by Walt Gable, Seneca County Historian
Originally published in TheReveille Between the Lakes
Many of the readers of this article attended one or more of the public programs in 2011 celebrating 70 Years of the Seneca Army Depot. If you did, then you learned the local historians that planned this special program series said they intended to publish a book containing the research done for those programs. It is my pleasure to say a nation-wide book publisher has agreed to publish our book. The book should be available as early as November.
The book will trace the history of the depot area from just before 1941 right up to the present. The interviews of many different people will be included with the book. To give you some idea of the wonderful insights into the depot’s history that is contained in those interviews, this article focuses on three stories from the John Stahl interview.
Stahl worked at the depot from 1943 until 1972. One of his stories dealt with the depot’s role in the development of the atomic bomb – the Manhattan Project. The following is quoted from his interview:
As a fork-lift truck operator, he got dispatched to an igloo where they were handling boxes marked “Manhattan Project.” He and his fellow workers were wondering at the time why there was something that belonged in Manhattan being stored at the depot. “I got dispatched to the LCL (less than carload lots) where I operated a tractor trailer and a lift truck. There was one box car there – they opened the car and the only thing in that car was a drum in the corner – packed in anti-freeze. There were specific instructions how that drum was to be handled.”
When the drum was out on the platform, all the “big wheels” had to come down from the office to see that drum. The drum was put on his trailer and put in a little igloo down in A area. There were two small igloos down there. He couldn’t take the drum down to that igloo until he had a guard escort. The “wheels” followed us down to make sure the drum was handled in a certain way.” When the news reported about the Manhattan Project, John and his fellow workers could put together what that drum was.
Another story he tells gives us some insight into the nuclear weapons supplies that went from the Seneca Army Depot to Europe, especially during the Persian Gulf War. The following is quoted from his interview:
On another occasion, after AEC was no longer at the depot, sometime after a flight had left the depot as part of the regular shipments from the depot, I got a phone call from the aircraft commander. He told the plane was out over the ocean and had been struck by lightning. The pilot was coming back to the depot airstrip because he didn’t know if there was any damage to the items he was carrying.
The items were removed from the plane and taken elsewhere in the depot for inspection. New replacement items were put on the plane and the pilot left.
This incident also helps to illustrate much of my work involved things happening off the depot premises – shipping overseas, etc. “You had different things to think about.” (Based on the context of the interview, the items on that plane were in all probability nuclear weapons.)
One last story from his interview helps us to understand just how close we came to nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The following is quoted from his interview:
Then he got involved in the Cuban Missile Crisis. About four of us knew where the missiles were. One of us four was on call 24/7. We had a good idea when the missiles were moved into Cuba where they could be targeted to hit in U.S. He knew where plans (for U.S. missile retaliation or strike) were located on the depot so he could go get them if necessary. “It was part of the job; that’s what I did. You got used to it.”
There are several other stories in Stahl’s lengthy interview, as well as the over one dozen other interviews that were conducted last year by different local historians. These interviews will be a splendid addition to the more formally researched articles in the book.
To receive information about acquiring the book when it becomes available, contact Seneca County Historian Walter Gable, 1 DiPronio Drive, Waterloo, NY 13165; email@example.com; or (315) 539-1785.
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