Atomic bomb drills in school

Atomic bomb drills were common in Phoenix during the Cold War.

Whoever sat in the last desk of the first row — the closest seat to the door — had the atomic bomb drill warning duty. That guy’s responsibility was to listen for a whistle broadcast from some unknown (to us) location and yell “Bomb drill” when it went off. We knew the day they were coming, but never the time. At that alert, all of us would crouch down under our desks with our hands over our heads. One other guy had the job of closing the curtains to keep the pretend shattering glass from flying into the classroom. We would stay there, huddled and sometimes giggling, until another blast told us it was all clear.

I don’t remember being freaked out by those drills, but it was a feature of life and vague but powerful threat that was a part of kids’ universe, at least in the early ’60s. In eighth grade, one family down the block from us in Maryvale had a bomb shelter, fully stocked. I saw it once, and the kid who showed it to us got in trouble. Dad didn’t want neighbors to know they had it and get too invasive should it actually be needed.

A few years earlier I recall sitting by a radio with my older sister and an older boy in the neighborhood, listening to the news during the Cuban missile crisis. Generally we were blissfully unaware of events going on in the world at that age, but this one seemed like the real deal, and — coupled with the  bomb drills at school — fully within the story line we’d been presented.

I don’t know now whether that was a good or bad experience to have as a youngster, but it made us pay attention to the news now and again.


Atomic bomb drills in school — 2 Comments

  1. I was born in ’69, and I recall having a version of these drills in my early school years. That would make those drills still going on into the 70’s. I don’t recall if we had them here (AZ), but they certainly were happening in Michigan. My mother also had the drills when she was in grade school.
    The only part I remember was being required to get under our desks. I don’t recall having to cover our heads or having anyone assigned anything special. But of course, that was over 30 years ago.
    When you think about it, that’s a horrible thing to do to kids. There’s no way in hell it would actually accomplish anything, and anyone with a nervous disposition must have been going out of their minds with worry.

  2. When I was matriculating at Kenilworth Elementary as a fourth-grade student, our teacher invited us to come to school one dawn morning and go up to the roof of the library and watch as a glow lit up the eastern sky. It was the atom bomb test at Frenchman’s Flat in Nevada. I’ve never forgotten that…I’m sure that the bomb tests are responsible for Godzilla, the Giant Ants in “Them,” as well as fast-maturing pre-teen girls nowadays. At least that’s to which I attribute the phenomena.

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