Florence family recalls atomic bomb in backyard

Published: Jun. 25, 2012 at 7:25 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 25, 2012 at 9:01 PM EDT
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FLORENCE COUNTY, SC (WMBF) A single incident during the Cold War put Florence County on the international map for weeks. In 1958, as a B-47 bomber began it's trip from Savannah, GA to London, England for a top secret exercise, something went terribly wrong.

A sensational freak accident changed one family and a community forever, yet the impact of this event has definitely faded with time.

"After a short trek through the woods, we have finally found the site where that bomb struck," says WMBF News Anchor David Klugh. "You can see a canopy where people have posted articles and clippings that describe exactly what happened here. And just to the left of that...a diagram showing the actual size of that bomb where 6.000 pounds of explosives detonated when that thing hit the ground...[leaving] the crater, originally 75 feet wide, 35-feet deep, all the result of an accident that occurred at 15,000 feet."

It was the afternoon of March 11, 1958 as a cold war jet bomber rocketed over Walter Gregg's home in northern Florence County.

"I was in my backyard in an automobile shelter we built out of heavy material," Gregg recalls. "I heard him. I looked up and saw him and just as he went out of site, [I] stepped back just a little bit back in the garage and boom!"

Gregg's property was obliterated by an unarmed plutonium weapon the size of a Volkswagen that was inadvertently released from that bomber. Amazingly, Gregg, his wife and children escaped serious injury.

Gregg says that night could have been a tragic point in his or his family's life, and he feels lucky to be alive.

"Yes sir. Because it could, that boom everything could have just been nothing in that area," Gregg explains.

The Air Force claims the nuclear core of the weapon was onboard the jet the whole time, but Gregg has a different theory.

"They got something out of the bottom of that hole down there, covered it up and stuff and took it to the airport here in Florence and flew it back to Philadelphia," claims Gregg.

Gregg adds the blast left the family with nothing, but it left this community with a story for the ages. In fact, at the Florence Museum of History, the small exhibit of bomb fragments and other artifacts remain one of the most popular in the building.

For Walter Gregg and his family, the attention this brought to them is still more of a curse than a blessing. He says without the generosity of the community, they would not have survived.

As for the Air Force, Gregg has but seven words for the way they treated him.

"That was a rude bunch of people," he expresses.

The federal government has claimed it gave the Gregg family some, $54,000 for their trouble, but Gregg insists they only saw about $27,000 of that money.

Copyright 2012 WMBF News. All rights reserved.