HOPE ALONE WOULD MAKE A POOR SHELTER:
CIVIL DEFENSE AND THE COLD WAR IN COLORADO,
Stacey Kay Pendleton
B.A., University of Colorado Denver, 2005
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
This thesis for the Master of Arts
Stacey Kay Pendleton
Has been approved by
Pendleton, Stacey Kay (M. A. History)
Hope Alone Would Make a Poor Shelter: Civil Defense and the Cold War in
Thesis directed by Associate Professor James Whiteside
From 1945 to 1964, the cold war conflict between the United States and
the Soviet Union was at its height. Both superpowers had atomic weapons at their
disposal and could use them at any time. President Harry S. Truman,
understanding that the American public was vulnerable to attack, signed the Civil
Defense Act in 1950, giving Americans a program to prepare for atomic attack.
This thesis investigates civil defense programs in Colorado, particularly in
Denver, as part of the national defense strategy. During the cold war, Colorado
became vital to the nations defense industries and a center for cold war defense
communications, and so it became a likely target in the event of a nuclear war.
For that reason, Colorado is an ideal subject for a study on civil defense.
The thesis investigates three main points. First, it examines the ideologies
and methods that civil defense leaders used to try to build public interest and to
recruit volunteers into the program. To try to sell civil defense to the public,
leaders emphasized American values such as freedom, liberty, democracy, and
self-reliance to motivate the masses to mobilize for a probable Soviet attack.
Leaders also used civil defense to as a tool to promote the survival of an ideal
white, middle-class, nuclear family. Next, the thesis investigates how citizens
responded to, or ignored, civil defense through their interactions with
voluntarism, training and educational procedures. Generally, people in Colorado
reacted favorably to civil defense during times of international tension or when a
new defense industry arrived into the state. Additionally, the thesis investigates
how the atomic age influenced popular culture. Finally, the thesis evaluates the
usefulness, or lack thereof, of the civil defense programs as planned by civil
defense leaders. Despite the best intentions of civil defense leaders, the
evacuation, shelter, and medical policies, demonstrate that no amount of planning
could have prepared a population for an atomic attack.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I
recommend its publication.
This thesis is dedicated to my parents who provided me with support through the
rigorous M.A. process. I also dedicate this to my advisor James Whiteside, Ph.D.,
for his encouragement, enthusiasm, and patience with me as I completed the
research and writing process.
This thesis would not have been possible without the guidance, assistance,
and patience of a number of individuals. I would first like to thank my primary
advisor, James Whiteside, Ph.D. for his endless fount of wisdom and direction
regarding cold war culture and research avenues, and for the countless hours of
editing. Thank you also to Pam Laird, Ph.D., and Greg Whitesides, Ph.D. for their
suggestions along the way and agreeing to being a part of this process. Thank you
to the University of Colorado-Denver History Department, particularly Myra
Rich, Rebecca Hunt, and Bill Convery, for providing me with employment while
I worked on this project. I would especially like to offer my gratitude to Sue
Sethney, who gave assistance to me in a myriad of graduate school related
I also offer my sincerest appreciation for all of the librarians, archivists,
and staff of the following institutions: Penrose Library at the University of
Denver, the Stephen Hart Library at the Colorado Historical Society, Norlin
Library at the University of Colorado- Boulder, and the Denver Public Library-
Western History Collection. I would especially like to thank the librarians and
staff of the Auraria Library for their patience with my constant use of the
Prospector system and most importantly, for keeping the microfilm machines
filled with toner and paper.
Writing a thesis is a difficult process, so I would like to extend my
gratitude to those who provided emotional support throughout this process. First, I
would like to thank my parents for helping me keep my sanity and for their
financial support. I know I would not have been able to do this without them. I
would also like to thank Rebecca Hunt for offering useful suggestions along the
way and for providing me with a musea fallout shelter signthat I have
proudly displayed in the office. Thanks to Bill Convery for his wit and for his
insight into my project. I extend gratitude to my dear friend, Phil Woods, who
provided me with a copy of his published cold war memoir, Reciprocal
Paranoia. Last, but certainly not least, my outstanding gratitude to Jim Walsh for
helping me to rediscover my love for history.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. INTRODUCTION: WANNA BUY
BIG AIR RAID SIREN?...................... 1
2. LOSING THE MONOPOLY AND THE
DEVELOPMENT OF EARLY CIVIL
3. THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE COLORADO
CIVIL DEFENSE AGENCY THROUGH THE 1950S...18
4. DENVERS CIVIL DEFENSE OFFICE.............62
5. THE SIMULATED DISASTERS OF COLORADO
6. CIVIL DEFENSE, 1960-1964.................106
7. SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO?
THE CIVIL DEFENSE DEBATE REGARDING
DISPERSAL AND SHELTERS................... 114
8. THE MEDICAL COMMUNITY AND CIVIL DEFENSE. 155
9. EDUCATION IN THE BERT THE TURTLE ERA.. 174
10. DOMESTIC DEFENSE:
SOCIAL AND CULTURAL ASPECTS OF CIVIL
Cold war civil defense is a multifaceted issue. The program was in a
constant state of tension between the leaders and the public, which manifested
itself in a number of ways. Unfortunately, these debates and expressions do not
take place in an organized fashion. Therefore, in order to demonstrate how
Colorado civil defense leaders planned and executed those strategies, and to show
how groups and individuals in the public reacted to those tactics, this thesis is
organized into two different ways: chronologically and thematically.
Chapters one through three and six, focus on the organization and
planning by the government and civil defense leaders from 1945 through 1964.
These chapters are organized chronologically in order to illuminate trends in civil
defense popularity and decline during this era. The government planning is linear,
thus deserves a chronological presentation.
Chapters four and five, as well as the remaining chapters, are organized
thematically in order to demonstrate public reaction and interaction with civil
defense and the atomic age. Unlike the governments and civil defense
organizations activities the opinions and reactions of the public often do not have
clearly defined dates and times to demarcate their beginning and end. Although
chapters four and five are primarily discussions of the government and civil
defense in action, they do include public interactions with the program, and
therefore require some thematic investigation. Each chapter, though organized by
date as often as possible, involves the analysis of cyclical themes such as
Americanism, the influence of religion, and cultural expressions of pro and anti-
civil defense rhetoric.
INTRODUCTION: WANNA BUY BIG AIR RAID SIREN?
In this age of destructive warfare, the Denver civil defense program
is moving to protect lives, property and the American way of life.
We cannot afford to fall short.
George B. Berger, Jr., Director
Denver Civil Defense Office
September 1, 19511
On August 15,1945, after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
World War II was over. Americans were overwhelmed with a sense of relief that
the fighting had ended and most of the nations young men would be returning
home. Like citizens throughout the United States, many Coloradans paraded
through the streets in jubilation. However, one specific postwar problem plagued
Denver leaders. What were they to do with the air raid sirens?
The Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News published articles used to
advertise the sale of the five unused ear-busters.1 2 The city spent nearly $8,000
for the sirens, which were part of Denvers comprehensive wartime civil defense
system built in preparation for a possible, though unlikely, inland air raid. The
Paul Revere siren, which allegedly made what defense officials said is the
1 Denver Civil Defense Office, Handbookfor Civilians: Just in Case Atom Bombs Fall (Denver:
Bradford Robinson, 1951), 3.
2 Wanna Buy Big Air Raid Siren? Denver Has 5 Unused Ear-Busters for Sale, Rocky Mountain
News, 6 February 1946, 6.
loudest sustained mechanical sound ever created by man, cost the city $3,935.
The only time that the sirens sounded was to hail victory on VE and VJ days.3
Now the sirens, which had symbolized safety and assurance in Denvers wartime
culture, were for sale.
Most city officials were pleased with the removal of the sirens because
they were a sullen reminder of the war. The Rocky Mountain News even
suggested, The best thing to do with the big noise-maker would be to turn it into
a war memorial as a reminder of what could have happened to Denver during
World War II. For postwar optimists, the sirens were an obsolete relic of the
violent past, not a harbinger of a peaceful future. The Rocky Mountain News
facetiously suggested that perhaps the Denver Symphony could employ the Paul
Revere siren as a special effects instrument. The siren also could be used as a
New Years Eve noisemaker, or perhaps if you just want to annoy the
neighbors.4 For postwar Denverites, the civil defense programs of wartime
Colorado had become a laughable reminder of the past. By the 1950s, however,
this assured confidence would itself be a memory.
For many Americans, atomic energy had saved the day and ushered the
postwar U S. into a new age. Democracy had triumphed over fascism, and the
United States emerged as the dominant world power. However, as time
progressed, Americans wrestled with the newest scientific discoveries in atomic
3 Denvers Silent Raid Sirens are $8,000 White Elephant, Denver Post, 16 October 1945, 1,3.
4 Wanna Buy Big Air Raid Siren? Rocky Mountain News, 6.
studies. Historian Paul Boyer explains in By the Bombs Early Light that, on the
one hand, Americans found relief in the reality that the U.S., and the U.S. alone,
held the capabilities for massive nuclear destruction. On the other hand, many
Americans realized that if the United States had this capability, it would not be
long before other nations (and enemies) would obtain the secrets of uranium and
plutonium atomic fission bombs.5 Even more terrifying, leaders and scientists had
to wonder: what if our enemies unlocked the secrets of the more powerful
thermonuclear fusion bomb before we did? Scenarios such as this forced
American leaders and citizens to question what they should do to get ready should
the increasingly hostile relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union lead to
World War HI.
To prepare for a possible Soviet attack, military personnel and scientists
attempted to inform the American public about what to do in the event of an
atomic attack. These leaders provided a forum for concerned citizens at the first
major atomic town hall meeting in the United States at Golden, Colorado, on
February 12,1948. Lieutenant Colonel John L. Kelley stated, Its high time that
plain citizens everywhere faced the facts. If we can jog the rest of the country to
attention, fine. Somebodys got to get the ball rolling, and the sooner the better.6
Early attempts to alert the public to the dangers of atomic war and to create an
5 Paul Boyer, By the Bombs Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the
Atomic Age (Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 1994), 14.
6 Atomic Bomb Defense Planned for Denver Area: First Detailed Study Slated at Golden...Army
Experts Will Tell You What to Do, Denver Post, 22 January 1948, 1.
organized civil defense system gained more attention in 1949 when the Soviets
successfully detonated their first atomic bomb. America no longer held the
monopoly on the destructive power of atomic energy. By 1950, President Harry S.
Truman called for the creation of nationwide civil defense systems. Some of the
nations largest cities along the coastal United States scrambled to prepare
adequate civilian defense programs.
Colorado gradually became an important player in postwar Americas cold
war environment. As the state became the home for the Rocky Flats facility, the
Air Force Academy, the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD), and
various military bases, state leaders and citizens began to worry about Colorados
vulnerability to an atomic attack. Within a matter of a few years, the state had
emerged as a vital nerve center for the nations defense. Without an adequate and
uniform system of atomic preparedness, the prospect of a Soviet attack in
Colorado could translate into the destruction of the nations communication
This thesis examines the civil defense system of Colorado from 1945
through 1964, when U.S.-Soviet cold war tensions were at their highest. This
assessment investigates two elements. First, I examine how Colorado government
and civil defense leaders responded to national directives for the creation of civil
defense programs. This portion shows how leaders planned for atomic attack and
what they proposed for the mobilization of civilians. Furthermore, this section
also reveals the patriotic language and actions that leaders used to try to motivate
citizens to participate in civil defense activities.
The second part of my research examines the ways in which Coloradans,
mainly in Denver, responded to civil defense. Using a wide variety of articles and
organizational manuals, I show how many of Denvers citizens attempted to
prepare for an atomic attack. A major theme is the tension between the perception
of an American resilience to atomic attack and the realities of a poorly funded,
largely volunteer program that, thankfully, never had to respond to a Soviet
atomic assault. The politics of, and social reactions to, the civil defense programs
mimic the nations ambivalence towards the system.
Colorado is a specific example of the broader national civil defense
system, and its response to the cold war program reflects the larger context. Many
citizens and leaders felt a certain responsibility for the preservation of American
life and democracy, but many could not accept that civil defense was the way to
achieve those ends. Coloradans, like citizens across the nation, were willing to go
along with the system because it was the only option available at the time, but
they did not create or maintain the systems with great vigor or consistency.
Instead, Coloradans sustained a certain ambivalence to the system except when a
new defense industry came into the state or if there was instability in the nations
foreign policy, which left people feeling vulnerable to attack. Civil defense
enthusiasm waxed and waned throughout this early cold war period, and
Colorados response through government and social activity indicates this
vacillation. Despite the states growing cold war importance, civil defense
endured an unsteady existence.
Some people presented the civil defense program as a part of the larger
cold war battle between American freedom and Soviet tyranny. Government and
civil defense leaders framed civil defense programs in patriotic terms. By having
a prepared population, American citizens could come through an attack with the
ability to restore American industries and support systems while the military
could exact revenge on the Soviets. Moreover, civil defense programs would
ensure that surviving citizens would maintain and disseminate American values of
liberty, democratic-republicanism, and capitalism even after the Soviets dropped a
bomb on the United States.
Colorado played a major role in the early domestic cold war.
Unfortunately, that role has gone largely unnoticed by historians. While this is a
modest examination of cold war Colorado, I hope it will spark a larger interest in
the people, places, and activities of its postwar environment. Colorado most
certainly has an important place in understanding Americas broader cold war
culture. Colorado emerged as a serious player in postwar defense industries and
cold war domestic politics. Ironically, Denverites, and Coloradans throughout the
state, realized that perhaps they did need those air raid sirens after all.
LOSING THE MONOPOLY AND THE
DEVELOPMENT OF EARLY CIVIL DEFENSE
For the first time in the history of this country, a foreign government
has the capacity to attack all our home soilhas the weapons and the
means to deliver those weapons; and as its stockpile of atomic bombs grows,
as it planes and submarines become improved in quality and relatively
greater than ours in quantity, that danger can only grow,
week by week and month by month
- W. Stuart Symington
Chairman of the National Security
Resources Board, 19501
After the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the American public
remained secure in knowing that the atomic bomb was theirs and theirs alone.
Historian Paul Boyer explains in By The Bomb's Early Light that many
Americans throughout the U.S. praised the atomic bomb soon after the notice of
its successful detonation1 2 Several Americans saw the bomb as the instrument
that ended the war; therefore the atom bomb had been a blessing, not a burden.
However, as many would learn, the atomic energy that they had extolled would be
responsible for the nations growing anxiety, making many Americans retreat
underground or away from their home city throughout the 1950s and 1960s.
Amid the jubilation and praise for the atom bomb, some Americans began
to wonder, if the U.S. could perfect an atomic bomb, when would other nations or
1 W. Stuart Symington, Importance of Civil Defense Planning, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
6, no. 8-9(1950): 231.
2 Paul Boyer, By the Bomb's Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the
Atomic Age (Chapel Hill. University of North Carolina Press, 1985), 183-185.
foes have the same ability? Some American scientists vastly underestimated the
Soviet capability of building a bomb. In one article in the Bulletin of the Atomic
Scientists, N.F. Mott wrote, the United States is likely to retain great superiority
over Russia for many years ahead.3 United States Rear Admiral R.H.
Hillenhoeffer, in a memorandum to President Truman estimated that it is
remotely possible that the USSR may have completed its first atomic bomb in
mid-1950, but the most probable date is believed to be mid-1953.4 That
assessment, as military and political leaders soon learned, was vastly shortsighted.
