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Berlin native remembers living 2-weeks in a fallout shelter

March 01, 2012
BLANCH, N.C. – Fifty years ago, this week a Berlin native Medric "Skip" Pageau emerged along with 96 other sailors from a fallout shelter. It was part of test to measure the physical habitability of living in a Cold War bomb shelter. It "was a pretty well experience," he said from his home in Blanch, North Carolina.

On its face it seemed like a daunting ordeal. Locked in a 25 x 48 underground shelter and fed military food rations – "Survival Crackers" with various jellies, peanut butter and soup. Drink options included -- instant coffee or water. They ate twice daily. Each man was given a cup – which held his soup and drink separately. This ensured that the men had to finish their meal before they could get a drink. No water was available for showers or shaving, but moist-disposable wash clothes were provided. The men were not told how long they'd be in the shelter and were offered no reward for their participation.

A radioactive source was placed outside the shelter daily to simulate the decay that would actually occur during actual fallout conditions. In 1961, Pageau was part of a diesel mechanical unit and his primary task was to work on the diesel-powered generator. To get to the generator, he had to pass through the radioactive area and thus had to wear protective clothing or "radiac gear" while he worked.

The Navy was particularly interested in the physical health effects and completed a battery of tests afterward to establish ideal diets for long term stays in such conditions. Pageau said, the study was for "planning rations for shelter living."

"It wasn't too bad," Pageau said, he remembers the bunks being stacked five beds high, using chemical toilets and something of a library. Studies afterward revealed that lack of water for bathing was the top rate discomfort, second to quality of food.

"The morale and emotional well-being of protective shelter inhabitants may be equally as important as physical well-being," the government report stated, "Mere physical survival would be only the first hurdle in living through a nuclear attack."

Pageau spent the next 20 years in the Navy and then put his mechanical expertise to work ensuring the quality control of repair of Presidential helicopters. He is now retired from both jobs. Pageau said he gets back to Berlin occasionally to visit his two sisters.

Martin Lord Osman
Town of Moultonbooro
Northern Lights
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