2008-03-21 / News

Atomic Bomb dropped on Florence, S.C., March 11, 1958

By Warner M. Montgomery warner@thecolumbiastar.com

By Warner M. Montgomery warner@thecolumbiastar.com March 11, 1958, was almost a

This aerial photograph by Tom Kirkland taken the day after the bomb dropped showed the damage to the Gregg home.
Day of Infamy for the people of South Carolina. A U.S. Air Force B- 47 bomber headed for England dropped an atomic bomb on Mars Bluff in Florence County. A historical monument proposed by Stephen C. Smith for the Florence City- County Historical Commission reads:


Atomic Bomb Crater Mars Bluff, a quiet community in eastern Florence County, S.C.,was jolted onto Cold War headlines by a historic explosion,March 11th, 1958.



On that day, a B- 47E, manned by USAF Captains Koehler,Woodruff, and Kulka was ascending across the area on its way to England, carrying

This aerial photograph by Tom Kirkland taken the day after the bomb dropped showed the damage to the Gregg home.
an A- Bomb.





Suddenly, a bomb- rack problem and the 7,600- lb TNT part of the weapon plunged down onto farmscape below.






The TNT detonated on impact, blew a 70' x 35' crater, destroyed the home of Walter Gregg, injured his family,damaged Mizpah Baptist Church, and cracked walls in a five-mile radius. The plutonium core did not explode. No one was killed. The Greggs won a modest settlement. The aircrew was exonerated, later resuming defense duties. This Broken Arrow crater is  at 34° 12.04' N, and 79° 39.42' W.

Stephen C. Smith (l) of the Mars Bluff Broken Arrow Historical Association headed up the organization of the 50th Anniversary Ceremony. Pollyanna Davis (r) was a senior at McClenaghan High School in Florence the day the bomb fell.





The 50th anniversary of the accidental dropping of the atomic bomb was held at the site Tuesday, March 11.

The site was open to visitors and a commemorative program was held. Bill and Effie Gregg and their daughter, Helen Holladay, were expected to be present. A reception was held following the program at the Mizpah Baptist Church.

In an article in the Florence News Journal, March 5, members of the Gregg family remembered the event. Effie Gregg was in the home. Her husband, Bill, and his brother, Walter, were in their workshop next to the home. The Gregg children, Helen and Frances, and their cousin, Ella, were playing the yard.

An atomic bomb similar to this Fat Boy was dropped on Mars Bluff, SC,March 11, 1958.
"There was a loud noise, like a crash and the next thing we knew dirt and pieces of trees, pieces of the house or whatever were falling on us. It all happened so fast…" recalled Helen Gregg Holladay.

Effie Gregg suffered cuts on her head; Bill had cuts on his back. The house was destroyed but not burned. The family lost everything.

Sen. Strom Thurmond used his influence to get damages for the Greggs from the Air Force. Twenty- five years later, the family received a letter from the U.S. government saying everything was clear. The pilots eventually apologized to the family.


Tom Kirkland, a photographer for the Florence Morning News at the time, was one of the first on the scene after the bFloomrebnicneg .N Aecwcso Jroduinrgn atol, an account in the Kirkland was told by a major in the Civil Air Patrol, that he heard on the radio the plane's bombardier shout, "Oh ---, I dropped the damn thing."

They rushed to the site and were met by a highway patrolman blocking the entrance. Ward pulled rank and told Kirkland, "Go get your pictures."

Kirkland found the site empty. The family had already left. He went to the site and took photographs. The crater was 40 feet across and 20 feet deep. Expecting the worst, he developed the film, made duplicates, and hid a set. The negatives were not fogged, so he was certain he had not been exposed to radiation. Sure enough, the Air Force soon arrived and confiscated the duplicates.

The next day, Kirkland flew over the site and took aerial photographs which he sold to three news services. For days, the site was mobbed by reporters from around the world. The Air Force denied they ever found the nuclear device that did not go off. Kirkland stated, "The Air Force had time to sanitize the whole thing."

The Greggs sold the crater property a few years ago but still live nearby. The Florence Museum contains a display of the Mars Bluff Bombing.

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