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Operation Dominic II 

By: ET1 William Lord USN/USNR (ret)

Greetings to all,

I recently uncovered some interesting facts regarding my life aboard the USS Princeton LPH-5, an 888 ft Marine Helicopter carrier in 1962. At that time I was 20 years old and had served in the United States Navy some three years. My ship had just come out of the yards in Long Beach CA where it had just undergone a major overhaul for about the last six months. We put out to sea sometime in August as I recall for sea trials for a couple of weeks or so. Then sometime in September we went to sea for an undetermined period of time to an unannounced destination. The ship put into Pearl Harbor HI a few days later where she stayed for a couple of days. We went back to sea and soon arrived at a small island approximately 750 miles southwest of Hawaii. The island, Johnston Island was part of the Johnston Island atoll. Again, let me point out the fact that we didn't have a clue why we were there, but would soon find out. We were at or near the Island for about two and a half months. Shortly after arriving everyone aboard the ship were issued pocket dosimeter and film badges. Some of the crew was also issued very dark goggles for eye protection. These goggles were so dark that you could see absolutely nothing on a bright sunny day when you put them on. I was not among the lucky ones issued the goggles however. By this time it was becoming clear as to what the mission was all about.

During the next two and a half months I witnessed ten atomic bomb detonations while seated on the metal flight deck of the carrier. Five of the bombs were dropped from a B-52 and were surface bursts and the remainder was delivered with Thor missiles fired from the Island and exploded in the outer ionosphere. The results of the surface blasts was the typical mushroom cloud with shock wave and heat (which we didn't need being only a few degrees north of the equator). The missile shots were a different story. These blasts were a big ball of fire fallowed by streaks of multicolored light streaking out in all directions from the blast. I recall thinking how could anything be so beautiful and so destructive at the same time.

When the missiles were to be fired from the island they would evacuate the island of all personnel with the exception of some key people that had to stay on the island in order to make it all happen. We would take these people aboard our ship since the Princeton was the largest ship and the flag ship for the operation (which was named Operation Dominick II). I recall while serving as messenger of the watch for the quarterdeck an incident that made my eyes bulge out of their sockets. I was given a message to take back the berthing compartment where the evacuees we staying, When arriving I saw the highest stake poker game going on that I had ever seen. There were several civilians playing poker and the pot I estimated had several thousand dollars in it. Now keep in mind this was in 1962 when you could buy a whole month worth of groceries for a family of four for less the $50.00. I remember wondering how they could have this much money. Then it occurred to me that these were all highly paid government employees that had absolutely nowhere to spend it being on an island in the south pacific that was a mile long and a few hundred feet wide.

Now ask me, if I had a choice (which I didn't) would I do it all over again? The answer to that question depends on whether I knew then what I know today or not. If not, you bet your sweet bippy I would. It was exiting and it never even occurred to me that there was a risk involved. This was something that only a small hand full of people would get to see in real time. However, if I did know then what I know today the answer is, I'm not sure. Fortunately for me I have had no known medical problems that can be directly related to the experience, but after reading some of the letters from some of my shipmates of the medical problems they have experienced....I just don't know what my answer would be.

Several years ago while at Goodwill I ran across a 1963 Compton yearbook that covered events that occurred in 1962. It was only fifty cents so I purchased it. A cheap trivia trip. I ran across two almost identical photographs shot within a few minutes of each other of Diamond Head. The first being a dark silhouette of Diamond Head and the other appearing as if it were high noon on a sunny day. This was a result of one of the aerial bursts which is my understanding was a hydrogen bomb.

The end benefits from this experience are twofold:

    • It was an experience that few people can say they had.
    • I don't need a night light to read at bedtime <grin>.

Here is link to the information I uncovered:

http://www.radiochemistry.org/history/nuke_tests/dominic/index.html

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