May 11, 1969 was Mother's Day. I am sure we attended church and later celebrated at our home in Arvada, Colorado. My brother would be celebrating his third birthday on May 14. And I was a month a away from being six.
On Sunday afternoons we typically played outside in the back yard. I remember my Mom had a clothesline that we had to avoid as we ran around. We also had a sandbox. At about 2:00 P.M. that day the worst nuclear accident in American history occurred at the Rocky Flats plant that was just West of our home.
Recent picture of my Mother in front of our old house in Arvada, Colorado (taken in 2012)
My mother has fought cancer for many years
Of course, we had no idea at the time. But a fire broke out in the plant and a stream of plutonium drifted over our neighborhood.
Pattern of the plutonium exposure
Our house was in the middle of the bright red area
Rocky Flats was a top secret nuclear trigger facility in the 1950s and 1960s. As such, most people were not even aware of the purpose of that facility. Even many workers had no idea what was done. This was at the height of the Cold War.
As this was all secret, the radiation leak was not made public. No evacuation occurred. And the government assured everyone that everything was under control. It was only later due to FBI investigations that the scope of the cover-up was reveled.
Many kids in the neighborhood developed cancer at a frightening rate. I remember my pet cat died of cancer a year later. Of course, none of us were aware that we were exposed to a plutonium leak. National Security and stuff.
A lady who was my neighbor at the time has written a book about the subject. It is interesting how this deadly incident is still relatively unknown. But this is not a theoretical story to me. I lived through it with my family. We were at ground zero.