I Went Down To The Crossroads

by Frank Keupper

The camp I arrived in was fairly small and pretty ratty. I swear to god my rank didn’t mean shit. I had a bed that was about as comfortable as a steel rail with sheets that just looked like they were infested with all kinds of disease. But, again I couldn’t complain. Certainly beat Germany, that’s for sure. Strangely enough I wasn’t really introduced to anyone at first entry. Come to think of it, at the time I wasn’t even told what I was doing out there initially. Phillis just told me where I was going to an island called “Bikini Atoll” and that was really about it. It wasn’t until about a week after I arrived that I met the acquaintance of anyone of any real importance. I was having the gruel of the day when this guy came up to me. Ironically he wasn’t in colors. He was dressed like some kind of politician who basically came up to me, said “Sergeant Dennis Mullen. Come with me.”

The guy’s name was Jerry Myers and from the looks of it he seemed like some kind of corporate stooge that was snatched up for military duty. Anyway Myers brought me to a briefing room on base and sat me down in a steel folding chair. He left just as quickly as he showed up, leaving me to sit alone in this dimly light room. Honestly I was really starting to get fed up with the lack of information being given to me. After what felt like an eternity somebody entered through the door behind me. It was Myers again along with an admiral carrying a black briefcase.

I stood at attention and he quickly set me at ease. He sat down across from me in another folding chair. Myers leaned against the wall behind me next to the door. The admiral put the briefcase in his lap, popped it open and pulled out a manila folder marked CLASSIFIED. He tossed it to me and spoke.

“Operation Crossroads. Are you familiar with this op?”

“No, sir.”

“Open the folder, Sergeant Mullen. I need you to follow the exact orders on these papers. These documents come directly from the pentagon.”

I read through the documents briefly. What I read was enough to shake me up quite a bit. Let’s just say what was on those documents were horrifying to a man who’s seen quite a lot of shit during his service. I didn’t speak to the admiral. I looked at him, still holding the documents.

“Sergeant Mullen, for your valor and dedication in Germany, the pentagon has specifically asked for you to spearhead this op. They believe with your ability to follow orders, even under harsh circumstances, you will be able to fulfill these commands.”

I finally spoke up.

“With all due respect, sir, I’m just a Sergeant. Why wouldn’t they entrust a rank such as yourself with a task of this nature?”

He thought about it for a minute and said, “Y’know Mullen, I really don’t know myself. Clearly someone superseding me thinks you specifically are the man for the job. Now, can we trust you, Sergeant?”

Grimly, I uttered the phrase “Sir, yes sir.”

I hated all of this confidentiality. I wish someone out right told me what I was in Bikini to do. Anyway, after I’d done more reading on the topic, the day was June 30th. Most of the soldiers on base had already been informed exactly what I was there for. Still, no one even came to say, “Hello,” or, “Excuse me, Sergeant Mullen, but what are your orders for fleet formation tomorrow?” or, “Hey Mullen, what the fuck’s going on tomorrow?” I was in charge of setting up a fleet for the test tomorrow and ensuring the entire test itself went off without a hitch. I was the man who, despite having no knowledge on the subject at all, would ready the “Test Subject:” for the experiment…

July 1st. The day I was to give these orders. Command woke everyone up at 0500. I wish they could have done this shit later on in the day. We didn’t even have enough time to get coffee in the morning, for Christ’s sake. At around 0530, I was placed on a pedestal and informed men of their grim orders.

“Gentlemen, my name is Sergeant Dennis Mullen. What I ask you to do here today will be disturbing on multiple levels. Some of you will cower as I utter my next couple of sentences. Rest assured, men, the U.S. military will have medical staff on hand should anything go wrong.

“Today, at 2100 hours, we will be detonating an atomic bomb off shore. I have a very specific fleet of ships that I selected. These ships will be scattered out off shore and used to test the bomb’s explosive power.”

I heard a voice scream out in the silence of my pause.

“You ignorant mother fucker! I… no, WE fought for our fucking lives to protect those ships, and the freedoms they’ve preserved during the war. And you come strolling onto OUR base and you’ve got the balls to tell us our ships are getting blown up for absolutely no reason! With all due respect, sir, go fuck yourself.”

The solider had clearly made his point and was promptly ejected from my gathering. It was at that moment I knew why The Pentagon elected me to do this—to this group of men, I was no one. They’d never seen me before, they’d never served with me before, and they certainly didn’t want to lose their ships for me.

I concluded my speech with the names of the ships to partake in the test. I remember reading aloud, “Independence, Saratoga, Nevada, Arkansas…” I remember the faces of grown men, standing at attention, tears streaming down their faces. Men that had fought and seen some very gruesome things throughout the war were crying at the words I spoke. After I finished reading the names I was adjourned from the stage by the same Commanding Admiral who’d initially given me the documents. This time I actually saw part of his name on his lapel. It read W.H.P. Blandy. The glares I received by the men at the rally told me exactly what they were thinking.

2030 hours was when the ships were positioned off shore in my precise locations. I stared at them for a bit through palm trees before walking over to the airstrip on base. I needed to rendezvous with the pilot in charge of dropping the bomb itself. As I approached, the men were at attention expecting my arrival. I set them at ease and they proceeded to tell me exactly what they needed to do to get it in the air. I didn’t give a shit what they had to say. I told them after they were done talking to just get it done. I stood there as the men loaded it onto the B-29 bomber. I caught a glimpse of it before they loaded it up. It had a picture of a pinup girl on the bomb with the phrase “Ready and ABLE” detailed onto its metallic shell.

I went out to the beach to watch the bomb drop. It’s not like I was given any further orders, so I figured it was O.K. to take the night off and watch the festivities. I found a steel chair prior to walking out to the beach to sit on. I unfolded it and sat down, beer in one hand and that classified manila folder in the other. I set my beer down and reached into my pocket and pulled out the only thing I still had from home. It was a little pocket radio I’d received from one of my friends back home after he lost it to me in a drinking game. He was a scientist who had just invented the thing.

He started hollering at me, “Dennis! Please, I’ll give you anything else you want! Just please not that! I’ve been working on it! It’s a prototype!”

Clearly I had no intent on giving it up. I set the little radio down on the sand and turned it up.

The man on the radio spoke, “And now here’s one for my boys off shore tonight at Bikini. This one’s for you.”

The song began to play. “I went to the crossroad, fell down on my knees. I went to the crossroad, fell down on my knees. Asked the Lord above, ‘Have mercy, now. Save poor Bob, if you please.’” The song was muffled out by the quad engine B-29 screaming overhead. Curious for one last look, I opened the manila folder. Flipping through the report, I found a page I hadn’t happened upon before. It read simply in big bold letters, “Able. Explosive power equivalent: 21 kT of TNT. Blast Radius: Unknown, Nuclear Fallout Possible.”

I closed the folder and grabbed my beer. The plane had finally reached the drop zone.

As the bomb dropped, the song concluded: “You can run, you can run, tell my friend-boy Willie Brown. You can run, you can run, tell my friend-boy Willie Brown. Lord, that I’m standin’ at the crossroad, babe. I believe I’m sinkin’ down…”