Date: Fri, 1 Apr 2005 16:04:14 +0100 (BST)
From: daniel wilson <>
Subject: Re: USS Curtiss Carried Nuclear Weapons
To: Francis Ridge, Coordinator, Nuclear Connection Project <>

The USS Curtiss was carrying the nuclear devices/weapons.
Let Leroy Peffer tell you. He probably is the best "expert" on the USS Curtiss that I know. Have been corresponding with Leroy for a couple years now, a real nice old man. 

Operation Castle
Wigwam, Redwing, and Hardtack

US Atomic Veterans

Leroy Peffer

Update: November 27, 1999. LeRoy sent his Certificates of Participation for Operations Castle, Wigwam, Redwing and Hardtack. Click on the pictures for a larger view. Leroy Peffer sent the following email about his participation during the atomic tests. Our telephone conversation follows. My comments and questions are in italics.

Date: Tue, 7 Apr 1998
Subject: atomic tests.

Dear Sir. I was on the U.S.S.Curtiss A.V.4 for Operations Castle 1954, Wigwam 1955, Redwing 1956 . After Operation Redwing the Curtiss was put out of commission at Long Beach shipyard. I was transfered to the 7.3 Boat pool and was on Operation Hardtack.

I was wondering how I could get my name on the rolls of the atomic veterans? Hope you can help.

LeRoy D. Peffer U.S.N. Ret.
Bermerton, Wa.

Thank you

Telephone conversation begins:

Hi Keith,

I was looking up different things on the computer and got your website and email. I knew there was a group of atomic veterans someplace but I couldn't ever get in touch with them. So at any rate I wanted to get on the records as being there for the family's sake as the years go on, they can look back and say there is great great grandpa, you know what I'm saying?

You seem to have a lot more experience than most atomic veterans.

The way it happened, the way I got in on all the operations... I was on an aircraft carrier and my enlistment was about up and I refused to enlist on the carrier. So they had to transfer me, of course, and they transfered me to the Curtiss. That was around 1953, I don't remember exactly. But the USS Curtiss was going to be put out of commission by the US Navy, this was before I went aboard. The Atomic Energy Commission the (AEC) bought the Curtiss from the Navy. They refurbished it and the Curtiss was a seaplane tender and it had those big cranes on it so they could lift the seaplanes aboard and they had a big hanger deck. And below decks they had all the spaces the airdales had for the aircraft parts.

The AEC refurbished it and they air-conditioned all the spaces below the hanger deck. We had an elevator in there so we could hoist the bombs on deck and they could run them in the hanger and take them down and store them below.

What port did they load the bombs onto the Curtiss?

We operated out of San Diego and to my knowledge that was the point of origin of taking on the bombs.

Was the air-conditioning for the scientists or the bombs?

For the bombs, you don't air condition the ship for the crew. You air condition it for the equipment. I was an Electricians Mate and I was cleared for what they called a Queen Clearence, it's above top secret. It was established by the Atomic Energy Commission. They then lowered all the clearences to top secret. And for Operation Redwing I was cleared for top secret but for Castle and Wigwam I had a Queen clearence. That permitted me to go into the compartments where the bombs were at. You see, they needed ship's crew to be able to go in and work on anything that pertained to the ship in that compartment, electrical, the hull, so they had one man in each division on the ship that was cleared to go in there, and I happened to be in the electrical gang. I was First Class Electrical Mate at that time.

Did you actually see the bombs themselves?

I was in one compartment with one. They had a lighting problem, the ships lighting wasn't adequate so, I went in and did some electrical work, but I paid no attention to it. They had it covered. They had a Marine on the outside of the compartment hatch and one on the inside of the compartment hatch and when you went in, you showed your clearence and signed the ledger that you were going in and what you were going to do when you went in there. Then the Marine on the inside checked your clearence pass and then he permitted you to go ahead and work. When your work was done, you showed him your pass and then when you went outside you showed that Marine your pass, and signed the ledger showing you had completed your job.

