We’re continuing our series looking back at the life of Eileen Horner Blakely, who died December 30th at the age of 96.
Eileen was positioned in the Bureau of Ships as a “flying squadron,” or a temporary, so she was continually being moved from project to project. World War II ended in August 1945 and though the WAVES were originally supposed to be kept for duration plus six months, Eileen and others stayed on much longer.
In July 1946, Eileen was assigned to work on Operation Crossroads. This was a military mission to test nuclear weapons in the Marshall Islands. At that time very little was known about how nuclear weapons were created and Eileen remembers hearing terms such as “nuclear engineer” for the first time that summer.
She looks back at this project as one of the most exciting missions of her service. (To learn more about Operation Crossroads and the Bikini Atoll blast click here. To see a gallery of photos from Operation Crossroads click here.) She worked specifically with the USS Wharton, taking care of the paperwork and processing travel orders for the men assigned to this ship that would sail for Bikini Island. She was even able to wave goodbye to the ship when it left. The damaging effects of this nuclear testing were a difficult surprise for Eileen and she alludes to feeling some responsibility for the “mess” the men were sent into.
The USS Wharton (U.S. Navy photograph)
“I don’t know if any of them realized the power of the atom bomb. To the extent of what it became. Maybe the scientists themselves had an inkling, but I don’t know think they really knew.”