Given the history of nuclear proliferation throughout the 20th century, it seems like a miracle that only two atomic bombs were ever deployed against the human population. And, it turns out, it really was a very lucky break.
There is one part of atomic history that hasn’t made the history books. Throughout the Cold War, the U.S. dropped several atomic bombs on unsuspecting people below, bombs that were multiple times more powerful than those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. Rather than being acts of extreme aggression, these “broken arrows” as they became known, were pure accidents, explosive “oopsies” committed by the U.S. military against mostly U.S. citizens. In what has been hailed as either luck or very proficient engineering of safety devices, none of the nuclear components on the falling bombs actually detonated.
It’s a near miss that one family in South Carolina was intimately familiar with. On the afternoon of Tuesday, March 11, 1958, the Gregg family was going about their business—kids playing in the yard, parents puttering around the house—when a malfunction in a B-47 flying overhead caused the nuclear bomb on board to drop out of the cargo hold and onto their Mars Bluff backyard. Miraculously, the only lives lost that day were those of the family’s free roaming chickens.