A polite woman sent me an email to correct something I wrote in last week’s column. I said that during an earthquake always remember to “duck and cover.” I should have said, “Drop, cover and hang on.”
“Drop” to your hands and knees so the earthquake can’t knock you down and injure you. Take “cover” under a strong table or desk. “Hang on” to the table or desk so if it moves you’ll move with it. I actually knew those instructions, but I probably wrote “duck and cover” because that was deeply implanted in my mind back in the “fallout shelter” days of the 1960s.
I bring this up to comfort my fellow Democrats and some Republicans. They seem to fear that our nation won’t survive the next four years with Donald Trump as president. But the United States has survived worse threats.
For example, in October 1961, President John F. Kennedy recommended that American families build fallout shelters. The United States and the Soviet Union were then snarling and growling menacingly at each other, and both had nuclear weapons.
When atomic bombs explode, they spew harmful radioactive particles, which fall over wide areas, potentially harming large populations. Officials hoped that some people could survive in fallout shelters.
But as I remember, there was little interest in building fallout shelters until October 1962. That was when an Air Force plane photographed Soviet ballistic missiles in nearby Cuba. The next 13 days were frightening and filled with deadly serious negotiations.
The result was an agreement. The United States publicly pledged to never again invade Cuba. The Soviet Union publicly pledged to remove its missiles from Cuba. The United States also secretly pledged to remove missiles it had installed in Turkey and Italy.
We were relieved. Somebody estimated that if one of the Soviet nuclear missiles had exploded over Washington, D.C., it would have killed most of Washington’s 760,000 residents.
A hotline was installed between Washington and Moscow, and relations improved. But we Americans still got more serious about fallout shelters. Cities built some. Underground family-sized fallout shelters were installed in backyards. Some were on sale in shopping-center parking lots. School kids held “duck and cover” drills.
Writers even encouraged us to turn the halls in our houses into fallout shelters.
I said, “Why not?” It might give us some protection if the nuclear bombs landed no closer than the Vandenberg Air Force Base. So in 1963 or ’64, Mamie and I stocked the hall closet of our Sherwood Acres house in Paso Robles with food, water, blankets and tools.
It stayed that way until well into the 1970s. We called that closet the “fallout shelter.” We took it half seriously. I hope we never have to take Trump even that seriously.
Phil Dirkx’s column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Paso Robles for more than five decades, and his column appears here every week. Reach Dirkx at 805-238-2372 or firstname.lastname@example.org.