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#32 :: Nuclear bomb test souvenir

March 9, 2004

The U.S. military detonated at least nine nuclear bombs on little Eniwetok Atoll in the 1950s. They ranged in size from the world’s first hydrogen bombs – the 10.4-megaton twins, Mike 1 and Mike 2 on Halloween, 1952 – down to the smallish 8.5-kiloton Blackfoot bomb, set off on June 11, 1956. These were just a handful of the 1,125 test shots set off by the U.S. over the years. Somewhere along the line, someone must have figured the work at Eniwetok would be worth remembering with a solid little keepsake in the fine tradition of gold retirement watches and Chinese-laquered executive desk sets. Being mostly practical, calculating military men working in the ultra-remote, often storm-swept Marshall Islands, they opted for a windproof cigarette lighter. This particular one surfaced at a swap meet, its rich cloisonné badge all but glowing amid the crap-smeared Vietnam Zippos and Mack gimmes in the vendor’s case. The badge commemorates the member departments in Joint Task Force Seven – Army, Navy, Air Force and Atomic Energy Commission. And the back shows a mushroom cloud rising over a little palm-tree-shaded map, naming the places that were wiped off of it. Bogallua. Engebi. Rujiyoru. Piiai. Japtan. West T-Spit. Libiron. Igurin. And Eniwetok. All are carved in the faux-steel finish, bitten through to the brass case beneath. The embossed base proclaims it to be “HIGH QUALITY LIGHTER” – a Penguin brand Zippo knockoff made in Japan, No. 19531. I can’t say whether that’s its model number, or the issue number out of untold thousands made. But it has served me faithfully, igniting camp fires in Joshua Tree and Sequoia National Parks, cigars and clove cigarettes, etc. at Burning Man and on board the Straylight, the doughty little Hobie Cat I sailed for many years. It is a good, reliable tool, its history throbbing from within as you hold it and flick the wheel. Please do click the pictures. I made them extra-large for this one.

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1 Comment

  1. Rose April 30, 2004 @ 11:20 am

    I’ve got one just like it – from my husband’s stepfather who was an Army Colonel. It is numbered 19587.