Raymond Rico “Monche” Barba
Private, U.S. Army
June 1956 to June 1959
Veteran of “Operation Plumbbob”
August 31, 1957
The link below is to a U.S. Army video depicting “Drop Smoky,” the August 31, 1957, 5:30 AM detonation of the largest (44 kiloton) thermonuclear device ever manufactured or detonated by the US Government (Atomic Energy Commission –AEC). It was one of 29 tests conducted at the Nevada Test Site (NTS) at Yucca Flats, Nevada, as part of “Operation Plumbbob” conducted May 28 through October 7, 1957. “Drop Smoky” was literally dropped from a 700’ foot tall steel tower in Area 8 at NTS. The device weighed 9,408 pounds, and its dimensions were 126.2 inches in length and 50 inches in diameter. Smoky was a UCRL TX-41 thermonuclear device. When detonated, its 20,000 tons of TNT produced a blast that was twice as powerful as the bomb dropped at Horoshima, Japan. During the entirety of Operation Plumbbob, 58,300 kilocuries of radioiodine (I-131) were released into the atmosphere.
Ray Barba was a member of what was dubbed “Pentomic Task Force Warrior,” a composite of over 16,000 troops representing all U.S. military branches and one unit of the “Queens Own Rifles” from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Ray’s unit was the First Battle Group, 12th Infantry Regiment, Fourth Infantry Division, from Ft. Lewis, Washington. Ray’s assignment was Forward Observer for an 81-MM Mortar Battery. Ray’s unit was stationed at Camp Desert Rock, Yucca Flats, from April 24 to October 7, 1957 during all of the 29 detonations, only six of which were “safety tests” and did not produce nuclear yield. Each test was called a ‘drop’ or a ‘shot’ with names like Priscilla, Diablo, Galileo, Shasta, Wheeler, and Smoky. Every above-ground drop was made from either a specially constructed steel tower of varying heights or a balloon. A few of the tests were also conducted in underground shafts.
This test series (Projects 57 and 58, Desert Rock VII and VIII) became the biggest, longest, and most controversial in the history of the continental U.S. “Smoky” was designed to specifically test how the average foot soldier would stand up, physically and psychologically, to the rigors of the tactical nuclear battlefield. Three-thousand troops….nuclear guinea pigs….without any protective glasses or protective clothing, were strategically positioned 13 kilometers away from ground zero in sand trenches. As a Forward Observer, Ray was positioned 4,100 yards away from the detonation in a sand, unreinforced trench. The only instructions given were:”Don’t look at the blast.” Ray stated that when Smoky detonated, he could see straight through his arm like he was looking at an x-ray. The four-foot-deep trench he and others were in collapsed immediately and he jumped out of it to keep from getting trapped, as some others did. After all the related troop exercises concluded, the participants were told to walk through a special tent, and it would “remove all effects from radiation exposure.”
The radiation exposures and subsequent illnesses/deaths experienced by participants in Drop Smoky were the subject of extensive Congressional hearings in the 1970’s. Smoky was a notorious example of abuse. Affected “Nuclear Veterans” were subjected to exhaustive testing as a result of these hearings and exposures. However, a mysterious fire in 1973 at the National Personnel Records in St. Louis, MO destroyed the film badges and medical records of thousands of affected troops. To date, Ray and countless others who bravely did their job back in that god-forsaken desert in 1957 have never received a penny of compensation or medical care benefits. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude! We are deeply honored to recognize Ray Barba and all those other veterans who served without hesitation to ensure our safety and peace during such a tumultuous and frightening time in our country’s history.
Thank you, and God Bless You, Ray!
Big Picture: Atomic Battlefield
DVD Copied by Katie Filbert – Department of Defense. Department of the Army. Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations. U.S. Army Audiovisual Center. (ca. 1974 – 05/15/1984). Cameras of “THE BIG PICTURE” focus on Desert Rock, Nevada — In this issue of THE BIG PICTURE, the camera swings to the barren flats near Desert Rock, Nevada, where in the latest atomic blast, one of the new Army’s Pentomic organizations was actually employed in the field in conjunction with an atomic detonation. Since this is the age of the atom, the importance of the Army and its mission–seizing and retaining control of the land — takes on a new meaning. The land may he scarred and seared by weapons which stun the power of reason, but so long as it remains vital to victory it is the task of the soldier to secure it and hold it. The battlefield of the future, if it exists, may well be an atomic battlefield. As is explained in this film presentation, that brutal fact has forced upon the Army the absolute necessity of testing both men and tactical concepts under atomic conditions. In test blasts over the last few years, the Army has learned much about the response of the individual soldier. Out of the special needs imposed by atomic conditions — the need for wide dispersion of forces, for instance –the structure of a combat force in the field has been developed to provide a mobility and a fluidity which troops in warfare have never had before.