The Soviet program progressed at a rapid rate following the war. Historian
Howard Rosenberg explained, The Japanese bombings only goaded the Russians
into stepping up their own development of atomic weapons.5 The Soviet
program, led by Lavrenti Beria, successfully detonated its first plutonium bomb,
Joe 1, at the Semipalatinsk site in Kazakhstan on August 29,1949. Radiation
from the twenty-two kiloton blast spread around the world and revealed that the
United States no longer was the sole possessor of atomic energy. In a statement
given to the American public on September 23,1949, President Truman
explained, Ever since atomic energy was first released by man, the eventual
3 N.F. Mott, Can Atomic Weapons Keep the Peace? Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 5 (January
4 AJ Software & Multimedia, Estimate of the Status of the Russian Atomic Energy Project;
Central Intelligence Agency- July 25, 1948, Atomic Archive,
5 Howard Rosenberg, Atomic Soldiers: American Victims of Nuclear Experiments (Boston: Beacon
Press, 1980), 22.
development of this new force by other nations was to be expected.6 However,
for many Americans their worst fears had come to fruition. After the news of the
successful Soviet test, the American public grew apprehensive and politicians
now had to consider the threat of Soviet atomic aggression during a time when
relations between the two nations became increasingly unstable. Leaders and
citizens alike had to consider what the federal government, state governments,
local leaders, and individuals should do to protect the nation should the United
States be the victim of atomic aggression.
Amidst the postwar affluence that many Americans experienced, the
potential for a devastating war loomed over the United States. International
relations further crumbled, and in 1950 the United States entered into a war with
United Nations forces against North Korea in the first armed skirmish of the cold
war. Although the Soviet Union did not formally enter the war, it supplied North
Korean forces. With the increased conflict, the likelihood of a massive attack
against the United States seemed to be a real possibility. By 1950, President
Truman urged American citizens to prepare themselves for the possibility of
nuclear war. The President also signed a Civil Defense Act, meant to create an
organized federal civil defense program that would collaborate with local and
state leaders to prepare American citizens for a possible attack.
6 AJ Software & Multimedia, President Truman's Statement Announcing the First Soviet A-
September 23, 1949, Atomic Archive,
http ://www. atomicarchive.com/Docs/Hydrogen/SovietAB. shtml.
During this time, many American citizens were both fearful of a possible
attack and continued to advocate the use of atomic weapons on their enemies. For
example, in a referendum in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, town residents voted
in favor of using the atom bomb and Nationalist Chinese troops against the
Chinese Reds by a 20-to-l margin.7 Americans needed to be prepared for attack
and, in such a situation, civil defense plans would be especially useful. The bomb
was both an instrument of national security and one that also threatened it.
Complying with the national concern for civil defense, Colorado
government officials gradually began to involve themselves in civil defense. The
state created its own Civil Defense Act on August 29,1950, which established a
civil defense agency with a leader, a fifteen member Civil Defense Advisory
Council, gave special powers to the Governor in disaster situations, and enabled
communities to have their own civil defense organization.8 During this early
stage, most Colorado leaders saw the state as an unlikely Soviet target because it
had few defense industries and therefore was not as important as New York,
Washington, D.C., and California was to the general welfare of the nation. At the
time, officials predicted that the Soviets might target the Lowry base, Denver, or
7 In all, the town had 800 ballots with only thirty-nine against the referendum. The Glenwood
Springs vote along with others from the Western Slope was to be sent to Representative Wayne
Aspinall where residents would expect him to bring the atomic bomb use to the House.
Glenwood Citizens Vote to Use A-Bomb in Korea, Rocky Mountain News, 2 March 1951, 34.
* Colorado Civil Defense Agency, Civil Defense Plan (Colorado Civil Defense Agency: 1 August
Pueblo, but other than that, the state would largely go unnoticed in an attack.9
Regardless, Colorado leaders complied with the suggestion of organizing a civil
The Red Cross was among the first organizations in Colorado to involve
citizens in preparation activities. Denver hosted atomic bomb relief courses at the
Cosmopolitan Hotel for representatives of twenty-six cities including Detroit,
Grand Rapids, Houston, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Oklahoma City, San Antonio,
St. Louis, and Tulsa. The program included four hours of training along with the
regular eighteen-hour course of advanced instruction in first aid.10 The intent of
such programs was that, should an atomic bomb strike, the Red Cross trained first
aid teams would be able to mobilize quickly and efficiently to ensure maximum
survival in any of the bombed cities. Despite the positive reception and attendance
by the representatives of these various cities, the Red Cross aimed for more
participation by ordinary citizens. Melvin Buzzard, American Red Cross Director
of Safety Services for the Midwest, explained that the ultimate goal of civil
defense planners was to have twenty million Americans trained in this intensive
Red Cross instruction to have the appropriate training needed for an atomic
9 Former Pueblo resident, Phil Woods recalled, [Pueblo] Being a city with an endemic inferiority
complex, its good citizens swelled with prestige when announcing, as they routinely did, that
Pueblo would be one of the first places hit because of its steel mill. The opportunity to die first
apparently was a high honor.
Phil Woods, Reciprocal Paranoia: Reflections on the Atomic Era and the Cold War, in Learning
to Glow: A Nuclear Reader, ed. John Bradley (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2000), 64.
10 A-Bomb Relief Classes Started Denver Post, 6 December 1950, 41.
attack.11 American leaders assumed that citizens needed to be educated and
responsible for their lives and the lives of others if they expected the nation to
survive and function after an attack.
Funding remained an important factor for the success of an early civil
defense program. Despite some of the initial reservations about providing funding
to the program, by August 14,1950, Governor Walter Johnson called an
emergency legislative meeting to appropriate funds for the states civil defense
agency. As would be a consistent pattern for Colorados civil defense support,
state and local government officials and Colorado citizens would only take civil
defense measures in the light of unstable relations overseas that might spawn a
massive retaliation on the United States, or a growth in the states defensive or
industrial position. In this instance, the governors change in attitude towards civil
defense, and the emergency appropriations meeting was called in light of the fact
that UN forces were losing ground in Korea and were being pursued into a
southern beachhead. Governor Johnson explained, We cant afford to be caught
unprepared, simply because we didnt call a session to appropriate money.11 12 The
legislature set aside $20,000 to develop Colorados earliest civil defense program.
So, the events in Korea spawned an increased and short-lived concern for more
11 A-Bomb Relief Classes Started Denver Post, 6 December 1950, 41.
12 Colorado Spends Less Than Tenth of Defense Fund, Rocky Mountain News, 6 December
Later in August 1950, Governor Johnson named Englewood Fire Chief R.
George Woods as the states civil defense director. After Woods appointment,
the governor followed up with the creation of a fifteen-man defense advisory
board, as established by law, to set up a functioning civil defense agency.13 The
board was to consist of representatives from a variety of districts who were
named because they represented various vital industries with headquarters in the
Denver area.14 The individuals serving on this advisory board, with the exception
of Woods who would receive an annual salary of $6000, would serve on a
volunteer basis. Generally, the initial advisory boards efforts revolved around the
defense of Denver with little concern about the rest of the state, largely because
the regions outside of the metropolitan area posed little risk for atomic attack. At
best, the suburbs surrounding Denver would be considered as viable sites for
evacuation should a bomb hit, but in the early stages of Colorados civil defense
development, the program lacked the fervor for the development of a strong
program like those of major coastal areas. The need for a civil defense program in
Colorado was not necessarily of imminent importance. Yet, leaders began to
develop the program to cooperate and comply with the national concern for civil
13 Englewood Fire Chief will Head State Defense, Rocky Mountain News, 30 August 1950, 14;
Governor Names 15 Men to Defense Advisory Board, Rocky Mountain News, 3 September
14 Governor Names 15 Men to Defense Advisory Board, Rocky Mountain News, 11.
The Rocky Mountain News reported that the first major development in the
fledgling civil defense program was gaining the help of the Colorado Civil Air
Patrol (CAP) less than two weeks after Governor Johnson gave new life to the
defense agency, which had not functioned for five years. The CAP provided the
Colorado civil defense agency full support, offering full use of its men, planes
and facilities as well as to provide training and assistance for all local civilian
agencies in time of emergency. Along with the board members from various
agencies, Woods assumed that the program would take adequate shape. Woods
said, It looks to me as though well have a program that will be easy to handle,
with the aid of the CAP, the State Patrol, the medical profession and other
agencies.15 At this early stage in Colorado civil defense, the program could
easily rest on the shoulders of a few volunteer organizations, but the states low
risk status would change at a rapid pace.
Nearing the end of 1950, Colorado began to grow in its military and
industrial importance in cold war defense, thereby elevating its atomic
vulnerability. On November 17, the Rocky Mountain News reported, U.S. Shifts
Air Defense HQ to Colorado Springs, after the Air Force announced the move
from its current home in New York. Pentagon officials recognized that Colorado
would provide greater protection for the important air defense nerve center by
locating it far inland. The article further explained that the decision to move the
15 Air Patrol Offers Aid for Civilian Defense, Rocky Mountain News, 14 September 1950, 32.
military center to Colorado was a strategic concept that if present tension with
Russia should erupt into World War III, the gravest danger of aerial blows against
the United States would focus on the northwest gateway.16 Military leaders and
politicans now recognized that traditional warfare with incendiary bombs and
ground troops was really no longer likely, but that in order to preserve the
nations military strongholds, the heart of the nations defense needed to be far
An anonymous letter to the editor in the Denver Post praised the move of
the Air Defense Command to Colorado:
The selection of Colorado Springs as the new headquarters of the air defense
command is important not only as a gratification of local pride in Colorado but
because it gives assurance to the country that air defense is getting down to a
realistic, factual basis. Headquarters of the command have been at Mitchel
field, N. Y. The big cities and concentrated industries of the Atlantic coast
present an inviting target to any country which might want to attack the United
States by air... A DC headquarters in Colorado Springs will be located near the
geographic center of the country. They will be in an advantageous place from
the standpoint of defense of the headquarters themselves and for the direction
of over-all defensive activities extending all the way to the polar regions if
necessary... The benefits to Colorado Springs and to the whole state, for that
matter, will be enormous.17
While defense issues were a major motive for the move, many Coloradans also
realized an economic benefit. Colorado Springs would experience growth in
housing, schooling, and utilities as thousands of new residents came into the state
because of the move. As would be the case for every subsequent industry or
16 U S. Shifts Air Defense HQ to Colorado Springs, Rocky Mountain News, 17 November 1950,
17 Air Defense Gets Down to Cases, Denver Post, 18 November 1950, 10.
military installation that came into the state, Coloradans and leaders initially saw
the advantages of economic growth before looking at the larger picture of atomic
vulnerability. Incidentally, leaders downplayed civil defense measures and
exerted more energy into more exciting economic possibilities.
The states early civil defense preparations were disorganized and lacked
funding or even public concern. Even in the light of gaining the Air Defense
Command Center in Colorado Springs, civil defense planning was not a large
consideration for Colorados leaders. The largest expenditures in the states civil
defense budget were for the salaries of George Woods and his secretary with
sporadic expenses for stationery and mailing. Of the $20,000 that the state had set
aside for civil defense in August, the office had spent a mere $1,814 by December
1950.18 Clearly, the program had a long way to go before government leaders and
Coloradans could consider it a viable and fully functioning state agency. Woods
explained to the press that when the legislators met for the January regular session
of 1951, he would ask for $50,000 a year for operating expenses.19 Woods,
however, did not get the opportunity to continue with his leadership in civil
defense. By early January 1951, Governor Dan Thornton replaced Governor
Johnson and appointed former Marine Henry Larsen to take the position of state
director of civil defense. Larsen had the opportunity to organize and mobilize
18 Colorado Spends Less than Tenth of Defense Fund, Rocky Mountain News, 6 December
19 Better Get Started, Wadsworth Warns, Rocky Mountain News, 6December 1950, 5.
Colorado citizens in such a way as to increase overall survival in the event of an
THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE COLORADO
CIVIL DEFENSE AGENCY THROUGH THE 1950S
Let us not develop a Maginot Line psychology of complacency
behind our stockpile of atomic bombs. Let us consider an atomic bomb
attack upon us as the end of the world. Let us overcome fear through
knowledge of the nature of the weapon threatening us and knowledge
of the effective measures we can take to reduce its destructive efforts
to a maximum.
-General Henry Larsen, 19511
For many Coloradans, the civil defense program had been rather
unimpressive until 1951. The program lacked leadership, organization, and
funding. Governor Dan Thornton expressed concern for the civil defense program
during his first press conference, noting that it was the most serious problem
that his administration had to confront.1 2 3 The Colorado Municipal League
explained that the civil defense program faced both apathy and hysteria within the
population. The League also noted, Coloradans tend to think comfortably of their
state as of little interest to potential bomb-droppers. The state needed to
cultivate a civil defense program that was prepared and composed of volunteers
and staff with high morale.
1 Colorado Municipal League, Colorado Prepares for Civil Defense, Colorado Municipalities,
April 1961, 66.
2 States Civilian Defense Chief Outlines Plans Denver Post, 10 January 1951, 3.
3 Colorado Municipal League, Colorado Prepares for Civil Defense, 63.
In 1951, former Marine Lieutenant General Henry A. Larsen became the
states civilian defense chief, giving Colorado civil defense a new life. Larsen
explained, Some people have been too panicky and some too lackadaisical about
civilian defense. My office will attempt to put the problem in its proper
perspective. To remedy the problems that he saw with the program, Larsen
outlined his program for six major areas of consideration. First, Larsen
acknowledged that he would check the program against civil defense legislation
to make sure that the program complied with the steps outlined in the initial
programs. Second, he intended to give the civil defense program offices more
space than in the state armory it had been housed. Third, Larsen promised to
request adequate funding for the program and emergencies. Fourth, Larsen
assured the public that he would create a plan for civil defense. Next, with the
plans for civil defense underway, Larsen planned to use the civil defense agency
to help spread smaller, independently run civil defense partners throughout the
state in various Colorado communities. Finally, Larsen wanted to assess how
many refugees neighboring tpwns could hold.4 For the first time, Colorados civil
defense plans gained some organization, leaving some of Colorados citizens with
an initial sense of comfort.
What is most striking about all of the news reports regarding Larsen was
his illustrious career as a military leader. Just as people later responded to Dwight
4 States Civilian Defense Chief Outlines Plans Denver Post, 3.
Eisenhowers military career as a positive attribute to his leadership capabilities,
some Coloradans looked to Larsens military record to legitimate his role in their
own personal safety through civil defense activities. In an interview with the
Rocky Mountain News, Larsen explained, When I was in the field, I tried to
remember that every kid under my command meant everything to somebody and I
didnt gamble with his life. I intend to do this job the same wayto do my level
best to save the citizens of this state in case of attack. If I can do it efficiently and
economically, Ill have done my joband thats good war.5 The newspapers
assumed that the war experience of Henry Larsen would ultimately serve the
Colorado civil defense programs a success due to his ability to manage large
numbers of people during a time of war.
In a historical context, the choices for many of Colorados local and state
appointed civil defense officials is interesting in that that the majority of the men
in charge had some form of military service and often were decorated soldiers.
During the 1950s, one of the leading national debates revolved around the issue of
military versus civilian control of the nations defense, particularly around who
should control the bomb. Looking at Colorado civil defense, one can see a
paradox when comparing the issue to the national concerns. Civilian defense
rested in the hands of military men, not necessarily the civilians, despite the fact
that these military men did not necessarily have experience in mobilizing civilian
5 Jack Gaskie, Colorado Defense Chief Bred and Schooled in War, Rocky Mountain News, 1
January 1951, 50.
populations. The general assumption for such choices revolved around the
soldiers experience in war and his ability to extend those lessons to a larger, less
knowledgeable audience. Governor Thornton explained, We must utilize the
knowledge of retired military men living within our borders.6 Colorados
political leaders were more than willing to allow the military to lead civilian
defense out of an assumption that former soldiers would have an inherent ability
to lead Americans to victory.
