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The Things Still Buried

June 3, 2013

In 1961, a B-52 bomber stationed at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, NC broke apart in mid-air. It was carrying 8 crewmen and 2 hydrogen bombs.

As the aircraft fell, so did the bombs.

The first bomb deployed its parachute, and it landed safely in tobacco field12 miles north of Goldsboro. The second plunged into waterlogged swampland and disintegrated on impact, though no explosion occurred.

Since then, only portions of the buried hydrogen bomb have been unearthed. A piece of the bomb containing uranium is still there in that swamp. In the following years, the Air Force purchased an easement requiring permission for anyone to dig on the surrounding land.

Subsequent studies report no environmental hazards or cause of concern. The bomb stays buried.

There are things in our lives we inter — things we intend to keep underground, undiscovered. But things that are put to rest are rarely left that way, and exhume themselves when we least expect it, when it’s most inconvenient. As a writer, I’ve always been most interested in the things beneath the surface, things long-buried, the things people want to hide.

The things we bury are the things that define us; these are our deepest secrets and our most unforgivable treasons. These  are our petty misgivings and our darkest memories. How do you bury a nuclear bomb? How do you guard against the toxic seep, the slow leak of poison into the surrounding soil — be it pristine or otherwise?

You take ownership of the land, you instate a Do Not Dig order, and you ignore the meticulous creep of time.

I was a child when I first learned of the atomic bomb buried somewhere in the acres of farmland surrounding my hometown. It was the stuff of grade school rural legend — how the whole of eastern North Carolina almost became a smoking, radiated wasteland. Captured by the horrific fantasy, I spent many a foray into the woods and cotton fields around my neighborhood expecting to come across what I imagined as a gaping pit with a halo of radioactive glow.

Luckily, that never happened, as I was off by about 25 miles. But I’ve learned how to bury things of my own and I’ve unearthed more than my fair share of secrets.

Meanwhile, it’s been 52 years since that B-52 fell apart and let fly the bombs. The bomb fragment in the swampy farmland 12 miles north of Goldsboro is still there. I don’t know the half-life of uranium, but I suspect it will be there long after my own body succumbs to time — buried, biding, waiting.


From → Thoughts I Think

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