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Witness to atomic history

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By Brian Garner

As a clean-cut young sailor of 22 years of age, Lando’s Harold Welsh Tadlock witnessed a chilling sight: the detonation of two atomic bombs at Bikini Atoll. Now 72 years later, he got a Quilt of Valor to keep him warm and thank him for his service.

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The Navy veteran’s memory wasn't what it once was, but he was interviewed for The N&R several years ago when he could remember the details of his service better.

He enlisted in 1942 and at the end of his enlistment, he was told that he would be participating in Operation Crossroads, the atomic bomb tests that took place in the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

He was an SSML, Ships Service Man (Laundry) on board USS Niagara when he and his shipmates witnessed the test of a 23-kiloton Able atomic bomb and a 21-kiloton Baker atomic bomb. The mushroom cloud from “Baker” is what everyone thinks of and what most images are drawn from when they think of an atomic bomb blast. The USS Niagara was used as a target ship for the bomb tests and was placed 3,318 yards from what the Navy called ground zero for the Able bomb test.

The men from the Niagara boarded USS Bayfield, a destroyer that was used to house sailors whose ship was used as a target during the tests. The Bayfield rode at anchor 22 miles away from the explosion. The sailors were instructed they could look at the explosion only for a few seconds before their officers ordered them to turn their heads.

"You could still see the flash from the explosion and the clouds after the bomb went off," he told The N&R in 2008.

On July 25, the second test, Baker, was a 21-kiloton nuclear weapon detonated under water. The Niagara was positioned 3,060 yards away from ground zero. The Niagara men boarded the Bayfield, which was positioned 12 miles away from ground zero.

Following those tests, Harold Tadlock was given the option of sailing to China for 18 weeks aboard the Niagara, or completing his enlistment and going home. He chose home.

He returned to the house in Lando where he is today. The walls are full of memorabilia and photographs from his time in the Navy and his observance of the atomic bomb tests.

On one wall is a painting by Fred McCall that depicts the Baker atomic bomb blast. In one corner is a portrait of Tadlock as he looked as a post WWII SSML 2nd Class. A plaque affixed to the painting reads: Bikini Atomic Bomb Blast

            July 25, 1946

            Fireball Flash 6,000 Up

            Cloud Cover 10 Sq. Miles

            Lagoon 33 Ft. Deep 2000 Ft. Area

           Harold W. Tadlock, SSML 2nd Class

Harold Tadlock will be 94-years-old on Thursday. In a special ceremony on Tuesday, Harvey and Lin Mayhill with the local Quilts of Valor Foundation awarded him with his Quilt, an award that Harvey Mayhill termed “the highest award a civilian can present to a veteran in thanks for their service.”

During the ceremony, Tadlock was surrounded by his family, his daughter Patty Harrelson, granddaughter Heather Land, niece Diane Branch, and great-granddaughters Haven, 3 and Holland, 2.

They crowded around Harold as the Quilt of Valor was wrapped around him and as pastor the Rev. Jim McClure blessed the Quilt, they all placed their hands on it.

Mayhill told Tadlock the Quilt was his, to pass on to his daughter and granddaughter, but he hoped that he would use the Quilt and be comfortable with it, not just sit it on a shelf. A lady in the Rock Hill Quilts of Valor Foundation chapter assembled the Quilt.

As the visitors began to depart, one of them walked up to Harold Tadlock, comfortable now under his Quilt of Valor in his favorite recliner, shook his hand and said “Carry on, sailor!” to which he replied (as was customary) “Aye, aye!”

A WWII veteran and witness to atomic history, Harold Tadlock continues his watch.