Nukes in North Carolina?

This morning, at breakfast, I discovered that two hydrogen bombs were ACCIDENTALLY dropped on a village in North Carolina about 60 miles from where I live now. Granted, this happened in 1961, but it’s still disconcerting — especially since some of the uranium is still unaccounted for.

In today’s world, simple questions can lead to amazing learning opportunities.  Case in point: this morning at breakfast, my son and I were looking at his place mat — it’s a map of the US:

When I looked at North Carolina, I saw that there are a few cities big enough to make the place mat that I’ve not yet visited — one is Goldsboro:

I knew very little about Goldsboro before this morning.  But I have curiosity and I have an iPhone — a powerful combination.  A few moments later, I was on the Wikipedia page for Goldsboro, where I learned some chilling information.

First, some context — here’s why Goldsboro grew after World War II:

The Seymour Johnson Air Force Base opened on the outskirts of Goldsboro in April 1942. From this point on, much of the city’s population and businesses increased as a result of the airbase’s presence.

Okay, that makes sense.

But as I read on about Goldsboro’s history, I came to the chilling part:

In 1961, two hydrogen bombs were dropped accidentally on the village of Faro, 12 miles north of Goldsboro after a B-52 aircraft broke up in mid air. The two Mark39 weapons were released after the crew abandoned a B-52 bomber which had suffered mid-flight structural failure. Both bombs went through several steps in the arming sequence, but neither one detonated.[5] One bomb was recovered. Although much of the second bomb was also recovered, a missing piece containing uranium was believed to have sank deep into the soft, swampy earth and could not be recovered. The piece remains in land that the Air Force eventually purchased in order to prevent any land use or digging[6].

Woah!  Roughly an hour away from where I live, two hydrogen bombs were accidentally dropped on Faro, a village right near Goldsboro??

I clicked on that little number 6 in the Wikipedia article, to get the source document (your students know you can do that with Wikipedia, right?), and I was brought to this UNC history website, which provides more of the details.  Most frighteningly, and this is a quote:

In a 1983 statement, Robert McNamara, then Secretary of Defense, admitted that when the parachute-less bomb was found, its arming mechanism had accidentally gone through all but one of the seven steps toward detonation.

I am sufficiently freaked out by this discovery that I will not soon forget Goldsboro or the village of Faro 🙂

Students (and teachers) at Triangle Learning Community middle school (TLC for short) will regularly use Google Earth to record the interesting things we learn about in the world.

As a future teacher learning facilitator at TLC, I made a place mark for the village of Faro, using Google Earth.  Here’s a 3-minute video that shows how I made the place mark:

The world is a fascinating place.  If school were in session, and I had learned about this incident with middle school students, I wonder what additional questions they might have had — about Cold War politics, nuclear weapons, or other related topics. The beauty of taking two hours to discuss the world each morning is that there’s room to help students gain more context about the world in which they live (click for a link to the class I’m teaching this fall).

I’m excited to explore the world on a regular basis with middle school students, who I’m sure will come up with questions even more interesting than “what’s in Goldsboro?” — a simple question that resulted in a troubling morning discovery.


About Steve Goldberg

I teach students at Research Triangle High School (RTHS) about US History. RTHS is a public charter school in Durham, NC, whose mission is to incubate, prove and scale innovative models of teaching and learning. The blog posts here reflect my own personal views and not those of my employer.
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