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
BMC Publications, 2016
132 pp, 59 B&W photographs & illustrations.
Paperback 6″ x 9″, $19.95; Kindle eBook $6.95
About Operation Crossroads, Lest We Forget!
Operation Crossroads was the code-name for the first postwar atomic bomb tests in the summer of 1946.
Less than a year earlier in August 1945, the United States had dropped the atomic bomb on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and August 9 respectively. The use of this nuclear warfare effectively ended World War II.
Now the U.S. military wanted to conduct tests specifically to determine the effects of the atomic bomb on various types of vessels and animals. The Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands was chosen as the location for the tests for several reasons: its size was ideal; the average depth of the water in the lagoon was approximately 200 feet; the atoll was fairly remote from fishing areas and steamer lanes.
In the words of Vice Admiral W. H. P. Blandy, USN, Commander of Joint Task Force One: “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 by the Crossroads. Hence the name of this Operation.”
In the summer of 1946, 42,000 scientists, military personnel, and civilian personnel assembled at the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. There would be two tests: Test Able from the air on 1 July; Test Baker from underwater on 25 July.
On July 1, 1946, millions of people around the world waited anxiously by their radios for the results of the first test. No one knew what to expect.
Bill McGee had served during the war in the U.S. Navy, Pacific theater, as a Gunner’s Mate. When the war ended, he had one year left to serve. He put in for assignment to the Atlantic Fleet, but instead received orders to report to the heavy cruiser USS Fall River (CA-131). Destination: top secret. Months later, when the destination was revealed, the Fall River was steaming to the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. She would be the Flagship for the Target Fleet at Crossroads, responsible for the positioning of the 95 target vessels in the Bikini Lagoon.
In his third memoir, Bill provides his eyewitness account of Crossroads in a slim volume (132 pages). Written in his signature spare and straightforward style, Bill combines fact with memoir to tell his story.
The book opens with the Fall River’s voyage from Norfolk, Virginia via the Panama Canal to the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Island. Then he details the plans, the preparations, the rehearsals, and, finally, the atomic bomb tests themselves. Bill adds to his personal recollections with entries from the Fall River ship logs and interviews with Fall River shipmates and other Operation Crossroads participants.
Operation Crossroads, Lest We Forget! was published in July 2016 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of these nuclear tests.
Bill McGee is one of few surviving atomic veterans from Operation Crossroads. He bears the physical effects from exposure to ionizing radiation in various forms of cancer and vision loss. He is a Lifetime Member of the National Association of Atomic Veterans (NAAV).
“I wrote this book to help preserve a part of history few know about today. Operation Crossroads in 1946 was one of – if not the most – important events in U.S. and world history. It was the dawning of the nuclear age. As I was writing this book, the subject was timely with the threats of nuclear warfare in the news. We have to learn from history… lest we forget.”
(Photo: Bill McGee at the National Atomic Testing Museum, Las Vegas, NV, September 2016)
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“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, Sandi Cowper
What readers are saying…
“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
– Wyman C. Harris
“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, USS National LCI (Landing Craft, Infantry) Association, and researcher 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 an early reader.”
– Michael Olson, author Tales from a Tin Can – USS Dale
“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 in Chief, LST Scuttlebutt magazine, and former Editor in Chief, Elsie Item magazine
“An excellent book … I had to sit down and read it the day it arrived.”
– Robert L. Ruyle, Nebraska State Commander, National Association 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