Operation Crossroads, Lest We Forget! An Eyewitness Account, Bikini Atomic Bomb Tests 1946 by William L. McGee with Sandra V. McGee

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MWSA Review

The atomic bombs have been dropped, and Japan has surrendered. World War II is over, but not for William “Bill” L. McGee, author of Operation Crossroads: Lest We Forget!  He puts in his request for postwar duty with the Atlantic Fleet for a chance to see Europe. However, the Navy has other plans for him—duty aboard USS Fall River, a heavy cruiser destined for Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands and Operation Crossroads. 

Operation Crossroads (1946) involved the first postwar atomic bomb tests. Politicians, engineers, the military, and scientists all wanted to learn more about the weapon they had unleashed. Their tests were focused on determining its effects on warships, humans, animals, and the environment. McGee’s eyewitness account, and in particular the quoted information he includes of the testing at Bikini, is sobering. 

The author pastes a great deal of outside and technical information from other sources in his chronicle. However, he uses a much lighter tone to relate experiences involving his shipmates, daily ship life, and adventures while on liberty. The account is full of old photographs, personal mementos, statistics, copies of routine schedules, ship’s orders, logs, newspaper articles, other eyewitness accounts, and writings from the experts in the field. 

The Navy originally planned three nuclear tests for Operation Crossroads. They postponed the third test largely due to their inability to decontaminate the target ships, and the unexpected effects of radiation from the second test. Because no one yet knew much about the adverse impact of radiation, almost no precautions were taken. Personnel who worked on the cleanup, gathered information, and retrieved the test animals on the target ships wore little in the way of protective clothing. Not long after the tests, serious safety concerns regarding the radiation generated began to surface. Sadly, many of the participants of Operation Crossroads experienced and are experiencing health issues. 

Despite some visual and editing errors, this book preserves the legacy of those who participated in this operation. It is a fitting gift to the author’s descendants of his personal experiences during the war. In the post-World War II era, this event and its lessons should be remembered, and warnings heeded. As J. Robert Oppenheimer stated after the Trinity test in New Mexico in July 1945, “I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

Review by Sandi Cowper (March 2019)

Author's Synopsis

 On July 1, 1946, millions of people around the world waited anxiously by their radios for the results of the first postwar atomic bomb tests code-named Operation CROSSROADS.

Award-winning World War II military historian, William L. McGee, provides an eyewitness account of his participation at Crossroads, an event which many scientists considered the most significant of the twentieth century.

The author, a twenty-year old U.S. Navy Gunner’s Mate at the time, who had served in the Pacific theater, was one of the 42,000 military, scientists, and civilian personnel assembled at the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands for the two tests: Test Able from the air on 1 July and Test Baker from underwater on 25 July. McGee was assigned to the heavy cruiser USS ”Fall River” (CA-131), the Flagship for the Target Fleet at Crossroads and responsible for the positioning of the 95 target vessels in the Bikini Lagoon. 

Known for his spare and straightforward writing style, McGee provides a detailed eyewitness account of Tests Able and Baker, starting with the plan, the preparations, the build-up, the two rehearsals, and then the tests themselves. To this he adds details from the ”Fall River” ship logs, interviews with ”Fall River” shipmates and other Crossroads participants, and the preliminary observations immediately following the tests.

The Foreword is written by Dr. F. Lincoln Grahlfs, former Vice Commander of the National Association of Atomic Veterans (NAAV). In the last chapter, “Later Lessons Learned,” two of the nation’s leading authorities on the dangers of radiation inherent in nuclear weapons – Dr. Oscar Rosen, an advocate for “atomic veterans,” and Jonathan M. Weisgall, the legal representative of the people of the Bikini Atoll since 1975 – express their findings and conclusions about the devastating effects of radiation on man, animal, and ships… that no one saw coming. The Appendix includes a brief “Development of the Atomic Bomb”.

“I wrote this book to help preserve a part of history few know about today,” says McGee. “The subject is timely with the threat of nuclear warfare still very much in the news today. We have to learn from history… lest we forget.”

Bill McGee is one of the few surviving “atomic veterans” from Crossroads. He is a Lifetime Member of the National Association of Atomic Veterans (NAAV). McGee is the author of twenty-two books. He and his co-author/wife Sandra live in the San Francisco Bay Area, California. They may be reached at mcgeebmc@aol.com or on their website at www.WilliamMcGeeBooks.com.

ISBN/ASIN: 978-0-9701678-5-9
Book Format(s): Soft cover, Kindle
Review Genre: Nonfiction—Memoir/Biography
Number of Pages: 132