The thing that tickled me was, we were sworn to secrecy but the scientists, the atomic physicists, they just blabbed and talked about it. If we had done that we would have been court-martialed. I was sworn to secrecy at the time I was retired even.

When you're assigned to a ship you go where the ship goes and we went out to Operation Castle. We were out there for I don't remember how many shots, it was several, they were just magnificent. Castle Certificate
Castle Certificate 1954. Photo from Leroy Peffer
Click on photo for a larger view.

The cloud itself was gorgeous, it was just pure white, whiter than snow, it would go up and then mushroom out at the top and it would roll, just a slow roll. It would open up, sections of it and there would be vivid colors like red and blues and purples and orange. It was just fantastic: the colors.

They detonated some big shots at Castle, what were your impressions? Did you have goggles on and were you up on the deck?

Yes, they issued goggles and we were to stand behind the gun shields, the 40mm gun shields, so we had some protection.

At Operation Castle, what stands out in your mind about that?

The massive damage that was done there. They would detonate a bomb on a barge. These barges were good size and there would be absolutely nothing there. It wouldn't just melt the steel, it would burn it to an ash and there would be big cavities in the ocean floor. Divers would go down and inspect the floor.

I remember this Dr. Ogle, he was one of the scientists we took over, he was the one who seemed most friendly and chatty, you would ask him and he would tell you anything you wanted to know. We all perceived him to be a heck of a fine fellow.

What was his job?

He was the head scientist of the operation.

I asked if he knew about the fallout from Castle Bravo.

I don't remember about that one, they kept quiet amongst the crew. They installed washdown systems on the ships that were out there. After the shots we would energize the washdown systems. They were like one huge dishwashing system and would wash all the particles off the ship. However we did find one coil of mooring line and it had 50 r of contamination and we were walking around that thing, not knowing it, until the monitors got up to it with Geiger counters and discovered it. They just picked up the line and threw it over the side.

One shot, I forgot which one, we took Life magazine photographers over to the area, and we had these big semi trailers that Life magazine had their equipment in and they took pictures and all that. Then they would have critiques in the wardroom of what went on and the scientists would stand up there in front of all those people and give them a big line of malarky. They snowed them people like you wouldn't believe. The guys in the crew didn't know all the details but we figured real quick the things they were telling the reporters wasn't all true.

At the Operation Wigwam, we were close enough, I think it was Wigwam, I had my hat blown off by the concussion. We were out of formation, now that might have been Hardtack, too.

I bet they're kind of hard to keep separate.

I feel we were used as guinea pigs cause they said we were out of formation. We weren't out of formation because of an accident. I believe it was because the skipper had orders to be in that position. That was at Operation Wigwam. I had to tear down to the generator flaps, to keep the generators on line. With out any steam, we were going round and round. I think that was the most spooky because, we were in a convoy with a bunch of other ships and if we lost steering we would have no control. We had a tough time with that one.

We were so close to one of the shots out there, it broke the deck plates loose in the engine room, it broke the bolts and it poped the safetys on the boilers, we were losing steam. Wigwam Certificate
Wigwam Certificate 1955. Photo from Leroy Peffer
Click on photo for a larger view.

After Operation Wigwam in 1955 which we talked about before. You went to Operation Redwing. You remember that one real well I bet.

For Redwing we carried some of the bombs, I don't remember how many. There were several shots. I don't remember how many shots there were in Redwing. It was fascinating and eerie, knowing all the destruction and power.

There were 17 detonations, some at Bikini and some at Eniwetok. I mentioned Bob Swart here in Oregon who was on the Curtiss and told Leroy to find his page in the Redwing section and he could email him. Bob remembered Shot Cherokee and saw the light right through his arms.

Thats true, all the shots I was on, I wore the glasses, I was cautious of my eyes. When they gave us glasses we maintained the glasses through the whole series. Even with those glasses which were stronger and darker than the glasses that the welders use. It seemed like daylight, everything was so plain and visible.

What do you remember about Redwing?

