The 33mm aluminum token pictured above was issued around 1914 by J.R. Pait, a lumberman who operated a sawmill in the small Florence County town of Mars Bluff. The pictured token is one of three specimens known, two of which have been counterstamped "VOID" on the reverse. No other denominations are presently known to exist, but undoubtedly there were other denominations struck. There are other token issues from Mars Bluff, some of which emanated from the store of G.J. Pait, who was perhaps related to J.R. Pait in some way. Maybe he was a son who took over his father's business. At any rate, no mention of G.J. Pait has ever been found in any mercantile directories. G.J.'s tokens seem to be more numerous, however, as they are encountered in the marketplace from time to time.
This month's story does not pertain to J.R. Pait or his business in Mars Bluff, but rather to what occured in the sleepy little town on the afternoon of March 11, 1958. At 3:53 that afternoon a B-47 took off from Hunter Air Force Base outside of Savannah, Georgia. The airplane and its crew were taking part in a training mission nicknamed Operation Snow Flurry. The flight was far from routine training, as a nuclear weapon was on board. The mission, part of a "Unit Simulated Combat Mission and Special (i.e., nuclear) Weapons Exercise," was to transport an atomic bomb across the Atlantic Ocean and simulate a drop over England.
An MK6 atomic bomb similar to the one that was loaded onto the plane in Savannah.
The crew was briefed earlier in the day and the aircraft took off that afternoon without incident. However, it was soon noticed that the bomb had not been placed properly in the bomb bay, as the bombardier was not able to engage the locking mechanism as usual. He climbed back into the bomb bay and attempted to engage the mechanism manually, but in the process of doing so, pulled the emergency bomb-release mechanism and the weight of the huge bomb forced open the bomb bay doors and the only atomic weapon to be dropped on South Carolina soil fell to earth. Moments later the plane was rocked by the shock wave of the blast when the bomb hit the ground.
An aerial view of the crater and surrounding area.
Providentially, the fissionable nuclear core of the weapon had not been inserted into the bomb because it was just a training exercise. In time of war, this core would have been removed from its special "birdcage" that was located elsewhere in the plane and placed into the bomb. The highly-explosive trigger in the weapon, however, was activated by the force of the impact with the ground and the force of the blast demolished the house and property of the Walter Gregg family of Mars Bluff, South Carolina. The entire family was home at the time of the explosion and all were taken to the hospital in Florence. No one was seriously hurt, but the house and several outbuildings were completely destroyed.
A view of the rear of the Gregg's house.
The Air Force was quick to apologize for the incident and took extreme measures to make sure that nothing of the sort would happen again. Procedures and hardware were changed to lessen the possibility of a similar incident occurring and the Greggs were compensated for their losses. Radiation levels were measured at the time and none were found to be more than slightly elevated over normal background levels. The incident did not gain much national attention, and slowly faded from the public's consciousness. And thus ends the saga of the atomic weapon that was dropped on Mars Bluff, South Carolina.
Copyright 2000 by Tony Chibbaro.
South Carolina Tokens by Tony Chibbaro, Token and Medal Society, 1990.
"‘Aircraft 53-1876A has lost a device:' How the U.S. Air Force came to drop an A-bomb on South Carolina." by Clark Rumrill, September 2000 issue of Amercian Heritage.
If you collect or have a casual interest in South Carolina tokens or tokens issued by cotton mills, lumber companies, or other types of businesses, you may want to purchase my book, South Carolina Tokens and its two supplements. To read a description of these standard references, please click on this link: Books.
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