Writer  |  Soldier  |  Pilot

Roxbury's First Bomb Shelter (and only bomb shelter)

In 1945 the U.S. unleashed the world’s first nuclear bombs to end WW II.  These were atomic bombs.  In addition to the massive destruction of the explosions, additional human damage was caused by the radioactive dust resulting in radiation injury.  Thus, this weapon had two methods of killing and maiming people.  The explosion and then the radioactive dust created by the explosion.  But this bomb was created in the U.S. and in secret.  No one else had it.

This changed in 1949, when Russia tested its own nuclear weapons.  Additionally, Russia and the U.S. were not friendly.  Thus began the nuclear war scare that crazed the world.  By early 1951, the U.S. created the Federal Civil Defense Administration, which by 1955 was advocating home fallout shelters, throughout our country.

By mid-1950 I was a 13-year-old boy with a highly active mind.  On 25 June 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea and the United Nations responded.  Less than five years after WW II ended, the U.S. again was fighting another war.  I was aware of the Cold War because the ideologies of Russia and the U.S. differed and now each was a super-power due to its nuclear weapons.  Add to this mix an active war between communism and democracy.

The way I saw things going, my family needed protection.  While I was too young to fight in Korea, I could do something else to protect my family: build a bomb shelter.  I needed a plan (readily obtained), building materials (not easily obtained), and I needed muscle, labor.

My plan was to dig a hole about fifteen feet on each side, about 8 to 10 feet deep.  I do not know why but may parents agreed I could do that at the far south end of our property.  The trees and field (covered with low brush) would completely hide the project from our house.  The bomb shelter would be about fifty yards from the Colemans’ front yard, across the road, yet still fairly hidden by brush.

I convinced my best friend, John Jaeger, to become my partner in this project, despite him living several miles away.  Now, I needed to find the building materials.  Nearby, on Apple Lane (which crossed next to the north end of our property) was the Bernhardt dairy farm.  The manager of the farm, Sanford Smith, was tearing down an old outbuilding, which I learned about.  Hopping on my bike, I went to the farm.  I convinced Mr. Smith that I wanted the wood from the torn-down building and my parents okayed me having the scrap lumber.  Arrangements were made for him to truck all the wood to my bomb shelter.  I know each of us believed we got the best of the deal.  The proposed bomb shelter was much closer than the town dump and I would get all the lumber I needed for the shelter.  The lumber would be delivered upon conclusion of the structure being torn down.  Several weeks away.

The plan was relatively simple.  First was to dig a deep hole.  Next was to use the lumber to construct a building in the hole with a cellar-like set of stairs leading into the shelter.  Finally, cover up everything up with dirt.  And until the bombs began falling around Roxbury, I would possess the neatest hideout any boy could ever desire.

Unfortunately, my plan developed holes, seriously big holes.

John and I began by deciding exactly where the bomb shelter would be.  After measuring where the hole would be dug, the shovel work started.  The name of the town should be the first hint of my troubles.  Roxbury is made of rocks.  That is why all the walls are of stone rather than wood or iron.  We started by digging a trench around the exterior perimeter to outline our hole.

Today kids work out with weights but in the early 1950s, we did hard labor.  We did not need barbells or dumbbells, just Roxbury earth and shovels.  It took a few weeks to just get down a foot.  By then John recognized that spending days, getting callused hands, digging a hole in Bob’s field was not a productive use of his time.  He lived far enough away to tell me (over and over); he could not come today as his parents could not give him a ride.  First the rocky ground, then John’s quitting.

I was probably down a couple of feet when the used lumber arrived.  I was not around but I had shown Mr. Smith where to place the wood so one day I came home from school and a huge pile of wood was stacked, neatly, next to my hole.  Now I encountered my third problem.  Every inch of lumber was rotten.  It was not even good enough for kindling for the fireplace.

Over the next few months, I was able to get down to almost four feet.  I must say it was an impressive hole.  I was proud of what I had accomplished but for what?  My parents were not pleased to have a pile of rotten lumber which could (and did) attract snakes (Copperheads in Roxbury were attracted to large piles of old wood).  Eventually the climate and time helped the old wood return to earth.  The sides of the hole slowly caved in and eventually (after a few years) my square, four-foot-deep hole became an awkward depression in the ground.

Today, a satellite image of the field, reveals no depression.  The area is filled with trees.  I can still recall the work I dedicated to Roxbury’s first bomb shelter and the large hole that served no useful purpose.  Thanks to John Coleman for reminding me of my unfilled dream of long ago.