United States Army
Harry Holowach is proud to say that his service in the United States Army should be remembered as “a bit of patriotism.” As it is with the vast majority of those who serve our country, a little bit of patriotism is the amount needed by all young men and women who realize how valuable and special is their service. This is true for those who have served, who are serving, and who will serve in the future.
As the youngest of a family of ten children, Harry saw three of his brothers off to the front during World War II. Two of the brothers would serve in the European Theatre of Operations opposing the forces of the Thousand Year Reich. The third brother would spend his time in the South Pacific in the struggle against the forces of Imperial Japan. In the struggle against Japan, this brother would be stationed on the island of Tinian where the American Air Forces would launch their final attacks on Japan with high explosives, fire bombs and two B-29 bombers, Enola Gay and Bockscar. These planes delivered the only two atomic weapons possessed by the United States. This ended the holdout of the Japanese and forced their unconditional surrender in September 1945.
Harry himself graduated from high school in 1950, and remembers well his Social Studies teacher speaking of the need to meet and defeat the communist North Koreans. With the blessings of the Soviets and the Red Chinese, Kim Ill Sung, leader of North Korea, invaded the southern part of that divided country in an effort to wrest the entire peninsula from the Americans who were safeguarding the freedom of that struggling democracy. With a sense of urgency, the call for volunteers came to Harry and his buddies. Rather than face the unknown, they joined the Army before their draft notice came.
Basic training took place at Ft. Gordon, Georgia, near the town of Augusta at a time when the Army was slowly complying with the order of President Truman to totally integrate the Armed Forces. Private Holowach was appalled by the obvious segregation that he witnessed.
Basic training passed without incident as did his specialty training as a Military Policeman, or MP. Harry was waiting for his orders to Korea when he was interviewed for another unspecified assignment. Among other things, Harry was grilled about his patriotism. Later he would understand that this interview and questioning led to a secret clearance. This became apparent when he was home on leave a few months later.
Harry had been selected for an undefined assignment, given a 30 day leave for home, and then ordered to report to Camp Stoneman in the San Francisco Bay area to join what was being called Joint Task Force 132. While home his mother asked about his behavior because she did not understand why the FBI was questioning the neighbors as well as school and social acquaintances about Harry.
From California, Harry and some of his fellow MP’s flew to Hawaii where they were confined to base and issued the tropical MP uniform. After the short stay in Hawaii, Harry was flown to the Marshall Island group in the Pacific and posted to the Eniwetok Atoll to conduct patrols of the islands. What Harry did not realize was that the United States was staging more than 11,000 military and civilian personnel in preparation for a leap into the unknown. Warfare, and indeed all humanity, would be changed because of the mathematical computations of one Stanislaw Ulam and the secret work of the noted physicist, Edward Teller.
Life on the atoll was not hard. Patrols were done on foot, by jeep and, as needed, by amphibious vehicle from island to island. For the most part Eniwetok was flat due to construction of a long runway and airfield to support the ongoing operations in the area. After six months of patrolling, Harry was provided a short R&R (Rest and Recuperation) back to Hawaii with strict instructions NOT to say a word about who he was, where he was stationed, or anything that might give away the project.
After an uneventful R&R, Harry returned to Eniwetok, and, in his words, “Things began to hop.” The patrols were intensified, and air cover and patrols were provided over the island group on a 24 hour, seven day a week schedule. Traffic in and out of the airfield went at a break neck pace and OPERATION IVY, as the project was named, was rapidly coming to an explosive conclusion. During this period, the “scuttlebutt” among the men was that there was to be denotation of a device called the H-Bomb. No one had any inkling what an H-Bomb was or what it was supposed to do–and in many ways, that included the scientists.
On the island of Elugelab, preparations were underway for the denotation of a hydrogen fuel that required a containment vessel 20 feet in length. The hydrogen fuel contained liquid deuterium which was required to keep the hydrogen below its boiling point, an incredible -417.37 degrees Fahrenheit. This initial test of a hydrogen fuel explosion was code named MIKE. The bomb was so large that a balcony had to be constructed so that workers could view the entire drawing as they labored to complete the device. The building constructed to house the bomb was six stories high. A tunnel over two miles in length extended from under the island to another island. The tunnel was packed with helium balloons which provided scientists with vital data on the progress of the fusion reaction.
A small fleet of ships steamed to a point about 25 miles away from the condemned island of Elugelab. Harry found himself aboard a Kaiser Shipyards vessel, the General E.T. Collins. Aboard the troop ship, all personnel were invited to witness the explosion and were instructed to wear the eye protection provided which, Harry stated, would block out the noon day sun in the Pacific Ocean. The men were ordered to secure their eye wear as the countdown neared zero, and the “gadget”, called MIKE, was triggered to life from the control ship Estes, stationed 30 miles from ground zero.
There are no words in the English language to describe the horror these men witnessed. Most of them could not understand what they had just seen. The fireball extinguished after reaching over 11 miles into the atmosphere. The cloud from the explosion reached out more than 100 miles from the crater that had been Elugelab Island. Harry explained that he saw more destructive
power while standing aboard the Collins than was ever expended in all the explosions previously unleashed upon earth. (Source: www.nuclearweaponarchive.org)
Within days following the test, Harry was back on Eniwetok and back to patrolling. The patrols were few and nowhere near as intensive as before the bomb blast. In a few weeks, Harry was ordered from island patrol to escort a U. S. Senator, among a group of congressmen and other dignitaries, to the islands to witness yet another explosion. This test was to be of an atomic bomb dropped from a B-36 bomber. Code named KING; it was designed to be an air burst denotation.
Before the test, protective eye covering was issued. Loud speakers had been erected to keep the assembled guests and other personnel apprised of the progress, to warn of the explosion, and to count it down, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1… The Congressional delegation was in awe at the destruction and power of the explosion of the atomic bomb. They returned to Washington with sufficient impetus to work for funding further nuclear weapons research.
After shepherding the Congressional delegation, Harry was detailed back to Eniwetok, and was patrolling when Typhoon Hester struck the island. Over 1,500 personnel were stranded on the island because the Navy determined they would lose many men and ships if they tried to rescue the troops on Eniwetok. Winds approaching 100 miles an hour raged across the island and the great waters of the Pacific covered the entire island to a depth of nearly three feet. “There was only water”, Harry recalls. As awesome as the manmade explosion was, it did not come close to the power of the typhoon.
In January 1953, Harry was separated from Joint Task Force 132 and sent back to the United States for the completion of his third year of enlistment. He was posted to Fort Niagara, New York and completed his service one year later, January 17, 1954.
Harry’s return to civilian life included study and graduation from Rutgers University and a career in the public school system as educator, coach and administrator. He married and had two sons one of whom became a Naval Officer aboard a nuclear attack submarine.
Harry had been a witness to history, a history so fearful and strange that few men or women understood what was going on. The physicist Herbert York stated:
“…the world suddenly shifted from the path it had been on to a more dangerous one. Fission (atomic) bombs, destructive as they might have been, were thought of [as] being limited in power. Now, it seemed we had learned how to brush even these limits aside and to build bombs whose power was boundless.”
~ J. LEE HARLOWE