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Local History Notes

Notes about the history of Iredell County by Joel Reese, Local History Librarian.

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Dec 23

1961 Goldsboro NC Nuclear Bomb Accident

Posted on December 23, 2019 at 1:45 PM by Jenny Levins

Growing up I can remember the adults around me talking about nuclear war. Even children could tell how serious it was by the looks on their parents’ faces and the sound of fear in their voices. We were in the middle of the cold war with the Soviet Union then and the threat of a nuclear war was very real. It was democracy versus communism with the world’s two big superpowers trying to stare each other down. Fortunately, both sides feared the consequences of using the “doomsday bomb” so much that nuclear war never broke out. Even during the Cuban Missile Crisis or when opposing nuclear subs accidentally bumped into each other no one dared reach for the button.

Ironically, the closest the U.S. came to experiencing a nuclear bomb explosion probably happened right here in N.C. On Tuesday, June 21, at 7 p.m. Dr. Curtis Abell will present the “1961 Goldsboro N.C. Nuclear Bomb Accident” at the Iredell County Public Library in Statesville. During this free program Dr. Abell will discuss how the crash of a B-52 bomber carrying nuclear weapons occurred and how close we came to a nuclear disaster. During his presentation Dr. Abell will cite newly released government documents that reveal just how close North Carolina came to a “doomsday bomb” explosion.

In World War I gas was the doomsday weapon everyone feared. World War I is sometimes referred to as the “chemists’ war” as scientific labs produced chemical weapons such as mustard gas to disable or kill opposing troops on the battlefields. There were an estimated 1.3 million casualties during the war from chemical gas attacks. They were first used a little over a hundred years ago in 1915. The effects of the gas were horrible. Mustard gas attacks blistered the throat and lungs when inhaled, blinded men, and caused blisters over the body. More powerful gases like phosgene and chlorine killed. Survivors often suffered the effects of the gas for the rest of their lives.

The use of chemical gas as a weapon in warfare was effective, but during World War II it was hardly used at all. Both sides feared a retaliation attack so much that neither side would dare use gas attacks. The nuclear attacks on Japan in 1945 had the same effect during the cold war with the Soviet Union. The complete destruction caused by the two nuclear bombs in World War II along with the horrible effects of radiation poisoning made each side afraid to dare use nuclear weapons. The cold war with the Soviet Union ended when the arms race and their invasion of Afghanistan basically broke the Russian economy. Today communist China is our largest trading partner and lone domestic and international terrorist attacks have replaced the threat of nuclear war as our biggest fear.

Joel Reese, Local History Librarian

Iredell County Public Library

This article appeared in the Statesville Record and Landmark as “North Carolina’s near nuke miss” on June 20, 2016