Henry Larsens main goal for the civil defense program was to educate the
public and enlist the help of several thousand Coloradans to fill various positions
that the state would need during an atomic attack. In his first policy
memorandum, Larsen explained, The program of training in Civil Defense will
follow the pattern insofar as practical of instruction and indoctrination first of
individuals, then the smaller subdivisions and then to the higher echelons...It is
the desire of this office that training shall be realistic, but must be in keeping with
the public policy and must promote public confidence as well as reduce general
hysteria.7 Larsen believed that if the state was well prepared for an attack
through the dissemination of information and education, citizens would have a
greater chance for survivability. Furthermore, a calm public could rebuild and
function in a short amount of time. A.C. Tilley, a regional director of the Federal
Civil Defense Administration, praised Larsen and the program for following
6 Gov. Thorntons Inaugural Address, Rocky Mountain News, 10 January 1951, 22.
7 Henry L. Larsen, Policy Memorandum No. 1 16 January 1951.
almost to the letter... basic program of civil defense enacted by Congress.8 On
paper and in meetings, Larsens civil defense program seemed to be quite
effectual, but without enthusiastic volunteers to support the program, civil defense
One of Larsens first appeals for civil defense was to the Denver
Advertising Club on March 1,1951, in which he linked the program to American
values. Larsen explained, Our proposed Civil Defense Organization is an attempt
to avoid any revolutionary procedure which might lead us down the road to
dictatorship, by having the people guard their inherent liberties and assume their
full responsibilities in Civil Defense.9 Part of Larsens statement to the Denver
Advertising Club revolved around the issue of keeping the civil defense program
in the hands of civilians and out of the military. He explained that an effective
civilian-led, volunteer program was a possibility when considering the efforts of
Great Britain in World War II. Otherwise, Larsen noted that if the Federal
Government will be obliged to take control of the program then through
forfeiture we will have surrendered more of the precious liberties we are striving
to maintain.10 In this context, civil defense was not a mere educational program,
but one of American democracy in action.
8 George Kelly, Federal Official Praises States Civil Defense Steps, Rocky Mountain News, 27
February 1951, 8.
9 Lieutenant General Henry L. Larsen, Denver Advertising Club, 1 March 1951, 6.
10 Larsen, Denver Advertising Club, 6.
Larsens plans for civil defense had three common themes. First, the main
goal of all civil defense leaders was to alleviate feelings of hysteria in individuals
throughout the state and assure them that they could live through a disaster. Next,
through newspaper articles sponsored by the state civil defense office and various
newsletters sent out into communities, Larsen attempted to pressure individuals
throughout the state to consider their responsibilities to themselves and to others
in an atomic attack, an idea that he referred to as a democratic responsibility.
Finally, with the feeling of responsibility well entrenched in various individuals,
Larsen advocated citizen voluntarism in one of the numerous civil defense related
organizations. Moreover, by using his military background Larsen gave the public
a hint that in the next war the educated and mobilized civilian population would
be the deciding factor in the survival of the state and the nation. A well-prepared
public would not be paralyzed by fear and could restore the nations most
important industries that would support the military to defeat their attackers.
Ultimately, Larsen noted, We want to reassure people against fearand also
alert those who are asleep.11 In order to accomplish those goals, Larsen and state
officials, along with local leaders and volunteers had to market civil defense.
Larsen, like many civil defense leaders, emphasized that civil defense
rested not in the hands of politicians and program planners, but on the individual.
Larsen explained in an interview for the Denver Post, Its part of my philosophy 11
11 Lee Olson, Empire Profile No. 38: General Larsen Strives to Perfect Defense Plan, Denver
Post, 11 March 1951, 3AA.
that I believe in individual responsibilityand our civil defense program is an
opportunity to exercise this democratic responsibility.12 The average Coloradan
was, theoretically, supposed to take the appropriate steps to protect themselves by
learning the civil defense plans of their town or city and possibly taking classes or
volunteering in a civil defense related organization to extend their knowledge to
other citizens. The main goal of education and preparation was to contribute to an
overall sense of safety and calmness. Larsen explained to the public, Convince
yourself that fear and panic will only contribute to your own destruction and that
calm and deliberate action will save your life and the lives of others.13 Civil
defense leaders generally asserted that calmness and rationality would contribute
to the overall wellbeing of the individual and survival of the state.
Until the earliest days of the cold war, Colorado had been little more than
a square on a map regarding national defense. In the early 1950s, the state gained
some importance by housing the Air Defense Command and a branch of the
National Civil Defense Administration, but, that still did not make it a notable
target. However, Denver became a significant target when the Atomic Energy
Commission decided to house the $45 million dollar Rocky Flats atomic plant in
the Centennial State. Rocky Flats would be one of the largest plants in the entire
12 Olson, Empire Profile. .No. 38: General Larsen Strives to Perfect Defense Plan, Denver Post,
13 Colorado Civil Defense Agency, What You, As an Individual Citizen, Can Do in Civil
Defense, 14 April 1952, 1.
Rocky Mountain area matching the Gates Rubber factory in size.14 The plant
signified the states new role as a major contributor to the nations cold war
defense and also increased the possibility of Colorado being a target for Soviet
Although the plant made Denver a target, ordinary citizens and even
leaders did not exhibit much alarm initially. The Rocky Mountain News reported
that, although the facility would now make Denver a place where the Soviets may
detonate their bombs, Denverites refused to be frightened.15 While no historian
can be entirely certain of the feelings of all Denverites or Coloradans towards the
news of the Rocky Flats facility, the attitudes of those interviewed by the
newspaper reveal some interesting views. Many of the interviewees noted the
importance of the atomic plant for the good of the city and states economy.16
Shoe repairman, George Orrino exclaimed, in his interview with George Kelly,
Son, a town as dull as this one could stand a few split atoms. Im all for the new
plant.17 Some saw the plant as a way to help the nation during a time of great
14 A-Plant Will Match Gates Rubber in Size, Rocky Mountain News, 24 March 1951, 8.
15 George Kelly, Atomic Plant Fine for Denver, Most Agree, Rocky Mountain News, 24 March
16 These views were among the most prominent in the pool of those interviewed. Seven citizens
out of the eleven interviewed in the Denver metropolitan area shared the view that the addition of
Rocky Flats as something positive for boosting industries and patronage of businesses within the
state. Salesmen, Bob Bissell explained, Im in favor of it, because Denver needs more payrolls
and Lee Ramsel noted, Im very much in favor of anything that will bring business to Denver.
This project certainly should. Therefore, the economic possibility of the plant far outweighed the
theoretical possibility that the new addition to the state would make it vulnerable to attack. Kelly,
Atomic Plant Fine for Denver, Most Agree, Rocky Mountain News, 5.
17 Kelly, Atomic Plant Fine for Denver, Most Agree, Rocky Mountain News, 5.
international tension, like clerk Marie Ward, who declared, I think its
wonderful. Anything that can be done for the defense effort should be done.
These people who get frightened over such things give me a pain in the neck.18
Despite such positive views, civil defense leaders recognized the gravity
of the situation. Now, the state would be on Soviet war maps, and, leaders noted
that they needed to step up their efforts in recruiting and educating the states
citizens. State, city, and business leaders saw the plant as a mixed blessing. Tom
Gavin of the Rocky Mountain News explained that leaders had to face new
concerns, not only about housing, schooling, and employment issues surrounding
the plant, but also had to deal with the gloomy knowledge that Rocky Flats had
made the Denver a potential target area. While many expressed the same sort of
enthusiasm regarding the plants economic advantages as the residents
interviewed in the Rocky Mountain News, others like Boulder Mayor J. Perry
Bartlett noted that Rocky Flats would force citizens and leaders in the area to
hasten their civil defense efforts.19 Governor Dan Thornton was so pleased by the
announcement of the plant that he dismissed concerns about citizen safety. When
asked whether Rocky Flats made Denver more vulnerable to attack, Thornton
replied, I couldnt sayIm not a military man and later added Ill be happy to
18 Kelly, Atomic Plant Fine for Denver, Most Agree, Rocky Mountain News, 5.
19Tom Gavin, State and City Leaders Pleased Atom Production Plant is Slated, Rocky Mountain
News, 24 March 1951, 6.
move the Capitol to Gunnison if that proves to be the case.20 In this early stage
of the life of the Rocky Flats Plant, its advantages seemingly outweighed its risks.
However, the lighthearted attitudes of many eventually gave way to a feeling of
concern about the prospect of an atomic attack.
The written record in Colorado reveals very little as to why attitudes
towards war preparations changed. Perhaps it was the frequent endorsements of
civil defense by President Truman, or the Korean War, or even public concern
about surviving an atomic attack. Regardless, Governor Thornton, who so
flippantly remarked that he would move the state capital in the event that Denver
became a target in a Soviet war room, soon called for an increase in funding for
the states civil defense programs.21 Thornton, in 1951, noted, Civilian defense
may be such that I could possibly declare a state of emergency and spend what we
need.22 With the federal government providing money for state civil defense
agencies based upon matching state funds, Colorado could not risk losing
significant funding, especially in view of the states elevated risk status. The
Rocky Flats plant brought about a new concern for civil defense, despite the early
20 Gavin, State and City Leaders Pleased Atom Production Plant is Slated, Rocky Mountain
21 The Colorado legislature gave Colorado civil defense a mere $100,000 to operate until February
1, 1952, which paled in comparison to the $350,000 requested. Larsen requested that the
legislature grant the program $5 million for a reserve fund, but his attempts were in vain.
Governor Hits Small Civilian Defense Fund, Denver Post, 25 March 1951, 6AA; State Defense
Fund Assailed by Larsen, Rocky Mountain News, 25 March 1951, 26.
22 Governor Hits Small Civilian Defense Fund, Denver Post, 25 March 1951, 6AA.
The Air Force took great interest in protecting the newly vulnerable state
capital because of Rocky Flats. On March 29,1951, the headline of the Rocky
Mountain News read, City Now Rated as Top Atomic Target: Air Force Vows to
Guard Denver. While Lowry commanding officer, Colonel John T. Sprague
noted that the location of Rocky Flats provided some form of protection from
attack, he also assured the public that Air Force protection would be stepped up
accordingly.23 With the military taking notice of Denvers vulnerable situation,
the state increased its efforts to offer citizens the opportunity to protect
With the military taking great caution and offering protection for Denver,
some began to feel unnerved by the prospect of having a Los Alamos so close to
home. Rocky Mountain News writer Pasquale Marranzino expressed a valid
concern, Now we have good fission in Colorado and whos the bait? In a matter
of months men of intelligence and purpose, patriotism and ambition will begin
tinkering with the scientific version of global Russian rouletteright in our own
backyard.24 Despite all of the flippant comments, Rocky Flats did cause some
valid concerns that citizens had to take in consideration of their personal safety.
Marranzino sarcastically noted the effects of the Rocky Flats plant:
Economically it means more bucks for businessmen, real estate men,
23 Sam Lusky, Air Force Guard Pledged Denver, Rocky Mountain News, 29 March 1951, 5.
24 Pasquale Marranzino, I Dont Want Any Atomic Plants, Rocky Mountain News, 30 March
builders and the working stiff.
Socially it means we get the scientific cream of the world to light Bunsen
burner tapers at the foot of the god, Science.
Topographically, it means we get on more mapseven if they are in enemy
Psychologically, we get into the top secret classification which brings awe,
wonderment and confusion.
Philosophically, we drift back a few thousand years with eyes turned toward
a heaven that holds nothing more spiritual than the drone of heavy bombers.25
The Rocky Flats plant, though a great economic opportunity for the state, also
elicited some feelings vulnerability. While no public opinion polls of the time
indicate the attitudes of citizens towards the plant, views such as Marranzinos
may reflect the concerns of many people regarding the possibility of attack. With
such considerations, it became increasingly important for Denverites to feel safe,
which is where civil defense programs came into play. The program could have a
psychological advantage if citizens believed they could control their fate in some
way in a situation that rested in the hands of distant politicians and generals.
Regardless of the mixed reactions of people about the possibility of an
attack due to the new Atomic Energy Commission facility, Governor Thornton
continued to welcome defense industries into the state. In April 1951, Thornton
vetoed a tax bill that would have required county commissioners and the State
Tax Commission to give the federal government approval before they could use
Colorado land for defense or military purposes.26 At the time, federal agencies
were considering Colorado as a location for a new Air Force Academy and
25 Marranzino, I Dont Want Any Atomic Plants, Rocky Mountain News, 29.
26 Thornton Vetoes Tax Bill, Clears Way for A-Plants, Rocky Mountain News, 3 April 1951, 28.
another atomic plant, and the bill would jeopardize the states chances of landing
those facilities. Thornton said, I dont want anything to interfere with the safety
of our country and since those plants have to be located somewhere they might as
well be in Colorado.27 The governor essentially held the states economic
development in higher regard than the vulnerability of its citizens to atomic
No one could deny financial gain from Rocky Flats, but the project had
brought about new questions regarding civil defense.28 The actions of some state
leaders indicated awareness but little concern that the state had become a target
for Soviet attacks. However, as the early 1950s progressed, civil defense became
an answer to the increased threat of atomic attack.
The Tough Sell
Recruitment of citizen volunteers proved to be a grueling task for civil
defense leaders in both large cities such as Denver and in communities outside of
27 Thornton Vetoes Tax Bill, Clears Way for A-Plants, Rocky Mountain News, 28.
While the Rocky Flats Plant seemed to be a wonderful addition to the state initially, many
individuals had growing concerns about it. In addition to the plant being a potential bomb target, it
could also be a hotbed for communist infiltration. By 1952, the House Un-American Activities
Committee received undercover information that Communist intellectuals are moving from
white collar jobs into the production line of American defense industries. With reports such as
this, people began to speculate that not only were the Soviets gaining important information
regarding American defense capabilities, but they were also gaining a sense of how they could
sabotage the industry. With tensions rising between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, many
individuals became anxious of an impending war and pleaded for increased education and
preparation by the public.
World War III is Most Unlikely, Lowell Thomas Says in Denver, Rocky Mountain News, 14
March 1951, 23.
the metropolitan area. One can only speculate why individuals did not participate
in civil defense activities; however, newspaper editorials and interviews generally
reflect indifference in the publics attitude. Some, like commentator Lowell
Thomas, a newscaster and world traveler, seriously doubted the possibility of a
Third World War because those men [Soviet leaders] are wise enough to know
that if war comes everything they have devoted their lives to would be gone. For
that reason, Thomas argued, the Soviets would be more likely to engage the U.S.
in lesser wars with their satellites all around the fringe of the Russian empire.29 30
Others bore a defeatist attitude regarding survivability of an atomic attack.
However, there were individuals throughout the state who readily accepted the
ideas of civil defense and survivability by volunteering for various civil defense
. . . 30
An additionally troublesome area for state civil defense was lack of
funding. During the United Nations Week Conference, Henry Larsen delivered a
speech in Boulder, Is Our Program Realistic? In his speech, Larsen lambasted
the Legislature for its unrealistic appropriations towards civil defense. Larsen
asked, How realistic do you think it could get when the State Legislature
29 World War III Is Most Unlikely, Lowell Thomas Says in Denver, Rocky Mountain News, 14
March 1951, 23.
