December 30, 2010

Air Raid Signal Responses



Monte Holland

Individual Action: Air Burst of an Atomic Bomb.

     This statement from a picture of a 1950 Government Printing Office card, posted on Pennsylvania’s Ligonier Living blog by blog manager Diane Cipa, reminded me of the days when we thought more about nuclear attacks than we do today.

     Another reminder of those days is a sci-fi program The Shelter. This Rod Serling tale is part of the annual New Year’s Day The Twilight Zone’s marathon. The episode will air at 10:00 a.m., January 1, 2011, on the Syfi TV Channel.

     These reminders bring me back to when I was a kid many years ago, in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s.  I was growing up in Gouverneur, a small town in Northern New York. Like other towns, ours had a volunteer fire department. Red call boxes were located around the town, to be tripped in case of a fire. Each of these boxes had a number—in our house we had a card that listed the locations and numbers of all the boxes. When a box was tripped, the local milk plant whistle blew, announcing the fire and its location. The whistle would blow long signals for each ten’s digit and shorts for each unit’s digit. We lived in the district of box 17. The card also informed us that the number 11 meant that there was an emergency to respond to.

     Another listing on the card: a continuous signal meant Air Raid. These cards probably had been printed during WW II. It was a time when school students were instructed to cower under classroom desks during Air Raid drills.

     One day my friend, who lived across the street, and I were playing in the woods on the back of my family’s property. Alan Griffith was the best man in my 1966 wedding and has since died of cancer. That day, we were a quarter mile or so from the house. Suddenly the fire whistle blew one long continuous sound. Both of us were familiar with the fire card from our homes—being the kind of kids we were, we probably had memorized most of the box numbers and locations.

     Immediately, panic set in. We’d never experienced an air raid, and we didn’t want to do so in any place but inside our homes. We ran back to our houses as quickly as we possibly could, expecting the worst. Soon after we returned to our houses, the whistle stopped. It turned out that the whistle had stuck in the on position.

    The Shelter examines a more extreme human reaction when it is believed that the threat of a nuclear attack is very real.





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