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Monday, 14 November 2011

Sound the Alarm!

By Terry Hamburg of boomer to you

I loved fire drills. It was a grand game. At my school, we were tipped off by my best friend Ricky whose mother was an assistant principal.

Out of the blue (ha! ha!), the alarm sounded. Everyone jumped up and scrambled to get in line. Lots of giggling and jostling. We fast-marched outside and goofed around for 20 minutes while teachers scoured the buildings for hideouts, fainters and smokers in the boys’ rooms. It was a bonus recess.

Another 20 minutes filing back in and settling down from the excitement, including phony questions to avoid returning to the lessons: Could we have stayed and watched a real fire or do we have to go home? How much do fireman make? Do you need a college degree? Will girls ever be firemen?

Teachers fell for the same tired questions year after year.

We weren’t scared of fires. What’s the worst that could happen? The school burns down. Big wow. Everyone has been evacuated. We’d use trailers for six months. Life goes on.

Contrast this with the dreaded atom bomb air raid drill. Ricky’s mother was no help here. Out of the blue, a nasty horn blast penetrates your soul. I could feel my spine rattle.

Our general was Bert the Turtle, one of the first (Smokey the Bear appeared earlier) government-employed cartoon icons introduced in a 1951 Federal Civil Defense film.

Bert the Turtle poster

We hunkered down under our desks — clumsy kids always banged their heads — and had to stay in fetal-like positions for two minutes. Some teachers read prayers or had the class sing the National Anthem. Miss Naddlehoffer was famous for whistling, Yankee Doodle Dandy.

A jarring “all-clear” sounds. More banged heads, usually the same ones. We emerged with scraped knees and charley horses and immediately began class again. Teachers didn’t want to entertain questions. It was too traumatic to contemplate.

Atom bomb drill

And should there be a real atom bomb? What’s the worst that could happen? Utter destruction. If you’re not dead, you’d wish you were. No more family. No more friends. Life doesn’t go on. No wonder we were depressed after an air raid drill.

Bert’s official instructions were simple:

• Duck under your desk and sit still

• Place your head between your legs

• Cover your head with your hands

We added a final instruction: Kiss your butt goodbye.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Terry - Nice story!

I've always found drills to be amusing diversions. That is until I read or hear about those Europeans who filed into their shaking shelters amid the sounds of exploding bombs. I can't even imagine what that must have been like. - Sandy

I liked your story. Just a reminder for us all what our kids went through growing up with the threat of a nuclear bomb in their lifetime. And here we are again--We can only hope that we won't have to "kiss our butts goodbye."

Michigan Grandma

Strange, some bastard, sorry for the adjective but it seems to fit, topics will not leave us. Today I saw a piece about North Korea allying with Iran to put atomic scares back in the news. Any thing like bombs in those two countries hands is scary indeed.

Add Pakistan to the twosome above & your neck hair tingles..Catholic school, we were supposed to say the Act of Contrition out loud..my act of defiance was to think it, not say it..caught twice, one note to my Mother..who asked why I had to defy (sp) the Nuns..shirked & my Father winked at me from behind his paper..when did those drills end..I don't recall them l954-58 in high school..can't say we haven't lived in "interesting" times..can we?

In the early 1950's I wondered what I would actually do if we ever came under a real enemy attack. I was soon to find out what I would do.

It happened like this. I had just bought both of my little boys (6 &4) new tricycles and they were parked on the sidewalk in front of our house while the kids were eating their lunch.

We had been drilled and drilled by radio,TV and Newspaper that the siren would blow one Long and two quick shorts for a REAL atomic attack. That was what we were trained to listen for.

Well, I was making the peanut butter sandwiches and what do I hear? One long and two quick shorts..I can't believe my ears. Then after one minute another long and two quick shorts so,I thought, no mistake, this is IT.

So, what is my first thought and what action do I take to prepare for THE BOMB? Of course, get the two brand new bikes in the house.

So, that is what I did. Rescued two bikes...

The ALL CLEAR sounded shortly after that and it was later explained that the Town Fire Department had made a mistake and pushed the wrong button and an ordinary fire alarm turned into an Atomic Attack..

As Mary said, "Can't say we haven't lived in interesting times...can we?"

During the Cold War, I grew up five miles from a primary target. Civil defense sirens went off every Wednesday, and even though there were bomb shelter signs all over town, we knew that if the real thing ever came, we'd be vaporized. To this day, the songs of Simon & Garfunkel makes me cringe.

Speaking of alarms, we had one here in Qingdao yesterday. I think there is one system at the top of Signal Hill, those red balls on the hill next to us. When it first came on,I thought they must be testing the system for across the Yellow Sea are some countries that aren't so friendly but this alarm went on and on. the birds couldn't stand it and I could hardly.I thought after 15 minutes of it maybe it really was a warning, but not speaking the language who could I ask? I must admit I was a little frightened at first but when it continued for half an hour, I finally decided it was just a test. I think it's time to leave this country soon.

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