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Booneville Man Began Naval Career Testing Nuclear Bombs

<p>Justin Bates &bull; Times Record</p><p>World War II veteran Thomas “T.R.” Roland Glasgow of Booneville shows off his Navy uniform on Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013.</p>

Justin Bates • Times Record

World War II veteran Thomas “T.R.” Roland Glasgow of Booneville shows off his Navy uniform on Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013.

Thomas “T.R.” Roland Glasgow has spent the majority of his life serving his country and his community.

Glasgow, 85, a World War II veteran who served in the Korean War during a 27-year career, enlisted in the Navy in 1945 when he was 16. He was sent to an amphibious base in San Bruno, Calif., for basic training. Soon, just after his 17th birthday, he was ordered to a small island in the Marshall Islands near Pearl Harbor, where his unit received its first assignment: conducting off-shore nuclear bomb testing.

“We got in there and didn’t know where we were going or what we were supposed to be doing,” Glasgow said. “We got there and found out we were to be testers for these atomic bombs on ships.”

Glasgow and a crew of 119 other men, of whom he is the last living, worked deep offshore conducting two sets of tests designed to sink 20 ships, disabling the fleet and crew.

The atmospheric “Able” test, Glasgow explained, would launch a bomb a half-mile into the air and explode, while the underwater “Baker” test, the more dangerous of the two, according to Glasgow, launched a bomb 110-feet into the water causing condensation clouds that covered more than 10 square miles, with the purpose of each test “to see how many ships it would sink.”

Glasgow was part of a team to put out fires aboard each of the ships, most of which were held-over American or foreign fleets from the end of the war.

“After the tests we’d get back aboard the ships to see if we could salvage them. We’d get on these ships and you couldn’t see the shore,” he said. “You can’t see the water line from the deck of a ship — that’s how far out we were, when we conducted those tests.”

Glasgow took part in a total of 42 days of testing.

“We were there for about four months; we landed back in the States on my 18th birthday. I couldn’t go to shore because I was quarantined, because of the radiation and gamma rays,” he said, noting that two days after returning to shore, he was hospitalized for 28 days at Balboa Naval Medical Center in San Diego.

After the mission, Glasgow was transferred to a training center in San Diego where he took electrician courses. He was then permanently assigned, as an E-6 petty officer, to the USS Prairie (AD-15) on May 26, 1947, which was responsible for providing repair, supply and medical services to destroyers and cruisers, furnishing them with supplies for six months’ worth of duty.

“I stayed on that ship for 10 years,” Glasgow said. “From then, we’d be in and out from San Diego to Japan in six-month intervals for 10 years.”

Glasgow was still on the USS Prairie at the start of the Korean War, when he and his unit saw combat for the first time.

“We would always keep our guns mounted and manned, in case of attack, but we got chased by some torpedoes that time,” Glasgow said. “Luckily a division of Tin Cans came in and saved us. That was a close call, but almost every day was a close call back then, because you were always vulnerable out there alone.”

Glasgow earned the rank of chief petty officer in 1963. He stepped off the USS Prairie for the last time in 1965; he was then assigned to Memphis and then two years in Texas for on-shore duty. He retired from the Navy in March 1967, and was out of the Naval Reserves five years later.

After retirement, Glasgow spent two years with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, working in structural steel, helping construct the lock and dam in Ozark and Nuclear One outside Russellville.

After retirement, Glasgow continued to serve his neighbors and community.

“I was born and raised on a small farm in Booneville, and he was good with his hands and was sort of a mechanic, too,” friend Jake Tabler said. “He had access to different things through Army surplus centers, and any time we needed mechanical stuff done he was always more than willing to come see if he could help us get it started or direct us to a surplus center for a part. If someone needed help, he was always willing to go above and beyond the call to serve.”

Glasgow married his wife in Paris in 1952. The couple and their family lived on-base in San Diego while he was stationed on the USS Prairie before moving back on-shore, eventually moving back to Booneville.

“To me, my dad held traits that even great leaders aspire to,” Glasgow’s daughter Pamela Mueller said. “To me he represents a generation of Americans with an innate knowledge of the good life.”

June Roberts, a fellow World War II veteran and a lifelong friend, said he considers Glasgow a good American.

“I’ve known him all his life, and he’s always been a good man,” Roberts said. “He had a nice family, is an upstanding citizen and a good American. I think a lot of him.”

Magazine Mayor Stanley McConnell, a lifelong friend who worked with Glasgow at the lock and dam, agreed.

“He always had something kind to say and was willing to help people in any way,” McConnell said. “We worked alongside each other a long time for long hours and we’d never get upset. You work with somebody for two years and never be upset with each other, that’s saying something. He’s an awfully good citizen and he helped our country.”

Mueller, a schoolteacher in Booneville, credits her father’s patriotism to piquing her interest in international politics and global issues.

“My dad was definitely a patriot, and I contribute my interest in global issues and government affairs to him,” Mueller said. “We still have a lot to learn from this great generation and I am so proud that my dad was a part of its history. I will continue to hold all veterans from all branches of the service in high regard for their valor, their loyalty, and their dedication. Their selfless sacrifices continue to inspire all of us today as we work to advance peace and extend freedom around the world.”

Glasgow served his country, but he doesn’t consider himself a hero.

“I wasn’t a hero, but I served my country and I’m proud of that,” Glasgow said. “I did what I was supposed to do. I enjoyed my time in the service … I had a good time and served with some good men and served under some good officers.”

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