In case of a nuclear attack – I’m ready. Really!
Sister Virginia and Sister Boniface drilled us once a month back in the 1950s when I was a student at St. Agnes Academy in western Nebraska. Sister Virginia was principal and Sister Boniface was our sixth grade teacher. Both took the nuclear threat from Communist Russia very seriously.
Every few months – we never knew when – Sister Virginia would announce the CONELRAD Alert over St. Agnes’ ancient, scratchy intercom and all 13 classes, Kindergarten through twelfth grade, would hit the floor, crouching under our desks.
Well, I didn’t. I was the safety monitor for our class so, while my 24 classmates crawled under their desks (yes, there were only 25 in my Class of 1966), I fulfilled my safety monitor duty of grabbing a huge pole and pulling down the darkening window shades installed in our classroom’s 10-foot-tall windows.
Then I hit the floor under my desk.
And we waited for nuclear annihilation from Communist Russia.
The memory of all us little kids hunkering down under our desks 60 years ago (it’s hard to believe, isn’t it?) came rushing back to me when I heard about the emergency alert Hawaiians got on Jan. 13 that a North Korean missile was headed their way.
I could close my eyes and actually see Sister Virginia making the announcement, the blare of the city siren, my classmates hitting the floor, people all over the city preparing for the attack. I don’t know about anybody else, but I was scared.
Hawaiians, it turns out, were scared, too, but they weren’t prepared.
We sure were. Bomb shelters, stacks of canned goods, periodic citywide drills. Again, I don’t know about anybody else but, in western Nebraska in the 1950s, we took our drills seriously.
For anyone under the age of 60 who has never heard of CONELRAD, here’s a quick history lesson. Good ol’ Harry Truman set up the CONELRAD Alert when he was president. It had one purpose – to warn us of an enemy attack from Communist Russia.
So, what did CONELRAD stand for? I had to Google it because I didn’t know. All-knowing Google knew: CONtrol of ELectromagnetic RADiation.
As terrifying as a CONELRAD alert was to an impressionable 10-year-old, I will have to admit that certainly created a true community feeling in my little hometown, much the same way that Horrible Harvey was for our own Lake Houston.
With the San Jac rising around us, I met neighbors for the first time who’d lived on our cul-de-sac for 30 years …THIRTY YEARS. I think ol’ Harvey taught all of us two lessons – buy flood insurance even if you don’t think you live in a flood plain and get to know those unfamiliar people you see up and down your street. When disaster strikes, it’s a lot easier to knock on the door of someone you already know.
And I guess that’s what seemed so strange about this phony North Korean attack on Hawaii. Hawaiians didn’t seem to know what to do. Most of the rest of Americans didn’t know what to do either.
But, I promise you, if they were alive today, Sister Virginia and Sister Boniface would know exactly how to protect a couple hundred kids in a little Catholic school in western Nebraska.