Duck and Cover, Kids!

December 14, 2011

in Civil Defense

Yes, we did.

Did we think ducking under our desks would save us from a nuclear attack? No, we didn’t. But, teachers had students all over the east coast crawling under their desks and placing both hands on the back of their heads.

By 1962, even elementary school children had seen footage of the terrible devastation of bombing attacks on Germany during World War II, as well as images of the horrific aftermath of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And we knew we were dealing with nuclear weapons.

The decade of the 1950’s and the increasing threat of the Cold War renewed the efforts toward Civil Defense established during World War II to the forefront of public policy one more. On October 6, 1961 President Kennedy gave a television address urging civilians to build private bomb shelters. (When we were shopping for a new home in 1996, we viewed a Winter Park, Florida house that had a bomb shelter, which was being used a wine cellar.) Public buildings were reinforced as well.

In the E. Lynne Wright’s book, It Happened in Florida, she documents the preparations many Florida schools made to protect students and care for them in the event of attack, including offering dog tags for students as well as storing provisions such as food, water and blankets in the classrooms.

In the chapter October 9, 1962 Melanie describes both the duck and cover drills and a bomb evacuation drill. I experienced those same evacuation drills. While the thought of undergoing a missile attack was terrifying, I think for many children the thought of being separated from their families during this time was even more frightening. I know it was for me.

We were so close to full on nuclear attack, but because cool heads prevailed and hard-hitting negotiations were effective, the preparations were not needed. Thank heavens. It was a frightening time, but certainly no less frightening than today. At least in 1962, the threat was from far away, from outside the walls of the school.

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