of 1946, McGee was one of the 42,000 military, scientists, and civilian personnel assembled at the remote Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The objective: to conduct postwar testing of the atomic bomb on wartime vessels, equipment, and animals. Code name: Operation CROSSROADS.
In August 1945, the Allied forces dropped two atomic bombs on Japan: one, on 6 August on Hiroshima; the other, on 9 August on Nagasaki. The Japanese surrendered on 14 August and World War II ended.
Now the U.S. military wanted to conduct tests of the atomic bomb specifically on wartime vessels.
In the words of Vice Admiral W. H. P. Blandy, USN, Commander of Joint Task Force One for Operation Crossroads:
“In the face of this new knowledge, these recently discovered truths concerning the atom, so suddenly thrust upon an already chaotic world, not only warfare but civilization itself literally stands at the Crossroads. Hence the name of this Operation.”
Bill McGee had a front row seat from aboard the USS Fall River (CA-131), Flagship for the Target Fleet. The relatively new heavy cruiser was responsible for positioning 90-plus target vessels in the Bikini Lagoon. There would be two tests: Test Able from the air on 1 July and Test Baker from underwater on 25 July.
In his signature journalistic writing style, McGee bottomlines his eyewitness account in a slim memoir (134 pp):
- The Fall River’s four-month voyage from Norfolk, Virginia to the Bikini Atoll
- The plans and preparations for Tests Able and Baker
- The Queen Day and William Day rehearsals for the two tests
- Reproductions of the Fall River ship log
- Interview excerpts with Fall River shipmates and other Crossroads participants
- The early opinions of the media and military
- The later opinions of Crosswords experts, who address the deadly effects of ionizing radiation
- The fate of the USS Fall River (CA-131) after Crossroads
- Meeting up with Fall River shipmates decades later
OPERATION CROSSROADS, LEST WE FORGET!
An Eyewitness Account, Bikini Atomic Bomb Tests 1946
by William L. McGee with Sandra V. McGee
Foreword by F. Lincoln Grahlfs, Ph.D., author Voices From Ground Zero
134 pp, 52 B&W photographs & illustrations
BMC Publications 2016
Available from Amazon in Paperback & eBook
About the Author
Award-winning World War II naval historian William L. McGee’s writing career has spanned six decades. He has written twenty-two books, including five WWII histories. He is a veteran of WWII in the Pacific and an atomic veteran of Operation Crossroads 1946.
Awards / Recognition
The Solomons Campaigns, 1942-1943: From Guadalcanal to Bougainville – Winner of the Silver Medal for History from the Military Writers Society of America
Pacific Express: The Critical Role of Military Logistics in World War II – On the Marine Corps Commandant’s Professional Reading List
“Operation Crossroads is an account full of old photographs, personal mementos, statistics, copies of routine schedules, ship’s orders, logs, newspaper articles, other eyewitness accounts, and writings from experts in the field….This book preserves the legacy of those who participated in this operation. In the post-World War II era, this event and its lessons should be remembered, and warnings heeded.”
– Military Writers Society of America
“Well-written and engaging … The inclusion of material by other writers adds important elements to the story.”
– Giff Johnson, editor, The Marshall Islands Journal, and author Nuclear Past, Unclear Future
“A one of its kind firsthand story … McGee explains what he saw—from the dangers posed by radiation unknown to the men, to the lessons learned after his participation in one of the most important and pivotal events in human history. His experience illustrates that the greatest danger of nuclear warfare lies not in the immediate hellish blast from an atomic bomb, but from the deadly radioactivity lingering in the fallout. What a great educational lesson for us younger generations. Add another great masterpiece to the existing collection from gifted author and historian William McGee.”
– Zach Morris, editor, LST Scuttlebutt magazine
What readers are saying . . .
From a USS Fall River Shipmate
“The author and I both came aboard the new heavy cruiser USS Fall River in January 1946 in Norfolk, Virginia. I was a Quartermaster and he was a Gunner’s Mate. Little did we know, in a few months, the Fall River would be the Flagship for the Target Group of 95 vessels at Crossroads, and we would have a front row seat for two atomic bomb tests, Able from the air and Baker from underwater. When Mr. McGee’s book arrived, I read it in one sitting. I was impressed with the amount of detail and I learned a lot about the damage done by radiation to the ships and the men who served on them.
What also impressed me is that the author has been legally blind since 2003 from macular degeneration, and lives with multiple types of cancers, which he said may or may not have been caused by radiation exposure at Crossroads. Thanks his co-author and wife, Sandra, Mr. McGee was able to get his story told. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to know what it was like to be at Crossroads and what happened afterwards. I’m placing my order for two more copies.”
– John W. Stambaugh, former Quartermaster 1/c, USS Fall River (CA-131), and Life Member of U.S. Navy Cruiser Sailors Association
“The recollections of Crossroads veterans raise serious questions about both the efficacy and the morality of nuclear weapons. . . I commend Bill McGee on his skillful effort at keeping the story alive, lest we forget.”
– From the Foreword by F. Lincoln Grahlfs, Ph.D., National Assn. Atomic Veterans and author of Voices from Ground Zero
“Have it! Read it! Love it! It’s an eyeopener! This is a concise account of the Bikini atomic bomb tests in 1946 by an eyewitness. He includes his own observations as well as those of his shipmates and the ship’s log. He describes in detail (and with photos) the awesome destructive power of nuclear weapons. Despite 50 years of discussion and negotiation regarding limiting or eliminating nuclear weapons, there are still thousands in the arsenals of several countries with more to come. Thank you for your service and thank you for reminding us that nuclear weapons should never be used. I give this book five stars.”
– Wyman Harris
“Excellent slice of life narrative following the end of WW2. First, the author’s journey to the East Coast, hoping for a stint in postwar Europe; then serving on the USS Fall River at the atomic bomb tests at Operation CROSSROADS in the Marshall Islands. Well done in terms of day-to-day life and filled with humor and the “hustle” of just getting by. The author’s descriptions of being at Crossroads put me there. Appendix I, “Later Lessons Learned”, was a great way to wrap up the book, as well as illustrating to the reader that this terrible legacy still lives on — lest we forget.”
– Brian Cowden, writer/director of the documentary Atomic Veterans Speak
“McGee has crafted a narrative that drew me in and would not let me go until I finished the book in one sitting.”
– Dennis R. Blocker II, Pacific War historian, National LCI (Landing Craft, Infantry) Assn., and researcher for The Heart of Hell
“The author has documented this historically significant event so succinctly–and made it come alive–that the reader is on deck of the USS Fall River, shielding their eyes, and awaiting the blast of a monster.”
– Marilu Norden, author, Unbridled, A Tale of a Divorce Ranch
“Includes a compelling, well-documented exposé of the cover-up after Operation Crossroads.”
– John Houck, beta reader
“I was so caught up in the story, I may have failed my assignment as a beta reader.”
– Michael Olson, author, Tales from a Tin Can, USS Dale
“An excellent book. . . I had to sit down and read it the day it arrived.”
– Robert L. Ruyle, Nebraska State Commander, National Assn. of Atomic Veterans
“The magnitude of Crossroads as seen by the author and his participation in it come alive. . . As a yachtsman, I particularly enjoyed reading the actual log entries of the USS Fall River (CA-131), the Flagship for the Target Fleet.”
– Mel Owen, Owen Wickersham & Erickson