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Not Stories. Experiences
There was a magnificent blast. A shockwave rippled across the land, felt for miles around. It was August 9th, 1945, and “Little Boy” was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. Three days later the U.S. dropped another nuclear bomb. It was “Fat Man,” dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. The war in Japan was ended with these two weapons.
Eight years later, standing in a foxhole about waist high, stood Staff Sergeant Joe Lejeune of the USMC. He sat out there in the deserts of Nevada, at Frenchman Flats. There was a magnificent blast. A shockwave rippled across the land, felt for miles around. My Uncle Joe had just witnessed an atomic bomb test blast.
“This experience,” he said, “was like none other. There was the blast with the mushroom cloud rising, and in a little bit came the shockwave. It was an amazing force pushing back on me. After the shockwave, there was what felt like a hand gently pushing on my back, just strong enough to push me forward He was experiencing the repercussion, and about the whole experience he declares “Wow!”
I became interested in how my Uncle Joe became involved in something so great.
He told me that the men chosen for this operation were the best, “The armed services have a grading system for proficiency and conduct: 9.0 is maximum in proficiency, and 5.0 is max in conduct. Everyone chosen were 9.0, and 5.0 people. They assigned the best, for one basic reason. We would follow orders, and we would keep our mouths shut because we were cleared for top secret…we could be trusted.”
Joe Lejeune was born in April 1931, during the Great Depression. He grew up in the country on a rice farm. The farm’s main cash crops were rice and cotton. The family grew everything they ate. The fruits and vegetables were grown in a garden about the size of a city lot. They traveled by horse and carriage, having no automobiles.
My Uncle Joe’s parents were both born in 1906, and their first language was French. They had the equivalent of about a second-grade education. They were self-sufficient though. His parents had seven children, 2 girls and 5 boys. Uncle Joe’s father was Cajun and held many jobs in his life. He was a rice and cotton farmer, a blacksmith, a carpenter, and retired from working in the oil fields. His mother came from a German family. She was a midwife for the people in the area. Uncle Joe came from a family that had to work for what they needed or wanted and he knew how to do that.
At an early age my Uncle Joe had headed into the fields on his family’s farm. He would work from early in the morning to late in the evening. He and his family had to do everything by hand, and it took all day long to do what a combine could do in a few hours. Even all the way up through high school he had to do this.
In high school his life began to change. He was able to get out of the field every now and then. He did this by playing basketball for his high school team. This was one thing he truly loved to do. He was able to play basketball throughout high school. After he graduated, he went on to college. He attended Louisiana College in Pineville, Louisiana. While there he played basketball.
At the end of his sophomore year in college, Uncle Joe decided to join the National Guard. He wanted to make a contribution to his nation. In 1951 he was finally able to join the Marines, something he had wanted to do for a long time. Within two to three months he was promoted to staff sergeant because he could listen and was well disciplined. All this was during the Korean War, so there was always a chance he could be shipped off. Luckily, the war ended before he would have to go and fight. His military intelligence and success then allowed him to become involved with atomic bomb testing.
It is one thing to read something in a book. It is completely different to actually hear something from someone who experienced an event first hand. I was awestruck to learn from my Uncle Joe. My Uncle Joe told me, “You know, I think it’s funny that you are interviewing me. I never thought of myself as a part of history.” This man has been more places and done more things than anyone I know. While I was growing up he has told me of many of his experiences. This is just one of many. Through talking with my Uncle Joe I was able to hear another event that he had experienced. I was also able to learn where this great man came from. My Uncle Joe is very important to me. He is one of my role models because I look up to him. He has played a major role in my life. I would have to say my Uncle Joe is a part of history. Like a book, he is full of stories. His stories are different. They actually occurred and he was able to experience them. He is truly historical.