Monday, May 5, 2008

Aiken man remembers nervous search for bomb

Aiken man remembers nervous search for bomb
By Sandi Martin| South Carolina Bureau Chief
Sunday, February 17, 2008

AIKEN --- Larry Murphy was in the Navy for two only years and missed the Korean and Vietnam wars.

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Larry Murphy's ship searched for a nuclear bomb near Savannah.

For six weeks in 1958, though, he and the rest of the crew of the USS Bowers were dispatched off the coast near Savannah to search for a nuclear bomb that had been dropped from a B-47 during a botched training mission.

The 7,600-pound bomb, now the stuff of legend around Savannah, has never been found.

"It's stuck in the mud," Mr. Murphy theorized.

The former Aiken County school board member said he believes the weapon, a Mark 15 hydrogen bomb believed to be lost in Wassaw Sound, has broken up and will likely never explode.

The firing mechanism was probably damaged, he said.

The time spent searching for the bomb, he said, was by far the most exciting of his Navy stint.

It was also memorable because afterward he and his crewmates were asked to participate in the St. Patrick's Day parade in Savannah -- and his father saw his ship for the first and only time.

His father died a few days later, he said, and soon after he got a discharge from the Navy.

The Savannah operation came just five days before Mr. Murphy's 20th birthday. Then a petty officer third class, Mr. Murphy worked in the engine room of the ship.

That Feb. 5, his commanding officer was unusually sharp and impatient to get going, he said, and rumors about their destination and mission were rampant.

They learned what had happened, he said, when they picked up frogmen who had be diving to look for the bomb.

Mr. Murphy said the crew all wondered, "What's the chance of that thing going off? Why didn't it go off when it hit the water?"

After the fruitless search for the bomb, the ship went back to Charleston, S.C.

He still wonders about the bomb, Mr. Murphy said. It still comes up from time to time, and people still look for it. A book about it was released recently.

He was surprised, however, to see recent media reports of the significant anniversary that passed Feb. 5.

"God, it's been 50 years ago," Mr. Murphy said.

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