Well those shots were getting sort of passe with me. I expected a big explosion and stuff like that. We had no incidents that I recall that would warrent anything other than the awesomeness of the blasts in itself and the display of colors. Redwing Certificate
Redwing Certificate 1956. Photo from Leroy Peffer
Click on photo for a larger view.

After Operation Redwing, the Curtiss came back and the AEC decided they didn't want her any more so we put the Curtiss out of commission in Long Beach, Washington. Redwing Certificate
Redwing Certificate 1956. Photo from Leroy Peffer
Click on photo for a larger view.

Then I was transfered to the 7.3 Boat Pool, which was part of the operations all along too. I had three tug boats, four LCM's and twelve Mike boats, that I had the electrical repairs on. After the operation we came back to the states on the USS Montecello. That was an LSD, it one of those drydock ships, they sink the stern of it and fill it full of water you can run the small boats like the small tug boats and Mike boats up into it and then they close the stern and pump the water out of it and it raises it up high and dry like a drydock. She was fairly new too. By this time I'd made Chief.

There were a lot of shots fired at Hardtack. Do you remember there being a lot of them?

It got to the point by this time, Keith, some of us never even bothered to go topside to watch them. We had a choice, we could stay below or do whatever we wanted to do. After a while it got to be Old Hat, something we just got to expect. Hardtack Certificate
Hardtack Certificate 1958. Photo from Leroy Peffer
Click on photo for a larger view.

That's just amazing, I've heard that before but it's amazing that you could get used to it.

After that I put in for shore duty and got it in Kingston, Washington. I got my shore duty in and retired from the Navy in 61. Then I went to work in the ship yard and worked there 17 years. I've been retired from the ship yard for 20 years.

How's your health?

Well I've had cancer of the colon. I went in for the pre-operation physical and heard the doctor say they aren't going to do anything to you till I get done with you. I asked him what was the matter with me? He said I had a 100% blockage, a 90% blockage and a 70% blockage.

Were you feeling pretty bad then?

I had no symtoms, absolutely no symtoms whatever. I didn't even know I had cancer. We talked a bit about the operations and his care at Madigan Hospital in Ft. Lewis. They're a fantastic group. That's only been a couple of years ago.

My wife passed away two years ago this May. It was after her death that all this took place. Outside of that I'm in outstanding health. I feel good, I'm bald as a cucumber and I'm the only bald headed one in the family. I don't know if I can lay that on the atomic tests or not.

So, Leroy, what do your friends think when you tell them all this?

I don't know what they think. They don't have too much to say about it. They seem to be more interested in my war survivals. I'm a survivor of Pearl Harbor.

Oh are you?

I was on a ship tied alongside the Arizona when she blew. I watched her blow. I've got Pearl Harbor plates on my motor home. After surviving Pearl Harbor, I survived World War II and Korea.

Where were you in WW II?

We were in the Pacific, we chased the Japanese all over the place there. Then after the Korean War, I survived 4 years of the atomic tests out there in the Pacific. Then I figured, by golly them people are trying to kill me, I better get out of here.

What kind of ship were you on in WW II?

I was on 5 ships during my navy career. The first ship I was on, the one at Pearl Harbor was a repair ship the USS Vestal AR 4. We were outside the continental limits of the United States for 33 months. That was in 44 and I was sent home on 10 days leave, and I had to report in to Tacoma after my leave was up. Then I caught an APA and we made the invasion of Iwo Jima. I watched those Marines raise the flag on Mt. Sarabatche.

We finished up our conversation and made a deal for him to have all the videos on Castle, Wigwam, Redwing and Hardtack.

Keith Whittle
May 1, 1998


Keith Whittle
May 1, 1998

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Note: I think where the bombs were loaded was very top secret. Leroy says the bombs were probably loaded at San Diego. Documents show that at least for Operation Ivy and Operation Castle the Bombs were loaded at San Francisco.   Danny...

Francis Ridge <> wrote:
Was the Curtiss carrying nuclear components or just part of the task force?