30 In his first days in office, Larsen received a phone call from a woman who literally offered her
services as an air raid siren. Although, a seemingly ridiculous offer at first glance, the city of
Denver may have wanted to consider her services, since city officials sold all of their air raid
sirens after the Second World War.
appropriates 4 cents per capita for civilian defenseenough to buy one stamp and
one envelope and send everyone one page from a book of instructions. He
further explained that the Legislature denied his requests for money to purchase
disaster equipment and warning systems with matching federal funds.31
In a later speech given to the Rotary Club at the Cosmopolitan Hotel,
Larsen attempted to elicit concern for the lack of funding for the program by
stating the risks that Rocky Flats brought upon the state. Larsen explained that
even if Denver was not considered a target area in Soviet planning rooms, there
was a chance that if Stalins planes could not reach their primary or alternate
targets, they will drop their loads on targets of opportunity. The location of one or
two atomic plants in the vicinity of Denver will certainly not diminish the
importance of this community as a potential target, and more sharply points out
the necessity for civil defense. The state civil defense program needed more
realistic appropriations in order to get the appropriate equipment and training
personnel and materials needed to prepare the state for a possible attack.32 One of
the things Larsen hoped to do with the program was to blood type residents so
that in an attack medical professionals would know which transfusions to give
their patients, but since that cost nearly fifty-cents per person, and the Legislature
only appropriated less than a tenth of that for each individual, the civil defense
31 Larsen Hits Defense Fund Lack, Rocky Mountain News, 15 April 1951, 19.
32 Larsen Sees Denver Defense Plants Potential Targets for Enemy Planes, Denver Post, 19
April 1951, 3.
office could not offer this important and life-saving service. Larsen saw the
Legislatures lack of enthusiasm for the program as a hindrance to their overall
responsibilities to the citizens of our state.33 Colorados Deputy Defense
Director, Colonel C.F. Howard observed that the state could step in and operate
in any disaster... but it will have to overcome public apathy to function
efficiently.34 35 Apathy corroded the full functionality of the program. Despite brief
bursts of enthusiasm for the program within the state government, the state civil
defense program struggled to maintain both funding and interest.
In spite of the lack of funding and enthusiasm in civil defense activities
during this time, Larsen persisted in trying to gain public support and interest in
the program. In July 1951, Larsens office distributed 50,000 placards to
residences throughout the Denver metropolitan area describing what citizens
should do in the event of an attack. The agency was able to distribute the
information because the Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph Company
contributed the placards designed by national civil defense leaders. The placards
were very basic, sticking to the duck and cover method to protect individuals from
an atomic blast. The information also reveals the lack of understanding of many
of the hazards associated with an atomic blast. For example, the Rocky Mountain
News, while providing an overview of the distribution program noted that the
33 Larsen Sees Denver Defense Plants Potential Targets for Enemy Planes, Denver Post, 3.
34 Apathy is Found Handicap of Colorado Civil Defense, Rocky Mountain News, 9 August 1951,
35 State to Display A-Attack Advice, Rocky Mountain News, 13 July 1951, 16.
placards explained no radiation hazard remains after debris has stopped
falling.36 Although the information provided in the placard would become
obsolete in a short amount of time, the distribution of information to the public
demonstrates the persistence of the Colorado civil defense program in spite of the
apathy that permeated the state.
The Colorado Civil Defense Agency attempted to break through that
apathy numerous times by reminding the public that during disasters, atomic or
even natural, the state needed trained citizens to mobilize. Colonel Howard
observed that until disaster hits, theyre [the public] not interested in doing
anything at all.37 By using the Kansas and Missouri flood areas as case studies,
the Colorado Civil Defense Agency had an opportunity to prove the importance of
a well-formed program to the Legislature and the public. The Colorado Civil
Defense Agencys Report of Kansas-Missouri Flood Disaster, noted that the
problems faced by Kansas City, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri were the same,
but their methods of meeting this disaster were entirely different. From the July
13, 1951, flood civil defense planners learned that Kansas a more comprehensive
Civil Defense Law and therefore were better prepared to meet natural, as well
as enemy caused disaster.38 The report provided civil defense leaders an
opportunity to compare and contrast the actual use of civil defense in natural
36 State to Display A-Attack Advice, Rocky Mountain News, 16.
37 Apathy is Found Handicap of Colorado Civil Defense, Rocky Mountain News, 37.
38 Colorado Civil Defense Agency, Report of Kansas-Missouri Flood Disaster, 17 August 1951,
disaster situations while demonstrating the importance of the cooperation of
lawmakers to the overall success of the program.
Officials were plagued by the idea that if a bomb were to decimate towns
and cities throughout the nation, how would the casualties be accounted for?
Individuals within the blast area would most likely experience significant bums
that would eradicate any form of identification, civil defense leaders advocated a
form of identification that would survive the devastating effects of an atomic
blast. One idea was to tattoo citizens. However, in an atomic attack with large
numbers of burnt casualties, the tattoos would probably bum away. Later on, a
less invasive plan to issue metal identification tags soon came along. In 2001,
Political Scientist Andrew Grossman explained in Neither Dead Nor Red that
New York was the first state to issue identification tags to all of its children at no
cost.39 Colorado eventually supported such a project.
The Federal Civil Defense Administration and the Colorado Civil Defense
Agency advocated that all Coloradans receive identification tags. The Rocky
Mountain News reported, The recommendation [for the identification tags] was a
step less drastic than a previous moveto have everyone in the country tattooed.
The tags, carrying the most basic information about an individual, including
name, address, blood type, among other bits of information, would help officials
identify casualties, but would also serve the purpose of returning victims of
39 Andrew Grossman, Neither Dead Nor Red: Civilian defense and American Political
Development During the Early Cold War (New York: Routledge, 2001), 84.
amnesia and shock, the mentally ill and lost children to their appropriate
locations40 While the tags seemed like a good choice, and a less invasive
identification alternative, the program did not come without recognizable faults.
Robert Chase noted that the agency needed to see that the identification tags
would be of nominal cost to citizens, aesthetically pleasing, durable, and
comfortable to wear.41 The Rocky Mountain News pointed out a ridiculous flaw,
If women are going to wear dog tags, worldly wise state agency people pointed
out, theyre going to wear them as ornaments. And if theyre to be ornaments they
pointed out, theyll have to be different.42 The News saw a potential fault in the
tags as they would be a conflict of fashion over function for many of the states
The civil defense program also had another major flaw in its air raid
warning system. In 1952, the Denver Post article Colorado Without Single Siren
For Use as Air Raid Warning, explained that not one adequate warning siren
exists in the entire state to warn citizens of an air attack.43 In spite of the Civil
Defense Offices attempts to gain public interest and funding for the program, its
effectiveness relied on a warning system that simply did not exist. Larsen
40 Jack Gaskie, Civil Defense Dog Tags Urged for All Coloradans, Rocky Mountain News, 8
October 1951, 17.
41 Robert L. Chase, Defense Dog Tags for Everybody, Rocky Mountain News, 9 October 1951,
42 Gaskie, Civil Defense Dog Tags Urged for All Coloradans, Rocky Mountain News, 17.
43 Buck Wilson, Colorado Without Single Siren For Use as Air Raid Warning, Denver Post, 28
January 1952, 1.
explained that the goal of the state Civil Defense Office was not to oversee the
implementation of air raid sirens throughout the state, but to provide the policies
and procedures for doing so. Essentially, a warning system required local
authorities to furnish warning devices in case of attack.44 Even in preparing the
population for atomic war, the bureaucracy surrounding the states civil defense
coordination overrode any consistency in maintaining the systems responsible for
alerting citizens of an impending attack.
Despite not having air raid sirens, the state received positive news
regarding the notification of the public during an atomic attack. In late 1952, the
entire nation had the ability to tune into the CONELRAD (Control of
Electromagnetic Radiation) radio system on either 640 or 1240 megacycles.45
Like the air raid sirens, the CONELRAD system worked on the colored alert
system to give citizens knowledge of the stages of an attack. When the Air
Defense Command sent out a red alert, the broadcasting radio stations would
immediately cease normal programs, broadcast a special transcribed message
which is supplied by CONELRAD, and temporarily leave the air which would
make citizens change to the prescribed megacycles and await instructions.46 The
CONELRAD system provided a decent alternative to the faulty siren system, but
44 Wilson, Colorado Without Single Siren For Use as Air Raid Warning, Denver Post, 1
45 One-Frequency Radio System Due in Attack, Rocky Mountain News, 25 October 1952, 16.
46 Henry L. Larsen, Procedure to be Followed by Radio Broadcasting Stations During Alerts, 15
January 1952, 1.
it would only work under the condition that people were listening to radios
powered by batteries during the time of a probable attack.
During the early 1950s, the nation continually received information
regarding atom bomb development in the Soviet Union. With each subsequent
report, President Truman appealed to the public to engage in civil defense
activities. By 1952, reports out of Washington suggested that a Soviet attack
would happen later in the year.47 Intercepted Soviet papers also reinforced these
fears by explaining that they had atom bombs of all calibers ready to blast the
West, which Soviets viewed as trying to start a Third World War.48 On the
American side of the equation, scientists worked to create a hydrogen bomb and
expected one to be produced sometime in 1952. With such reports, World War III
Equally disturbing, by April 1952, federal civil defense administrator
Millard Caldwell revealed that no state, territory or city is now sufficiently well
organized to meet the impact of enemy attack. Caldwell warned, America will
probably lose the next major war unless our people are informed, organized and
trained in the principles of civil defense.49 The most embarrassing evidence
rested on the fact that the Soviet Union had over twenty-two million people
47 Russia Makes A-Bombs Cheaper, Pentagon Told, Rocky Mountain News, 18 January 1952,
48 Russ Warn Theyre Set for Atom Bomb War, Rocky Mountain News, 24 February 1952, 3.
49 Civil Defense Chief Cites Shortcomings, Denver Post, 24 April 1952, 2.
engaged in civil defense activities, while the United States struggled to maintain
consistent numbers of volunteers or interest in the program.50 To overcome the
Soviets after an atomic attack, the United States needed to foster a spirit of
readiness and concern for civil defense programs at the local, state, and national
In order to offer some form of organization, the Colorado Civil Defense
Agency created a new civil defense plan for the state of Colorado in August 1952.
The plan provided basic policies, organization, responsibilities, and operating
procedures that could be utilized in every community in the state to develop a
well-organized Civil Defense program that will not only meet local requirements,
but will be capable of lending assistance to other communities of the State in time
of disaster.51 The plan would give civil defense organizations throughout the
state some semblance of order. The plan included charts assigning responsibilities
to various individuals and agencies from the Governor down to rural area
wardens, and summarized the duties of workers in various welfare, transportation,
food, engineering, education, aviation and health services.
In addition to creating a pragmatic plan, the report also included a section
devoted to recruiting various associations, clubs, and fraternal organizations. The
Colorado Civil Defense Office recognized that by including civilian and veterans
50 Civil Defense Chief Cites Shortcomings, Denver Post, 2.
51 Colorado Civil Defense Agency, Civil Defense Plan, (Denver: Colorado Civil Defense Agency,
1 August 1952), i.
organizations they would not only receive additional manpower but also
contributions of funds, facilities, etc.52 The plan listed nearly forty
organizations that could be expected to come to the aid of the program. The
Colorado Civil Defense Office put especial emphasis on gaining the support of
war veterans groups because War Veteran Organizations are normally founded
on the basic principle of patriotism and a firm determination to perpetuate the
Democratic principles of government for which they have fought and for which
their comrades have died.53 Additionally, the plan highlighted the use of Boy and
Girl Scout troops for patriotic reasons as well. The Colorado plan, while
containing information for recruiting a number of state organizations, placed
special emphasis on the aforementioned organizations because of the ideals of
patriotism that they were founded upon.
Reflecting on the widespread fear of subversion at the time, the plan
included a section devoted to informing civil defense leaders of potentially
dangerous groups throughout the state that could compromise the state in a war
situation. The plan highlighted organizations, associations, movements, groups
or combinations of persons which the Attorney General of the United States, after
appropriate investigation and determination, designates as totalitarian, fascist,
communist, or subversive.54 Most of the groups listed under the Totalitarian
52 Colorado Civil Defense Agency, Civil Defense Plan, Annex 8, Appendix A, Page 1.
53 Colorado Civil Defense Agency, Civil Defense Plan, Annex 8, Appendix B, Page 1.
54 Colorado Civil Defense Agency, Civil Defense Plan, Annex 8, Appendix F, Page 1.
section included scores of Japanese nationalist and veterans organizations, while
the Fascist section targeted German and Italian groups, but also a few American
labor groups. By far, the longest section was devoted to over one hundred
communist groups throughout the United States. The list highlighted six groups
as expectedly subversive: Communist Party, U.S.A., Communist Political
Association, German-American Bund, Socialist Workers Party, Workers Party,
and the Young Communist League. In addition, the Attorney General noted that
racist groups including the American Christian Nationalist Party, Association of
Georgia Klans, Protestant War Veterans of the United States, and the Silver Shirt
Legion of America as a threat because they, adopted a policy of advocating or
approving the commission of acts of force and violence to deny others their rights
under the Constitution of the United States. The plan also alerted civil defense
leaders to organizations that sought to alter the form of government of the United
States by unconstitutional means, including the Communist Party, U.S.A.,
Communist Political Association, Industrial Workers of the World, Nationalist
Party of Puerto Rico, Socialist Workers Party, Workers Party, and the Young
Communist League.55 While the highlighted groups were of national interest,
Colorado leaders had to be prepared that their members lurked among the
patriotic Coloradans, ready to thwart any plans for American survival. Not only
did civil defense leaders have to be aware of the possibility of attacks from the
55 Colorado Civil Defense Agency, Civil Defense Plan, Annex 8, Appendix F, Page 8.
Soviet Union, but they had to be vigilant for internal attacks that also threatened
the survivability of the nation, state, and community.
Larsen added further impetus for preparing Denver for a major disaster by
announcing that Denver would be a primary target for the first Russian hydrogen
bomber wave over this country in time of war. The city had no bomb shelters,
only basements and sub-basements in various buildings, which owners were
reluctant to permit use of... without immunity from damage suits of persons who
might be injured in emergencies or drills.56 The city clearly had a significant
problem in attempting to figure out what to do with its population in the event of
an attack. Some hoped that scientists would develop an H-bomb before the
Soviets. At least then, they could have deterrence on their side. Scripps-Howard
Foreign Editor Ludwell Denny reflected this hope that the new H-bomb may
make the Kremlin aggressors more cautious.57 On the other hand, Dr. Vannevar
Bush, an atomic scientist for the Office of Scientific Research and Development,
pointed out the superbomb or H-bomb would be of more use to the Russians than
the U.S. in a war between the two countries because there are many more
concentrated targets here than in Russia.58 By 1953, the Civil Defense
Administration insisted that the Soviets could strike eighty-nine U.S. cities with
56 Denver Called Primary H-Bomb Target, Rocky Mountain News, 11 August 1953, 8.
37 Ludwell Denny, Some Hope in H-Bomb, Rocky Mountain News, 21 November 1952, 45.
38 Does U.S. Have H-Bomb? Scientist Thinks Not, Rocky Mountain News, 24 November 1952,
400 planes in the course of one day.59 The advent of the H-bomb brought about
spectacular concern and fears about the survival of the nation.
General Benjamin Chidlaw of the Air Defense Command expressed
increased concern for the nations safety. Rather than citing the Soviets as
ineffectual in their military development or overestimating the United States
defensive capabilities, Chidlaw noted, For the first time in our history, we find
ourselves exposed to the danger of hostile air attack...Soviet possession of long-
range bombers makes such an attack tactically possible.60 With information such
as this, officials played up the role of civilians in maintaining the survival of the
nation by supporting the military and keeping the lines of production going.
James J. Wadsworth, administrator of the federal Civil Defense Administration,
reminded Americans, During the next national emergency, the public will play a
more important role than any branch of the military... Their role will be to
maintain production and keep open the lines of transportation and
communication. Without these three important factors, the operations of the
military branches cannot exist.61 These statements reveal the readiness of
officials to frame civil defense in the context of a pseudo-military operation,
playing upon peoples emotions by explaining that they are part of the greater
good of the military and the nation. With such rhetoric, the civil defense
59 Reds Can A-Bomb 89 Cities, U.S. Is Warned, Rocky Mountain News, 17 February 1953, 3.
60 Defense General Blasts Apathy, Rocky Mountain News, 23 November 1952, 14.
61 AlNakkula, Publics War Role Vital, Defense Chief Says, Rocky Mountain News, 16
December 1952, 16.
organizations seemed important, but that did not necessarily mean that all people
saw it as a valued program.
Dodging a Bullet: The Near-Demise of the Colorado Civil Defense Program
In February 1953, amidst all of the concern about the nations
vulnerability to atomic attack, Colorados House Appropriations Committee
attempted to terminate the State Civil Defense Department because of a lack of
funding. Without a dissenting vote, the Legislature was willing to place the states
civil defense needs in the hands of the National Guard and State Patrol. Denver
representative Whitman Best explained, We cant afford to finance the
department to do a complete job and we feel it rather foolish to continue it on a
standby basis. Governor Thornton opposed the measure and noted, Civil
defense may well be the difference between defeat and victory in any future
war.62 Without the state office, local civil defense offices would have a difficult
time purchasing necessary equipment, as the state agency acted as a go-between
between local departments and the federal government. By February 28, the
program expired. Despite the indifference of legislators towards the program,
many of the civil defense offices throughout the state insisted that they would
continue in their plans regardless.
The city of Denver remained resolute in maintaining its civil defense
program. Mayor Thomas P. Campbell explained to the Rocky Mountain News that
62 Tom Gavin, Assembly Kills Colorado Civil Defense Dept. Rocky Mountain News, 28
February 1953, 6.
he planned to talk to Governor Thornton to see if Denver can aid in any way in
keeping state civil defense alive.63 Thornton also acted to counter the
Legislatures action to kill the civil defense program by appealing to legislators
during scheduled caucuses. Even the Federal Civil Defense Administration chief,
Val Peterson sent a wire noting his concern. Peterson said, This is the first
instance of such drastic action by a state legislature...The international situation
remains very critical. Colorados cities and natural resources are of vital
importance to our national strength. They would be prime targets in case of
enemy attack.64 Even the legislative affairs committee of the Colorado Springs
Chamber of Commerce pushed to work for immediate action in the Legislature
to keep the state civil defense agency.65 Though many individuals attempted to
keep the State Civil Defense Office alive, the program remained at a standstill
until the pulse of international events and a possible addition to the Colorado
Springs area forced some reconsideration.
On March 6,1953, the Rocky Mountain News announced in big, bold
letters, STALIN IS DEAD! The news of the death of the feared Soviet leader
elicited mixed emotions for many Americans. On the one hand, people could
speculate that the leaders death might lead to better relations between the two
world superpowers. On the other hand, some feared that Stalins death could open
63 City Will Push for Its Plans For Civil Defense, Rocky Mountain News, 3 March 1953, 5.
64 Tom Gavin, Evasion Hides Pressure to Renew Civil Defense, Rocky Mountain News, 3 March
65 Civil Defense Gets Backing at Springs, Rocky Mountain News, 5 March 1953, 42.
the possibility for another leader, possibly worse, to take over and the possibility
of atomic war in the United States could be greater than ever. In a Rocky
Mountain News survey, the views of the interviewed Denverites revealed a bleak
attitude. One interviewee, Newcomb Eldredge explained, I think the United
States can expect a more aggressive attitude from Russia. Likewise, Maxey
Cobb stated, It doesnt make any difference. There are others who will take over
where he left off. Others, like Richard Miller, expressed the idea that Stalin was
not dead, but the whole event was another Russian lie.66 Many feared that a
younger successor of Stalins might be more inclined to the kind of reckless
action that could touch off a third world war.67 Regardless, the situation created a
sense of uncertainty and new awareness of the need to address issues regarding
national survival, providing the Colorado Civil Defense Office a chance for
Colorado legislators scrambled to revive the state civil defense program in
light of the bittersweet situation. The Rocky Mountain News reported, Several
members who voted against the bill originally said they had changed their minds,
not because of the briefings, but because of the changed situation resulting from
Stalins death. Representative Eleanor Carr of Denver stated, I had no idea that
66 Bill Miller, Denverites Fear Stalin Successor, Rocky Mountain News, 6 March 1953, 36.
67 US. Diplomats Fear Malenkov Will Start War, Rocky Mountain News, 7March 1953, 10.
one small state could be so important in the overall program.68 Although
legislators wanted to evaluate how the Civil Defense Office used some of the
money, they started to be amenable to reviving the program.
One of the final pushes to resurrect the program revolved around the issue
of gaining the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. Colorado Springs was
one of seven possible sites planned for the Academy, and city leaders were
concerned that the killing of Colorados civil defense program may also kill
Colorado Springs chances and tip the final decision on the academy site to one of
the six other recommended locations. As a result the citys leaders and civic
groups pleaded for their legislative delegation to insist funds be appropriated to
continue the program.69 The Legislature now faced not only an international
concern, but the possibility that the elimination of the civil defense program
would ruin the states chances for a prestigious military academy. Even the
Leyden-Chiles-Wickersham Post of the American Legion passed a resolution
begging the legislature to reconsider. The post rationalized that the state needed to
continue in civil defense because of its atomic industry and its geographic
location in relation to key military installations.70 With such pressure to
reconsider, the Legislature was given little chance to hold to their initial position.
68 Tom Gavin, Legislators Study Action for Keeping Civil Defense Alive, Rocky Mountain
News, 7 March 1953, 5.
69Robert H. Hansen, Civil Defense Backers Use Academy as Wedge, Denver Post, 8 March
70 Denver Legion Supports State Civil Defense, Rocky Mountain News, 8 March 1953, 5.
The state had become too important to national defense to cut the program and
doing so now seemed like a suicidal gesture to many of the states leaders, groups,
By March 7, 1952, Governor Thornton met with state and federal
government employees, the Air Force, and Henry Larsen to help revive the
program. The goal of this meeting was to provide the legislators with unassailable
evidence that civil defense remained important enough to stay funded. While
Thornton and Larsen both spoke to the legislators about the importance of civil
defense, the strongest evidence came from Air Force representatives. With the
help of United Airlines, the legislators flew to Colorado Springs to get proof from
General Chidlaw and the Air Defense Command that the civil defense program
remained vital to the success of military activities in the state. Chidlaw explained
to the group that the citizen aspect of the Air Defense Command was vital in the
air watching process because these volunteers cover areas in a manner which
would require the costliest of equipment to replace.71 With such evidence
provided to the legislators, they had little choice but to revive the program.
By March 1952, the House Appropriations Committee gave the program
$20,000 until July 1, when it was up for reconsideration again. Still, many
legislators questioned the effectiveness of the program. The appropriations bill
was presented to the floor without recommendation because many legislators
71 Sam Lusky, Dan Predicts Civil Defense Will Be Revived, Rocky Mountain News, 8 March
remained convinced that the program was a waste of money.72 On March 16, the
bill passed in a thirty-eight to twenty vote, with the dissenting votes all from
In an era commonly thought of as a time of consensus, civil defense never
truly had a clear sense of unanimity. Many fully supported the program, giving
their time and money freely to the program in the belief, or hope, that doing so
would help the nation survive an atomic war. However, the program consistently
had its critics as well, who believed either that there would not be a war of that
scale or that there would be little survivability in such a war. Others simply
remained apathetic. Some individuals vacillated in their opinions towards civil
defense based upon the cold war barometer. One individual who fell into this
category was President Eisenhower, who often saw certain aspects of civil
defense as useless, but considered installing a bomb shelter at his Gettysburg
estate. With a clear spectrum of opinions regarding the issue, it is easy to
understand why civil defense had a rocky existence throughout this cold war era.
Given the plethora of opinions and concerns about civil defense, the issue
of recruiting volunteers remained a formidable roadblock in the quest to create a
united local, state, and national program. Because this had been a grueling task for
many leaders, Val Peterson, the Civil Defense administrator suggested drafting
the nations men and women into the program. People were outraged at the
72 New Lease Given Civil Defense Bill, Rocky Mountain News, 11 March 1953, 5.
73 House Approves $20,000 for Civil Defense, Rocky Mountain News, 17 March 1953, 19.
suggestion. One editorial in the Rocky Mountain News explained, The backbone
of Civil Defense always has been, is now, and must continue to be the willing
volunteers who give so generously of their time and energy to help protect their
homes and neighbors.74 Thus, a healthy civil defense program could work only
when people wanted to engage in activities. Moreover, the issue also raised a
significant concern about government intervention. Choosing to be a part of civil
defense was a democratic decision, but conscripting people to work seemed un-
American, even Soviet. Still, conscription might be necessary when an atomic war
was underway. The editorial argued, Should the time ever come when it is
necessary to draft workers in this vital service, then the time will be here when
everybody in the nation must be drafted and everything in sight must be
conscripted.75 With opinions so divided on the issue, civil defense had to remain
a volunteer organization regardless of a lack of consistent voluntarism. So, leaders
continually had to persuade the public via pro-American rhetoric or scare tactics
to bring in more volunteers.
Val Peterson issued a warning to Denverites noting that the Soviets had a
bomb with Denvers name on it, ready to be launched at any moment. Peterson
compounded the severity of the situation by reminding that public that the Soviets
could also unleash a bacteriological campaign against Colorados agricultural
centers. He appealed to the public, You may have a civil disaster in Colorado,
74 Off the Beam on Civil Defense, Rocky Mountain News, 11 March 1953, 30.
75 Off the Beam on Civil Defense, Rocky Mountain News, 30.
civil defense could help meet that responsibility in Colorado. Governor Thornton
reminded Colorado leaders and residents that the state held several strategic
points making it vulnerable to attack, such as the Pueblo steel mills, Rocky Flats,
the Air Defense Command, and the states uranium mines.76 With such prospects,
certain government leaders and civil defense officials hoped that people would be
proactive in their efforts and responsibilities to themselves, their families, their
neighbors, and most of all, to their nation.
Yet, the warnings went unheeded. Larsen announced in the Rocky
Mountain News that Colorados civil defense program would be ineffective in
the face of disaster because of the lack of concern by the states legislators,
congressmen, local civil defense directors and an apathetic public. Larsen saw
the progress of the program as so poor that if a general enemy attack were aimed
at the state today... most of Colorados population could be wiped out. More
would die from the results of panic than from bombs.77 However, Larsen himself
was the subject of criticism. The Rocky Mountain News revealed that most of the
money appropriated to the states civil defense program went to the salaries of
Larsen and his staff, with Larsen receiving $14,875 of the $88,683 in salaries.
That meant that the actual civil defense program only received $33,530.90 (going
to supplies, pamphlets, etc.) of the total $161,883.94 cumulative budget. When
76 Sam Lusky, Russia Has A-Bomb Ticketed for Denver, CD Chief Says, Rocky Mountain
News, 13 March 1952, 5.
77 Civil Defense Found Week," Rocky Mountain News, 21 July 1953, 16.
the civil defense program was up for elimination, this fact alone was one of the
contributing factors as to why legislators were reluctant to support the program.
To change these views, by July 1953, Larsen reduced his paid staff by half,
relying largely on the assistance of volunteers.78 The Legislature begrudgingly
appropriated $84,400 for the 1952-1953 fiscal year, which was less than the
organization had hoped.79 The cut in funding and personnel impacted the program
significantly and the recruitment of volunteers became ever more vital to its
The Colorado Civil Defense Agencys publication, Colorado Civil
Defeme Propagator lamented all of the events surrounding the program
controversy. In the July 24,1953, edition, the Propagator criticized the State
Legislature and the apathetic public. The publication continued to explain the
importance of civil defense by quoting President Eisenhower who noted, Civil
Defense is sheer necessity and this important work must not be permitted to
lag.81 To this the Propagator stated, Fellow-Coloradan, if the above does not
alert you to the need for Civil Defense, then you are going to be one of those who
78Tom Gavin, Salaries Take Most of Fund Earmarked for Civil Defense, Rocky Mountain News,
24 July 1953, 5.
79 Several legislators only agreed to the years appropriation out of fear that if funds were needed
suddenly in an emergency they might be blamed for neglecting to prepare. Hal Seymour, State
Civil Defense Here for Year More, Rocky Mountain News, 1 February 1954, 38.
80 Colonel Charles Rudd, Director of the Denver Civil Defense Offices Warden Division resigned
in April 1954 because he was simply overwhelmed with the duty of recruiting 8,849 block warden
with only one assistant. The cutbacks harmed those even at a local level. Civil Defense Official
Quits, Scores Setup, Denver Post, 9 April 1954, 29.
81 Colorado Civil Defense Propagator, vol. 1 no. 1 (24 July 1953): 2
will yell loud and lustilyafter something happens, and youll want to know:
Why in the ell we arent organized and trained to do something for you! If
were aroundperhaps youll get an answer.82 Program leaders detested the
general state of apathy that ultimately led to the elimination of a number of staff
and public outreach ventures. The Propagator not only blamed the Legislators but
the citizens who allowed such a thing to happen:
Tell the people in your community that they dont need to concern
themselves about civil defense IFThey dont give a d what happens to
America. They have no regard for their own security or the security of their
children. They have no appreciation of Our American Way Of Life and its
many blessings. They believe that American blood spilled in the Korean
conflict with Communism was spilled solely to maintain prosperity in this
country. They are just a lot of selfish, self-centered individuals without any
regard for the responsibilities of citizenship.83
Once again, civil defense became a mechanism to gauge Americanism. If citizens
had served and participated in civil defense endeavors prior to the preliminary
dissolution of the Colorado Civil Defense Agency, then the program may not
have not been up for elimination in the first place. Despite all of the American-
centered rhetoric that the Civil Defense Agency used to pull at the heartstrings of
Coloradans, the program continued to face significant scrutiny throughout the
By May 1955, the program underwent significant scrutiny for a second
time. Bill Brenneman of the Rocky Mountain News reported, After four years of
82 Colorado Civil Defense Propagator, vol. 1 no. 1 (24 July 1953): 1.
83 Colorado Civil Defense Propagator, vol. 1 no 2. (August 1953): 1.
preparation and expenditures of $750,000 on civil defense, Colorado and Denver
still are far from ready to meet the disaster of an H-bomb attack. Civil defense
leaders say firstly that we are not prepared for disaster.84 85 Considering that the
program had undergone immense criticism regarding its value on multiple
occasions, an expose on the programs shortcomings, mainly around recruitment,
funds, and public interest, only threatened the continued existence of the program.
Larsen lamented, I wish we had done more in the past... I wish we could do more
in the future. We should be further along. Maybe its partly my fault, but I dont
know what more we can do. Although the program struggled to survive under
normal conditions, the heightened sense of doom brought about by Soviet H-
bombs further compounded the situation. The civil defense program faced
desperate times and the only method left to civil defense leaders was to impress
upon its citizens the importance of individual responsibility for ones own safety
and their duty to their country and neighbors.
In an effort to justify civil defense programs to the public, leaders
attempted to frame the program in less militant, more utilitarian terms. Regional
Civil Defense Supervisor, A.C. Tilley explained that civil defense could be a
program used in war and in peace. Tilley noted that applying civil defense to
natural disaster events was a very natural CD function and a very good training
84 Bill Brenneman, 750,000 Still Buys No Civil Defense, Rocky Mountain News, 29 May 1955,
85 Brenneman, 750,000 Still Buys No Civil Defense, Rocky Mountain News, 2.
ground for the type of thing you would have to do if the country were attacked.
One anonymous columnist wrote, If we have an organization which can prove
itself in flood and other natural disasters, we need have no fear about our defense
against an outside enemy.86 87 Rather than preparing for World War III, citizens
could prepare for other disasters that might threaten their homes, families, and
livelihoods. In addition to the new marketing aspect, framing civil defense in a
dual context gave leaders a chance to open up new opportunities for federal
funding. Tilley explained that in a disaster area, civil defense leaders could
request funding from other federal agencies.88 By restructuring the image of civil
defense, leaders attempted to make the program more palatable to individuals
disillusioned by the threat of warfare. However, new technologies soon threatened
the usefulness of the civil defense program.
The Obsolescence of Civil Defense? Missile Development in the Mid-1950s
During the cold war era, Americans had a love-hate relationship with
science and technology. On one hand, the United States had built the atomic
bomb and perfected the hydrogen bomb, but on the other hand, the Soviets also
had them. The bombs gave many a false sense of security, and, for others, they
symbolized an imminent Armageddon. Policies of containment and deterrence
86 Tom Wilson, Civil Defense Given Dual Job, Chief Says, Denver Post, 19 June 1957, 9. For
more information please also refer to Destructive 1956 Flood Spurs Preparation of Disaster
Plan, Rocky Mountain News, 28 April 1957, 14.
87 Where Was Civil Defense, Rocky Mountain News, 14 May 1957, 34.
88 Wilson, Civil Defense Given Dual Job, Chief Says, Denver Post, 9.
could only work for so long. As early as 1950, scientists and leaders in the United
States wanted to find a way to intercept Soviet bombs to prevent a nuclear
holocaust on American soil. Eugene Rabinowitch, editor of the Bulletin of the
Atomic Scientists noted that an effective warning and interception system, and
the creation of an effective civil defense system would prove vital elements of
an integrated defense policy aimed at prolonging peace by making aggression
unprofitable.89 Throughout the era, it was important that scientists develop
means to protect the nation against new military threats. Many Americans put
their faith in science if only in the hope that it would produce something to save
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s Colorado became an ever-growing center
for cold war industries because of its geographical situation. An article in the
November 16,1950, edition of The Denver Post explained that Colorado Springs
was a perfect headquarters for the air defense command because it was near the
geographic center of the country.90 Whereas in the past, American defense
industries had been located near major cities in coastal areas, defense officials
shifted their line of thinking and noted the importance of placing these industries
in a geographically more protected area. As a result, several more defense
additions came to Colorado, including the North American Air Defense
89 Eugene Rabinowitch, Civil Defense: The Long Range View, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists,
vol. 6, no. 8-9 (1950): 227.
90 Air Defense Gets Down to Cases Denver Post, 18 November 1950, 10.
(NORAD) and the Air Force Academy. Plus, Colorado also was home to the
nations largest supplies of uranium. Therefore, government officials realized that
they had more to protect from atomic attack. Simultaneously, city officials and
civil defense leaders recognized that because these new industries also put the
population at higher risk, more measures had to be taken to protect the states
In May 1954, Coloradans learned that the state was a likely candidate to
receive Nike guided missile installations. The Rocky Mountain News explained,
The atomic energy and nerve gas installations, the various depots and industries
in the Denver-Colorado Springs area and the air defense command headquarters
all entered into the areas selection as a Nike installation point. Additionally, the
Denver-Colorado Springs areas were closer to the potential enemy than
Washington because the Soviets would use a trans-polar attack. The Nike
missiles, many believed, would be the best possible hope to overtake and destroy
approaching enemy aircraft, or enemy missiles before they could do harms.91
Not only would missiles save countless numbers of Americans, but
many thought that it would render civil defense an obsolete precaution. In 1955,
Denver was considered as one of the leading areas to receive a Boeing contract
for a $60 million Bomarc missile plant. Governor Johnson reveled at the
possibility of Colorado producing the guided missiles so necessary for victory in
91 James M. Daniel, Denver Area in Line for Nike Missile Base, Rocky Mountain News, 13
May 1954, 23.
this fight. The guided missiles would theoretically intercept all Soviet attempts
to penetrate American soil making all parts of the United States safe from atomic
bombardment.92 Johnson criticized civil defense numerous times throughout his
endorsement of the Bomarc plant. At one point Johnson took time to unleash a
few jagged barbs at the Federal Civil Defense Administration by noting, Their
policy of run and hide is utterly foolish and un-American.93 Americans could
rest assured that their best interests were in the hands of government contractors.
However certain some politicians were about the safety provided by
guided missiles, civil defense leaders continued to advocate the use of traditional
safety methods, particularly evacuation. A.C. Tilley, a Denver regional defense
leader explained that he had no word that the guided missile program would be a
foolproof defense against atomic attacks as reported... by Gov. Johnson.94 Like
many aspects of the civil defense program itself, the Bomarc program seemed like
a nice possibility on paper, but might prove problematic in practice. Thomas L.
Martin, Jr. and Donald C. Latham explained in their 1963 book, Strategy for
Survival, that while a hopeful prospect, the missile systems would only
complicate matters for host cities because the dense concentrations of military
targets would tend to draw enemy attack which would only increase fallout.95
92 Civil Defense Obsolete with BomarcEd, Denver Post, 11 July 1955, 2.
93 Boeing Plant is Vital to U.S., Johnson Says, Rocky Mountain News, 12 July 1955, 11.
94 Evacuation Still Civil Defense Policy, Rocky Mountain News, 12 July 1955, 11.
93 Thomas L. Martin, Jr., and Donald C. Latham. Strategy for Survival (Tucson, Arizona:
University of Arizona Press, 1963), 119.
Martin and Latham both advocated a strengthening of the civil defense programs
to prepare for such attacks. For many people, the missiles may have seemed like a
foolproof plan for survival, but for others civil defense still remained one of the
main lines of preparation and defense.
Missile technology continued to flourish, and Colorado continued to be
the home for many missile sites. In 1955, the Martin Company built a plant in an
area in the southwest foothills of Denver to develop the Titan missile.96 By 1957,
scientists estimated that a Soviet missile could hit Denver within twenty-five
minutes of launch, and the information provided added impetus for the American
development of missiles capable of interception.97 In amongst all of the missile
enthusiasm, Americans were forced to face the reality that the Soviets were
becoming more technologically advanced. On October 4,1957, the Soviets
launched Sputnik, the first satellite in space. With such knowledge, the United
States needed to step up in its technological development to catch up, and more
importantly, surpass the Soviet Union.
By 1958, the Rocky Mountain News proudly announced that Americas
greatest missilethe Titan ICBM [Intercontinental Ballistic Missile]will be
ready for firing from its Denver base by June 1961. The Titan missiles provided
a sense of security as they could fly 5,500 miles to strike at speeds of 12,000 to
96 Defense Core of America, Rocky Mountain News, 19 April 1959, 18E.
97 Wes French, Colorado Abandons 24-Hour Skywatch, Rocky Mountain News, 1 February
16,000 miles an hour and since Denver was a mile above sea level, it became a
perfect candidate for big rocket firing.98 As a result, nineteen ICBM launching
sites were created in Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska where a combination of
forty-two Titan and Atlas missiles could be fired at Soviet targets.99 The Rocky
Mountain News exhibited a marked optimism regarding the power of technology
for offensive and defensive purposes.
In addition to the promises of safety with the missiles came the possibility
of ensuring mass American survival through space-age technology. In a March
1961 article the Denver Post reported, Learning how to keep a defensive watch
for the nation on every object orbiting the earth is a 12-man unit that will form the
nucleus of the ADC [Air Defense Command] squadron which will feed satellite
information to the North American Air Defense Command.100 The use of
satellites in space provided yet another technological advance that scientists
believed would save the American public. Again, Colorado was the host for the
nations defensive promises.
Even though the Colorado Civil Defense Office attempted to structure
civil defense as a method for the survival of the individual and the nation, the
program struggled for its life throughout the 1950s. Both ordinary citizens and
98 Titan Base at Lowry Will Be Ready in 1961, Rocky Mountain News, 4 July 1958, 5.
99 19 ICBM Area Launching Sites Slated to Spearhead U.S. Attack Capability, Denver Post, 7
June 1959, 3A.
leaders vacillated in their support of the program. The only times the Colorado
Civil Defense Office gained support was during periods of great international
tension or when a new defense industry entered the state. In order to try to gain
funding and recruits, Larsen and his staff drew upon patriotic rhetoric to try to
pull at the heartstrings of Coloradans, to get them to demonstrate that through
voluntarism they could prove that they were good Americans. And, civil defense
leaders attempted to frame the program with a dual purpose. If an atomic attack
did not occur, civil defense preparations still would serve the state well during
natural disasters, for example. The states civil defense leaders were in a constant
state of tug-of-war with the states leaders and citizens over the usefulness of the
program. In spite of the fact that the 1950s brought new defense industries to the
state, and as the nation faced a volatile international situation, Colorados civil
defense program was under constant scrutiny.
One can only speculate as to the reasons why people remained so
indifferent to the program. Perhaps some thought that any preparation would be
futile given the increasing power of nuclear bombs. Optimists may have decided
that the United States would never engage in or be attacked in an atomic
exchange, so the program would be a useless formality. For these reasons, and
countless others, the program struggled to maintain a consistent level of funding
along with public concern and voluntarism.
DENVERS CIVIL DEFENSE OFFICE
We do not expect Denver to be bombed. But no one can assure
us that war will not occur, or that in war, Denver will
not be bombed. The only safe course is to be prepared.
The best weapon of civil defense is knowledge, because
knowledge is the power to survive.
Denver Mayor Quigg Newton, 19511
During the early stage in the cold war, of all of the possible targets in
Colorado, predictably the most vulnerable was Denver. Early in 1951, leaders in
Washington decided that Denver would be a key civil defense center of the
Rocky Mountain Empire.1 2 As with the national air defense, leaders began to take
notice of Colorados geographical location and found it to be the perfect place to
situate a federal civil defense office to handle the coordination of interstate
planning.3 With such a prospect looming in Denvers future, the city organized
their civil defense offices. George B. Berger, Jr. became the director of the
Denver Civil Defense Office shortly after the appointment of Henry Larsen as
director of the state office. Berger, president of the Colorado National Bank, was
given six months leave to serve as the director of the citys civil defense program.
1 Civil Defense Office of Denver, Colorado, Just in Case Atom Bombs Fall: Handbook For
Civilians (Denver: Bradford Robinson, 1951), 2.
2 Robert Hansen, Denver In Key Role for Empires Defense, Denver Post, 21 January 1951,
3 Hansen, Denver In Key Role for Empires Defense, Denver Post, 12A; U.S. to Set Up Civil
Defense Office Here, Rocky Mountain News, 28 January 1951, 20.
Like many leaders of civil defense programs, Berger had served as a commander
in the Navy.4
The Denver civil defense program welcomed the help of Mountain States
Telephone and Telegraph Company, Western Union, motorcycle and bike clubs,
and numerous youth organizations to help create a state communications
network.5 Berger, with representatives from each of these companies and
organizations, decided that in an atomic attack the city would need functioning
telephone, telegraph, radio, and courier sections to keep officials in touch with
civil defense offices throughout the state. As with many of the state civil defense
plans for an atomic attack, communications networks might be briefly interrupted
during the ordeal, but the couriers could keep the networks going while the
companies would restore the lines of communication quickly and efficiently.
Again, the civil defense plans assumed that in an atomic attack, the
inconveniences of a blast would only be temporary.
After the first successful run-through of a statewide civil defense exercise,
George Berger felt confident in seeking additional funding for the Denver
program from the city council. With the $6,000 that Berger sought to obtain from
the council, he planned to build a control center as a base of operations for the
4 Banker Is Named to Direct City Civil Defense Program, Rocky Mountain News, 18 January
5 Civil Defense Readies Communication Plans, Denver Post, 11 March 1951,18A
entire civil defense program prior to, during and after an air attack.6
Theoretically, Berger also wanted to have two other centers available in the event
that the major proposed center was demolished. With such a command center,
civil defense leaders could better coordinate communications throughout the
entire ordeal, and bring about more opportunities for the mobilization of
emergency supplies and other life-saving measures. In theory, the centers would
keep the city as organized as possible in an attack.
By September 1951, the Denver Post reported on Bergers control centers.
The Post reported, Denvers civil defense program has progressed quietly to the
point where a secret control center has been set up and 500 warden instructors
are about to be recruited and trained. The secret control center, which was
located in the basement of a building on the University of Denver campus, was
set-up and functioning by the time that the article was printed. Berger also
explained that two other centers had been planned and lines of communication
were being installed to these other locations.7 Thus, Berger achieved the goal of a
center where the citys civil defense planners could work during an attack and
plan to restore the city after an attack was clearly a reality. With the achievement
of this goal, Berger moved on to the next phase of the program that included
the installation of air raid warning devices, bomb shelters, and the stockpiling of
6 $6,000 Fund Asked for A-Center, Denver Post, 11 May 1951, 2.
7 Secret Center Set to Control Defense Here, Denver Post, 9 September 1951, 22C.
food, clothing, and medical supplies.8 Until Berger received information from
Washington as to how to implement these things and how much funding each
would require, the Denver Civil Defense Office focused on the task of recruiting
volunteers and disseminating information throughout the city. Getting the
materials for civil defense was hard enough, but getting Denverites interested and
proactive in their own survival was another matter.
The Denver Civil Defense Office attempted to get the life-saving
messages out to the public, particularly to those they saw as important to the post-
attack reconstruction and survival of the state. In 1951, the Denver office
distributed over 2,000 informational cards to the citys construction foremen and
workers instructing them as to what they were expected to do in case of an aerial
bombing attack on the city. Additionally, 500 heavy construction vehicles
received informational decals that could provide workers with an alternative area
to look for emergency instructions. The cards instructed the foremen that once
they heard the air raid sirens they should go to their nearest assembly point with
equipment and crew, survey their manpower and equipment, report their
information to an assembly point superintendent and wait for work orders.9 The
survival of those working in construction was of paramount importance for the
Denver Civil Defense Office. The workers, who had training in heavy machinery
8 Secret Center Set to Control Defense Here, Denver Post, 22C.
9 Ed Oschmann, 2200 Key Workmen Instructed What to Do if Denver is Bombed, Rocky
Mountain News, 31 August 1951, 69.
operation, played an important role in post-attack recovery plans. Charles B.
Berry, City Director of Public Works and Director of the Rescue and Public
works Division of the Denver Civil Defense Office explained that the workers
could carry out rescue operations in devastated areas, control floods, disruption
of sewer service, demolition of hazardous structures, clearing fire lanes of debris,
property protection including the boarding up of buildings.10 11 As with many other
occupations throughout the state, those involved in construction and public works
provided a key aspect of rescue and restoration of the city. These individuals held
the vital keys for increasing survivability through rescue efforts and the ability to
help restore order in the demolished city.
Likewise, the Denver office sought to gain the potential assistance from
other central groups throughout the city. In addition to recruiting citizen
volunteers, the Denver Civil Defense Office targeted professionals such as the
chief of police, fire chief, health, welfare and public works department heads.11
By introducing the civil defense plans and gaining the assistance of these
department heads, Denver civil defense planners assumed that they would
implement the programs to their workers in these fields. The voluntary
recruitment of this section of possible civil defense workers also had a significant
economic aspect. If the professional leaders and the staff were recruited, the Civil
Defense Office would be able to organize the businesses to avoid duplication of
10 Oschmann, 2200 Key Workmen Instructed What to Do if Denver is Bombed, 69.
11 Denver Maps Civil Defense Recruit Drive, Rocky Mountain News, 9 September 1951, 36.
effort and salaries.12 The recruitment of professionals could theoretically lead to
a ready-made pool of useful, well-educated volunteers.
Volunteers would be critical after an atomic attack. The Denver Civil
Defense Office recognized this and attempted to be proactive in their approach.
From October 6-13,1951, the Denver Civil Defense Office engaged in its first
major civil defense recruiting drive with the goal of enrolling more than 50,000
people in the positions of block wardens, couriers, rescue workers and for other
emergency assignments. Even the citys children were considered viable
volunteers for courier jobs during and after an attack. The program hoped to
recruit 1000 Boy Scouts, 150 Highlander Boys, 100 Camp Fire Girls, 150 Girl
Scouts and 130 motorcycle club members. Berger explained, We intended to
develop something of a skeleton organization that will admit the induction of
thousands of volunteer workers almost over night in the event of an emergency.
