My dad once told me I was alive because of the atomic bomb. He was slated to be in the first wave of the invasion of Japan, as commander of an artillery battery; his unit would have been put ashore on landing craft that would be beached, with one 8″ howitzer per craft, with orders to fire until killed. There was no other way, the planners thought, to get close artillery support on the beach during the initial wave. So, when the atomic bomb caused Japan to surrender and the invasion was cancelled, he came home, alive and well and ready to start a family.
Nine years later I was born (after three older sisters). I grew up in the height of the Cold War, with the threat of nuclear bombs and missiles just over the horizon. Somewhere around the age of 7 or 8, I became aware that one of our neighbors had something called a “fallout shelter”. I didn’t really know what it was – these weren’t people I knew, they had no kids my age, so I never went to their house, and I never saw the shelter. This being the early 1960s, however, most of the houses in my neighborhood had carports instead of garages, and we could see through the carport into the backyard. And there, behind their patio, we could see the brick structure that was the entrance, with a ladder descending into the ground. I have no idea what it was like inside. We thought these people were “rich”, because their house was bigger than most on the street, but I now know that it was just another solidly middle-class home. No houses in our area had basements – basements were, and still are, essentially unknown in Mississippi. So this was separate from the house, and probably not large at all – something like this: