Atomic Bomb “Duck and Cover Drills”

Duck & Cover Drill

One event we took very seriously when I was growing up as a military brat was the atomic bomb drills. From 1959 when I started public school through the school spring semester of 1967 the drill was ever present. We conducted them as regularly as we did fire drills.

In the 1970s as a United States Army officer, I served as officer of the guard that guarded some of our tactical nuclear weapons. We had the bomb. The “we” here is the good old USA.

They also had they bomb. The “they” is the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the U.S.S.R. From the day I started school I remember having atomic bomb “duck and cover drills”.

We had these air raid drills when I was in grade school and junior high school. They were similar fire drills except you don’t run outside. You go to a part of the building that was deemed to be most safe in the event of an attack and cover your head, perhaps get under the desk.

There was a big national campaign. Teachers in selected cities were encouraged to conduct drills where they would suddenly yell, “Drop!” and students were expected to kneel under their desks with their hands clutched around their heads and necks.

I got my set of “dog tags” in 1959. They were the metal “dog tags,” like those worn by World War II soldiers so that the bodies of students could be identified after an attack. I got my set of real “dog tags” when I served as an US Army office more in the 1970s.

The US Government promoted these “preparedness” measures around the country. The Federal Civil Defense Administration decided the best way to do that was to commission an educational film that would appeal to children. In 1951, the agency awarded a contract for the production to a New York firm known as Archer Films. Archer Films called in teachers to meet with them and got the endorsement of the National Education Association.

An administrator at a private school in McLean, Virginia, mentioned that they had participated in the “duck and cover” drills. That was the first time the producers had heard the drills called that, and they thought the phrase would work as a title.

The producers went to work on a script that would combine live actors and an animated turtle to encourage kids to duck down to the ground and get under some form of cover – a desk, a table or next to a wall – if they ever saw a bright flash of light. The flash would presumably be produced by an atomic blast.

The hero of the film was the animated Turtle named Bert who wore a pith helmet and quickly ducked his head into his shell when a monkey in a tree set off a firecracker nearby.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis our entire elementary school was evacuated and moved to the safety of the desert and an underground base that could hold the entire school. I was a third grader at the time and have a vivid memory of the event. My younger brother who was in the first grade has no memory of the facility or the evacuation. I have found no one that can verify where we were taken.

The “duck and cover drills” continued at all the schools I attended until my dad retired from the United States Air Force. It seems the civilian schools didn’t fear the bomb like the military schools. Maybe it was because the bases where the military schools were located were also prime targets.

Being a military brat was always an adventure. We knew we were living through history. Our parents taught us to pay attention the world around us and the events we were living through.

Source: Some material is drawn from information found at:

Jimmie Aaron Kepler is a novelist, poet, book reviewer, and award-winning short story writer. His work has appeared in over twenty venues, including Bewildering Stories and Beyond Imagination. When not writing each morning at his favorite coffee house, he supports his writing, reading, and book reviewing habit working as an IT application support analyst. He is a former Captain in the US Army. His blog Kepler’s Book Reviews was named a 100 best blogs for history buffs. You can visit him at

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