Charles L. Bowman, chief of the warden service explained, Our big job is to get
citizens of Denver awake to what this is all about. Civil Defense has been talked
about, but we need definite plans and must develop our facilities if we are to meet
During this week, the Denver Civil Defense Office collaborated with
movie theaters and 6,000 Denver Boy Scouts to get the word out about training
from the Red Cross and volunteering in civil defense. Moreover, the Office also
12 Denver Maps Civil Defense Recruit Drive, Rocky Mountain News, 36.
13 Denver Maps Civil Defense Recruit Drive, Rocky Mountain News, 36.
relied on Denver policemen to distribute recruiting campaign placards to
businesses throughout the Denver metropolitan area. The Office sent the Boy
Scouts on a door-to-door campaign in Denver, Wheat Ridge, Arvada, Aurora,
Lakewood, and Englewood, passing out 100,000 return-postage enrollment
cards, four-page recruitment folders and 32-page handbooks advising citizens
how to protect themselves against atomic or biological attack [the handbook
passed out was titled Just in Case ].14 Each of the books contained a reply card
that citizens could check off to express their willingness to take part in the civil
defense activities. During the week, the Red Cross also offered evening first aid
classes open to the public at local schools. The effort to disseminate information
and to recruit volunteers was an admirable task for the small Denver Civil
in an effort to both educate the public and advocate voluntarism in the
Denver civil defense programs, Berger and Mayor Quigg Newton promoted civil
defense through the publication of a handbook for civilians, appropriately titled,
Just in Case Atom Bombs Fall. The well-illustrated and user-friendly handbook
provided basic information on air raid signals, how to prepare ones home, duck
and cover methods, understanding radioactivity and biological warfare, and
finally how individuals could volunteer. The booklet reminded readers of four
14 Scouts Spread Civil Defense Data, Rocky Mountain News, 7 October 1951, 8;
Drive to Recruit Civil Defenders, Rocky Mountain News, 6 October 1951, 12.
15 The sources never actually give figures of how many people volunteered.
basic things about A-bombs, 1. Atomic weapons will not destroy the earth, 2.
Doubling bomb power doesnt double destruction, 3. Radioactivity is not the
bombs greatest threat, 4. Radiation sickness is not always fatal.16 In the four-
step list of what to do during a bombing attack the booklets first step advised
readers to Keep cool. Avoid chaos; prevent disorder and havoc followed by
stay home, lie down, and after explosion keep away from radioactive
dust.17 18 Along the list, was an illustration of a well-dressed, white male shielding
himself from a blast directly over the Daniels Fisher Tower with the brim of his
hat shielding his face from the explosion. After an attack, the manual advised
readers to put out fires, administer first aid, keep all gas appliances off, avoid
contact with radioactive materials, take a showerand use lots of soap, avoid
unapproved drinking water, dont spread rumors, avoid flushing toilets, wash
contaminated clothes in a tub, bury heavily contaminated clothes, and wash hair.
The booklet definitely underestimated the effects of radioactivity, which later
handbooks focused on more than the atomic bomb blast. Regardless, the booklet
disseminated the information that civil defense leaders wanted Denverites to
understand. For the Denver Civil Defense Office, the booklets were a step in the
right direction for informing the public, while also recruiting Denverites.
16 Civil Defense Office of Denver, Colorado, Just in Case Atom Bombs Fall: Handbook For
Civilians (Denver: Bradford Robinson, 1951): 29
17 Civil Defense Office of Denver, Colorado, Just in Case Atom Bombs Fall, 14.
18 Civil Defense Office ofDenver, Colorado, Just in Case Atom Bombs Fall, 19.
Perusing the small handbook, it is easy to notice that its main goal was to
allay public fear about the atomic threat and to stress that individuals could
control the situation. A number of times, the booklet reminded readers to avoid
spreading rumors. Near the end of the booklet, next to an illustration of two
women, one with her hand near her mouth as if she is disclosing a secret to the
other, reads in big, bold letters:
DONT START RUMORS. Dont believe wild stories. REMEMBER: Dont
listen to propaganda about how germs can wipe out whole cities. If you will
cooperate with your neighbors and civil defense health authorities, you can
keep up a strong defense against biological warfare.19
The booklet reveals many of the core themes of the larger civil defense program,
particularly that of preserving Americans, preventing hysteria while promoting
education and preparedness, and emphasizing personal responsibility and
Even civil defenses strongest critics, such as frequent Rocky Mountain
News contributor, Robert Chase, praised the efforts of the Denver Civil Defense
Office in their attempts to gain interest and volunteers. Chase noted in his article,
Up to this point, the program has been proceeding slowly and carefully, with
emphasis on perfecting a central organization to function in the event of an
emergency.20 The Denver Civil Defense Office focused its interests on reaching
19 Civil Defense Office of Denver, Colorado, Just in Case Atom Bombs Fall, 28.
20 Chase also stated, The handbook is an excellent job. Its true there might be some difficulty in
explaining why two small drawings of ladies in scanties add to the vital protective knowledge. Bit
individuals by extending their knowledge about disasters to a community level,
whereas the state civil defense measures revolved around organizing the state in
terms of staging areas, funding, and gaining interest on a large-scale for the
By December 1951, George Berger returned to his bank job and the
Denver Civil Defense Office was left in the hands of retired Air Force General
Frederick Evans. In comparison to Berger, who attempted to mobilize the public
by way of education, Evans approached the Denver civil defense issue in a more
tactical sense, by playing up the idea that the survival of the military rested upon a
functioning populace. Evans explained, Civilian defense throughout the country
is of equal importance to the buildup of our armed forces...Unless we keep the
wheels turning at home we cant hope to keep the Army and Navy rolling on to
victory elsewhere. In addition to emphasizing the significance of civil defense to
military success, Evans also intended to tackle the issue of survivability and bomb
shelters. Evans refused to implement extravagant bomb shelters, but rather
approved a more economical approach utilizing basements of present structures
that is incidental, and, in the main, the little booklets are easy to read, attractive, and full of
Robert L. Chase, Heres Common Sense in Civilian Defense, Rocky Mountain News, 7 October
21 Civilian Defense Setup is Praised, Rocky Mountain News, 14 December 1951, 8.
Evans outlined three major goals for 1952. Continuing with Bergers
attempts at recruitment, Evans aimed to carry on in the Denver Offices attempt to
gain volunteers for all aspects of civil defense. Next, Evans wanted to develop
some form of an air raid warning system. This effort was particularly important
considering that in January 1952, Larsen announced that the states plans
depended on towns and cities to obtain warning systems. Finally, Evans wanted to
solve the problem of what to do about air raid shelters. However, the program
needed additional funding in order to make it a success. John Buchanan reported
in the Denver Post that Denvers city administration, and taxpayers, are now
faced with expanded expenditure of money if the civil defense is to be expanded
further.22 Again, the survival of the civil defense program ultimately depended
on the citizens of Denver.
On April 6,1952, the Denver Civil Defense Office sounded the air raid
siren in the downtown area, and, to the dismay of civil defense officials, people
on the streets were seemingly unresponsive to the warning sounds. Denver Post
photographer Ira Gay Sealy, who was to photograph people on the street during
the siren drill, explained that Denverites had no reaction, nothing! He further
remarked, Theyre [Denverites] either the best informed or the calmest people 1
22 John Buchanan, Time, Cash Needed To Solve Problems of Civil Defense Plan, Denver Post,
1 February 1952, 25.
Ive ever seen.23 While initially it might seem that those around during the air
raid test were generally apathetic in their reaction to the warning, the Denver Post
revealed that many people in the downtown area simply did not hear the siren. For
many employees in office buildings, the sirens could only be heard when the
windows were open. Even as late as 1954, the Denver air raid siren system was
inadequate to warn the population in a number of outlying areas. The Denver Post
reported that indignant housewives contacted the paper when they could
barely hear the sirens [sic] even while standing outside their homes.24 The
concerns about obtaining air raid sirens and issuing an adequate warning system
remained a pervasive issue throughout Denvers cold war experience.
The Denver Civil Defense Office had to act not only on the information
provided by the ineffectual air raid test but also on an official study done by the
Federal Civil Defense Administration revealing that Denver was one of the sixty
cities in America recognized by the military chiefs of staff to be Soviet target
area. On August 19, 1952, the Rocky Mountain News explained to readers, You
may not know it, but youre living in a target area with some 67 million other
Americans... we probably could not prevent an attack if Russia decided to launch
one. But the next best thing is to teach people how to protect themselves and their
23 Mort Stem, Blase Denverites Take Air Raid Test in Stride, Denver Post, 7 April 1952, 24.
24 Sirens Wail; Many Fail to Hear, Denver Post, 24 March 1954, 3.
neighbors.25 26 With this news, regional directors set out to survey the city and
draw maps of the best areas for bomb shelters and to calculate the average number
of people going in and out of the city on a daily basis.
To remedy the problems of not having an adequate system of sirens
throughout Denver, the citys Civil Defense Office, under the guidance of the
communications chief Charles J. McCallister, purchased twenty-eight new sirens.
The Rocky Mountain News proudly announced, Denvers mile-high atmosphere
will start reverberating with the test shrieks of giant air raid sirens come April or
May. The city was to install $35,250 worth of sirens consisting of eleven ten and
one-half horsepower Thunderbolt sirens in residential areas; seven, seven and
one-half horsepower sirens on downtown buildings; and ten, two and a half
horsepower sirens were to be placed in downtown dead spots. The installation
of air raid sirens alleviated some of the problems that had plagued the civil
defense office in its earliest days.
Alert America Comes to Denver
After the Second World War, Americans struggled to understand the new
science that had changed their world so quickly. Part of the civil defense efforts
went towards educating the public about basic physics and the effects of atomic
weapons on populations. Some of the most important efforts to inform and recruit
25 Defense Analysis Set for Denver, One of 60 Target Cities in U.S., Rocky Mountain News,
19 August 1952, 12.
26 Denver to Get 28 Sirens by April, Rocky Mountain News, 15 February 1953, 24.
large numbers of individuals for civil defense activities came through public
exhibits such as the Alert America Convoys.
Political scientist Andrew Grossman explained in his 2001 book Neither
Dead Nor Red that programs such as Alert America were part of a larger effort
called Project East River, a program dedicated to allaying public fear by
introducing behavioral techniques of fear management and panic prevention.27
Grossman explained, In theory, a successful civil defense program would
achieve the goal of individual and group emotional control by channeling fear so
that it would not become panic.28 The Alert America program, as well as
several other traveling exhibits, aimed to educate and prepare the public to remain
calm and cooperate with authorities when the inevitable attack occurred.
Colorado became the setting for a number of exhibits aimed at educating
the public about atomic energy and disaster prevention. The first major atomic
exhibition in Pueblo, Denver, and Boulder came from the American Museum of
Atomic Energy at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, in March of 1952. While in Denver, the
exhibit was set up at East High School and, like those that followed, was entirely
free to the public and often encouraged group viewings for social organizations
and schools. The exhibit guided individuals through the story of atomic energy
27 Andrew Grossman, Neither Dead Nor Red: Civilian Defense and American Political
Development During the Early Cold War (New York: Routledge, 2001), 59.
28 Grossman, Neither Dead Nor Red, 59-60.
in peace and war with trained scientists and educators to conduct the visitors.29
The event gave some Coloradans a first look at atomic science and understanding
To encourage citizens throughout the United States to engage in civil
defense activities, the Federal Civil Defense Administration and the Valley Forge
Foundation created the Alert America Convoys as a marketing campaign to
inspire Americans to participate in their own safety and survival and contribute to
the wellbeing of their neighbors.30 In his Appeal to Americans, Kenneth D.
Wells, President of the Valley Forge Foundation, outlined the five results that the
Alert America Convoys were to accomplish in each city that the convoy visited.
First, the program needed to emphasize that fact that Civil Defense is a part of
the total defense of our free American Way of Life, based as it is on a
fundamental belief in God, on constitutional government designed to serve the
people and our indivisible bundle of political and economic rights.31 Next, Alert
America was to motivate all citizens, including all age groups, to engage in and
promote civil defense activities in all aspects of their lives. Third, the program
would help inspire in all Civil Defense organizations the highest possible morale
and the resolution to meet any danger that lies ahead. Fourth, the program
29 Atomic Exhibit Slated at East High School, Rocky Mountain News, 24 March 1952, 11.
30 Andrew Grossman coined the concept that Alert America was a marketing campaign.
Grossman, Neither Dead Nor Red, 63.
31 Valley Forge Foundation, The Alert America Convoys, New York: John R. Morrison Studio,
accentuated the idea that all citizens could organize and create a fully functional
civil defense program. Finally, the program helped people recognize that Civil
Defense is Common Sense, and to realize that Civil Defense, like accident
prevention in normal life, is a critically important personal responsibility.
Overall, Grossman identified three general themes to the program revolving
around patriotism, individual responsibility, and the concept that nuclear weapons
were manageable.32 33 Ultimately, the Alert America Convoys were to aid state
and local civil defense offices in the education, recruitment, and dissemination of
important information aimed at mass survival while emphasizing the
Along with educating the public in the logistics of civil defense, the
Valley Forge Foundation, a non-partisan and non-sectarian private foundation,
presented the program to have a higher cold war purpose. For the foundation, civil
defense provided a challenge that no American with a conscience can or will
ignore with the hope that citizens will TrainWorkand Prayfor an Alert
America.34 Using consensus history as evidence to persuade the public, Wells
urged Americans to hearken back to Americas colonial past by thinking of the
sacred privilege that no citizen will ignorethe privilege of serving as did
George Washington at Valley Forge in 1777 and 1778the privilege of accepting
32 Valley Forge Foundation, The Alert America Convoys, 3.
33 Grossman, Neither Dead Nor Red, 63.
34 Valley Forge Foundation, The Alert America Convoys, 3.
this opportunity to save and extend what is dearer than life itselfour American
Way of Life. Framed in this manner, civil defense programs were not merely
preparatory trainings in first aid and post-disaster situations, but would insure the
survival of American idealism that would ultimately save the world. To prove
the importance of American survival through civil defense, Wells outlined
Fact 1: Our self-declared enemy, the Soviet Union, is determined to rule the
Fact 2: We Americans stand in the way of Soviet aggression.
Fact 3: The Enemy opposes us in four ways: a) psychological propaganda, b)
economic pressure, c) political maneuvering, d) military force.
Fact 4: The Soviet Union is set on smashing our freedom, our ideals, our moral
standards, and our religious beliefs. No one knows when its physical violence
will crash down on our cities, factories, and farms.
Fact 5: We are now in an all-out fight for freedom against Soviet tyranny.
Fact 6: The Soviet Union has a stockpile of atomic bombs.
Fact 7: The Soviet Union has a supply of long-range bombers that can reach
any part of the United States.
Fact 8. The Soviet Union has the means for waging intensive biological
Fact 9: The Soviet Union has the plan and manpower for vast sabotage inside
our cities and factories.
Fact 10: General Hoyt Vandenberg, Air Force Chief of Staff, states that in the
event of an air attack on this country, 70 out of 100 bombers would get through
to their targets.
Fact 11: The Hiroshima bomb in one second killed or severely injured 140,000
people. Bombs have grown greatly in size and destructive force since then.
Fact 12: An adequate system of Civil Defense by skilled volunteers could cut
fatalities in half.
Fact 13: Secretary of Defense Robert A. Lovett states that Civil Defense is a
co-equal partner with the military in the defense of the nation and must become
a strong co-equal partner if America is to survive.35
35 Valley Forge Foundation, The Alert America Convoys, 3.
In this context, civil defense served a higher purpose. A prepared populace could
easily beat Stalins bombs and ultimately defeat the Soviets. The Alert America
Convoys were much more than just educational exhibits, but served as a Paul
Revere on Wheels. The Valley Forge Foundation emphasized that civil defense
was not just a way of preparing for an unforeseen disaster, but a way to preserve
While the Valley Forge Foundation provided the moral impetus for
encouraging civil defense programs in American cities, the Federal Civil Defense
Administration used the Alert America Convoys for more practical reasons.
Millard Caldwell, an administrator for the FCDA explained that a well-informed
public would resist the petrifying effects of atomic warfare. Furthermore, the
FCDAs goal was to convince the average citizen that he himself bears equal
responsibility and risk with the man in uniform in the defense of his homeland.36
The ultimate goal for this co-sponsor was to stress the role that the average citizen
had in relation to the American military. Because the United States had never had
a world war on its soil, the FCDA recognized that Americans needed to prepare
for this possibility. Moreover, since an atomic war would be vastly different from
a conventional war, American citizens needed to be adequately prepared and take
responsibility for their own survival.37
36 Valley Forge Foundation, The Alert America Convoys, 5.
37 In his essay, Let the People Know the Facts, Millard Caldwell reminded readers, It [civil
defense] is not primarily a federal responsibility, or a state responsibility. It is a responsibility of
Overall, the Alert America Convoys provided Americans in major cities in
all forty-eight states inspiration to participate in civil defense activities by
highlighting the idea that only through a strong civil defense can we keep our
cherished freedoms in an era where human life could be extinguished by atomic
weapons.38 Grossman further noted that the survivability of the masses in atomic
attack was no easy sell considering that many Americans had seen the pictures
from Hiroshima and Nagasaki.39 The important thing was to provide the
psychological basis to keep the public compliant in their preparation for attack.
Furthermore, the program emphasized that while the military defended the nation
from attack, it was up to the nations citizens to work in a civil defense capacity to
keep America strong.40 So, through a fleet of ten, thirty-two foot trailers, the
FCDA and the Valley Forge Foundation introduced Americans to their role in
The Alert America Convoys were like a defensive worlds fair, or as
Grossman refers a doomsday carnival, which presented exhibits that local civil
the individual citizen. It is his life, his home, his community, his country that must be protected.
To the extent that each of us personally responds to this challenge, we strengthen our defenses and
serve warning in our enemies that America is ready for any emergency. Valley Forge Foundation,
The Alert America Convoys, 5.
38 Valley Forge Foundation, The Alert America Convoys, 6.
39 Grossman, Neither Dead Nor Red, 76.
40 The Alert America Convoys explained, We have a strong Army, a strong Navy, and a strong
Air Force: BUT OUR CIVIL DEFENSE IS WOEFULLY WEAK. BECAUSE OF THIS WEAK
LINK OUR NATION COULD PERISH. People must be made to understand that since there is
no absolute military defense against modem terror weapons including atomic warfare, an effective
Civil Defense is vital to the security of the United States. This home front preparation would
provide the means whereby this country, if attacked, could get up from the rubble and fight on to
victory. Civil defense, essentially, meant the difference between victory or defeat, and ultimately
freedom over tyranny. Valley Forge Foundation, The Alert America Convoys, 6.
defense agencies could use to increase education and interest in volunteering.41
The Alert America Convoys came to Colorado during the week of September 24-
September 29,1952 at the Denver University Arena. To promote the event, the
Denver Civil Defense Office undertook a massive publicity effort. One of the
ways the city reached out to its citizens was through the dissemination of Alert
America leaflets with every purchase made at Denver department stores.42
Because the show was free to the public and group-friendly, the messages of the
local, state, and federal civil defense organizations and the Valley Forge
Foundation could be readily available to large numbers of people.
During Alert America Week, American citizens viewed large displays
that presented facts about the atom, the peaceful uses of atomic energy, and
atomic war, coupled with numerous displays devoted to presenting civil defense
activities. For the children, a life-sized Bert the turtle made an appearance and
handed out information reminding visitors to duck and cover. One of the exhibits,
entitled, Atomic Power in a World of Peace, provided viewers with a collage of
photographs depicting people using the atom in medicine and science.43
Unfortunately, few descriptions of the actual content of many of the exhibits that
toured the country exist. However, the exhibits varied between states due to the
fact that the Alert America program encouraged local groups dedicated to civil
41 Grossman, Neither Dead Nor Red, 77.
42 Civil Defense Aided, Rocky Mountain News, 17 September 1952, 29.
43 Valley Forge Foundation, The Alert America Convoys, 24.
defense to bring in exhibits. For example, the Lowry Air Force Base had a display
that presented a cutaway of a buzzbomb, two guided missiles, various types of
high explosive bombs and incendiaries, and a cutaway jet engine. Lowry also
helped plan atomic bomb runs of four of their B-29s over the University of
Denver at 2 p.m. on four afternoons to point up the Alert America show.44
One of the key areas for local civil defense authorities was the so-called pay-off
room where everybody passing through the exhibit will be asked to pledge
personal actionto volunteer for Civil Defense, to teach the family how to
protect itself, to take first aid training, etc.45 Those inspired by the exhibits had
an opportunity to take the Alert America Pledge, and act in a variety of
volunteer positions that ultimately benefited the local civil defense
organizations.46 The Alert America Convoys essentially demonstrated a well-
organized event that depended on the collaboration of local and federal
organizations to impress the importance of voluntarism and overall survivability.
44 Alert America Show to Open Wednesday at D.U. Fieldhouse, Denver Post, 23 September
45 Valley Forge Foundation, The Alert America Convoys, 7.
46 The Alert America Pledge: You can count on me to be an alert American because I want to
help protect our freedoms and construct an enduring peace. 1 WILL. . volunteer for one of the local
Civil Defense Services. I WILL. .train myself and my family now in Civil Defense self-protection.
I WILL...prepare a family shelter area and equip it with first-aid supplies. I WILL...prepare my
home against fire and atomic attack. I WILL...take an active part in Civil Defense where I work. I
WILL...take First Aid training. I WILL...donate my blood for our war wounded. I WILL...pass
along the Civil Defense lessons I have learned to my friends and neighbors.
Valley Forge Foundation, Alert America Convoys, 34.
Working Out the Kinks in the Denver Civil Defense Office
In July 1953, the Denver Civil Defense Office became the target of some
public criticism. While the office had been actively working in civil defense for
atomic warfare needs, the program largely neglected its function during natural
disasters. Denver had been the victim of a flash flood brought about by heavy
summer rains, and, as Pasquale Marranzino noted, Denvers Civil Defense
Authority overlooked a good bet for apardon the expressiondry run. The
Denver Civil Defense Office was good in theory, but poor in unplanned practices.
This made the reader of the Rocky Mountain News wonder, if civil defense failed
to act during a flood, could it be expected to work when the bombs actually
dropped. Marranzino further complained, But we havent been doing practical
things in our defense mobilization. We get units to play air raid and then get
glowing reports from the brass that the raid came but that disaster was averted
on paper.47 Marranzinos criticism supports the argument that civil defense was
merely a facade, used in part as a psychological mechanism to control public fear.
Even some of the citys block wardens criticized Colorado civil defense
planning and its leaders. Denver block wardens Mrs. Anthony Bradasich and Mrs.
J. Fredric Prinzing criticized the program for its inability to get publicity for the
civil defense effort, the apathy among many of its staff and leaders, the lack of
47 Pasquale Marranzino, Civil Defense Missed a Good Bet, Rocky Mountain News, 11 July
interest in recruiting more wardens and volunteers, and the inability to maintain
follow-through in keeping wardens informed and interested in their work. Even
Major General Frederick Evans, Denver Civil Defense Director stated, There are
more quarterbacks in this business than in any Ive ever been mixed up in.48
With criticisms such as these, it is easy to understand why the civil defense
program was constantly up for review and termination.
Rather than investing time and energy in solving the concerns of the
public, the Denver Civil Defense Office continued to look at specific areas of
preparation rather than looking at the big picture. By the mid-1950s, the Denver
Civil Defense Office focused on the salvation of government leaders rather than
the public at large. With an increased awareness of modem atomic weaponry and
in keeping with the national plan for evacuation, city leaders moved the Denver
Civil Defense Center from its secret location in a basement at University of
Denver to underneath the stage of Red Rocks Amphitheater, located outside of the
city. Officials chose the site because of the natural defenses provided by the
hogback formation that could deflect any atomic blast from Denver.49 The
Denver Civil Defense Office hired the Latimer Construction Company to convert
the stage area for a cost of $11,900. Latimer Construction partitioned, ventilated,
48 Hannon Kallman, Two Civil Defense Wardens Rap Lag in Organizing City, Denver Post, 7
November 1954, 2A.
49 Civil Defense Test to Start Friday Morning, Rocky Mountain News, 20 July 1956, 10.
and introduced heating into the space.50 Denver Assistant Civil Defense Director,
Charles Bowman, explained, The space at Red Rocks will give us [leaders] an
ideal setup...It puts us outside the city and gives us a natural protective nerve
center in case of disaster. Furthermore, the Red Rocks plan would facilitate the
continuity of government because civil defense leaders expected that they would
be able to move the entire city government there in a matter of hours.51
Furthermore the city rehabilitated an abandoned Civilian Conservation Corps
camp a mile south of Red Rocks for housing and feeding Denver officials and
civil defense workers during an emergency.52 53 While thousands of Denverites
would die during an atomic attack, the survivors could rest assured that Colorado
foothills carefully cradled their civic leaders.
The Denver Office received significant news in 1955, when the Federal
Civil Defense Administration announced their participation in a $10 million
national civil defense survival plan. Canton ODonnell, the Denver Civil
Defense Director noted that the program would provide Denver with four basic
elements to ensure mass survivability: good road systems for evacuation,
functioning air raid systems, a decent warden system, and adequate reception
50 CD Center at Red Rocks Cost $11,900, Denver Post, 20 July 1955, 21; Denver Civil Defense
Center to be Under Red Rocks Stage, Rocky Mountain News, 15.
51 Denver Civil Defense Center to be Under Red Rocks Stage, Rocky Mountain News, 15.
52 City Hall Can Use Red Rocks In Case, Rocky Mountain News, 5 July 1956, 30.
53 In addition to Denver, the program would also reinforce the civil defense programs within New
York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, Boston, Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, St.
Louis, Houston, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
Denver is Invited to Participate in Civil Defense Survival Test, Rocky Mountain News, 18
September 1955, 5.
centers for the Denver evacuees.54 Val Peterson noted, With these studies we
have reached a point in our struggle for civil defense where we can feel we are
launching a realistic approach rather than an aspiration to survival under H-bomb
attack.55 The Denver office thus had an opportunity to fine-tune civil defense
with the help of federal aid. The citys program would continue to work towards a
decent civil defense program throughout the 1950s. The city went to great lengths
to implement shelter programs and increased awareness throughout the end of the
Eisenhower era, but in spite of all of its forward strides, it was still paralyzed by
the air raid siren issue.
In October 1961, Denver Post writer Mark Bearwald informed Denver
citizens that survival would be problematic in an atomic attack because of the
inadequate siren system throughout the city. Bearwald provided a foreboding
message, If war came to Denver today in a flight of nuclear-tipped rockets, most
of the men, women, and children in the Denver area would die without knowing
what hit them. In a test of the system, civil defense leaders learned that only
thirty-five to forty percent of 880,000 Denver residents would hear the sirens.
Plus, if the attack came at night, when most of the population was asleep, or
during bad weather when high winds or snow might muffle the sirens, the signal
54 Bob Whearley, Area to Join Civil Defense Survival Plan, Rocky Mountain News, 13
September 1955, 10.
55 Denver is Invited to Participate in Civil Defense Survival Test, Rocky Mountain News, 5.
would reach even fewer people.56 Again, the Denver Civil Defense Office had to
reconsider their warning systems. It would be hard to save lives if citizens could
not be notified of an imminent threat.
The Denver Civil Defense Office, like that of the Colorado Civil Defense
Agency, struggled to maintain interest and funding for the program. The Denver
program, however, often acted independently of the state program to the
advantage of their citizens. Denver civil defense leaders, such as George Berger,
worked hard, often utilizing propaganda, to engage the citys urban and suburban
residents in education and practice of a variety of civil defense procedures. Even
with all of its flaws, the Denver civil defense program demonstrated remarkable
strides in the implementation of a functional civilian program. It created its own
system for continuing city government, which state officials had not considered at
the time and engaged its school systems in massive first aid education courses.
56 Mark Bearwald, Few in Denver Region Could Get Raid Notice, Denver Post, 11 October
THE SIMULATED DISASTERS OF COLORADO
We dont know where the next disaster will strike. ARE YOU READY?
- Colorado Civil Defense Propagator, 19531
Throughout the early cold war period, Colorado conducted numerous tests
aimed at preparing volunteers and various city and local leaders to mobilize for an
atomic attack. Civil defense leaders created theoretical situations that volunteers
could put into practice and show their strengths and weaknesses in a stressful
environment. After each practice run, the newspapers ran stories written in a tone
as if the attacks had actually happened. Each article projected the number of
casualties and estimated damage, as if to show the public what their indifference
to the programs could cause if they refused to act and engage in preparatory
The first planned exercise, however, was stopped by Henry Larsen. The
Colorado Civil Air Patrol planned a mock air attack on Colorado Springs in
January 1951. With much pride, CAP officials said it would be the first such test
in the United States and would take in patrol units throughout southern 1
1 Colorado Civil Defense Propagator, vol. 1 no. 1 (24 July 1953): 1.
Colorado. The exercise, in essence, would only include individuals of the Civil
Air Patrol, but would involve the sounding of signals that might alert residents.
However, when he heard of the Civil Air Patrols simulated attack, Larsen
demanded its cancellation. Larsen would only allow simulated attacks his office
approved because the state was not prepared for such demonstrations because
they would only lead to confusion, hysteria and danger to the populace. Larsen
explained to the media, We want to start training the individual, then the small
teams and then the general populace...When they [Colorados citizens] are ready
then we can be realistic about war.2 3 Larsens comments on the unapproved
simulations reveal much about his attitude about the preparedness of the
population and suggest that civil defense proceedings had to occur over time in
theoretical steps that anesthetized the individual to the possibility of attack. In this
context, civil defense would only improve survivability over time. Which begs the
question, if the residents of Colorado Springs became hysterical during a
simulated attack, how would they, and other Colorado residents, respond in the
event of the real event?
Larsens objections to unapproved exercises did not mean that the state
civil defense offices did not advocate such maneuvers. In April 1951, the state
civil defense office divided Colorado into ten basic mutual aid areas to speed the
2 To Test CAP: Simulated Disaster to Strike Springs, Rocky Mountain News, 13 January 1951,
3 State Defense Chief Slaps Ban on Mock Air Attacks for Present, Rocky Mountain News, 21
January 1951, 20.
civil defense program in the event of any enemy bombing attack.4 Each of the
areas, generally consisting of several counties, represented a civil defense network
with a civil defense director. The ten leading centers included Sterling, Greeley,
Denver, Colorado Springs, Pueblo, La Junta, Alamosa, Durango, Grand Junction,
and Craig.5 Under attack, the plan expected each area to keep in constant contact
with the others and cooperate as needed. Many of the areas outside of the Denver
metropolitan area became staging areas for a number of evacuation plans that the
civil defense office advocated throughout the era. With the state divided into
mutual aid areas, Colorado civil defense became more organized in its
preparations for attack.
By mid-April 1951, the state civil defense organization was prepared to
stage its first mock A-bomb test. The first test was not intended to include average
citizens, but instead to test the effectiveness of civil defense personnel including
those who worked in medical and health services, transportation, law
enforcement, fire control, public utilities and engineering, aviation,
communications, Red Cross, plant protection, disaster relief and public
information. The test provided a theoretical situation that large section(s) of
cities will have been destroyed, bridges blown out, railroad tunnels sabotaged;
emergency and improvised hospitals will be organized, first aid stations provided
4 Defense Areas Set Up in State, Denver Post, 22 April 1951, 2 A.
5 Defense Areas Set Up in State, Denver Post, 2A.