SAN ANTONIO — Cars, trucks, trailers and motorcycles, with license plates from numerous states, crawled in line miles long early April 4 as people flocked to the site where the world’s first atomic bomb was detonated in southern New Mexico’s Tularosa Basin.
The wait to visit the Trinity Site was longer than expected but worth it, said Julia Broussard, a visitor from Arlington, Texas.
“It’s only open occasionally, so to come and see the history that you read about and to actually be at the place where it happened … and to know the science is very interesting to me,” the 68-year-old said.
The Trinity Site, located at the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range, is open to the public twice this year, on April 4 and Oct. 3.
For the past three years, it has only been open to the public once a year due to budget cuts.
A White Sands public affairs officer said the day’s visitor numbers broke all records, at 5,534 people, compared with 3,000-4,000 a year on average.
The plutonium bomb, designed and built as part of the United States’ secret Manhattan Project, was tested just before 5:30 a.m. on July 16, 1945.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the test, which ultimately led to the creation of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.
Alabama resident Kenny Reynolds, 37, said that while it was a shame the United States had to use the bomb, he believes it saved many lives.
“Had we not used the bomb, think of how history may have changed, think of what it would have taken, the lives lost, to convince Japan to end the war,” he said.
Visitors to the site walk around the blast’s ground zero, marked by a black lava obelisk and remnants of one of the footings from the steel tower the bomb was mounted on. The rest of the tower was vaporized by the blast.
A replica of the “Fat Man” bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki and a low structure protecting part of the blast’s original crater, as well as historical photos of the site and blast, are also on display at ground zero.
Two miles away, visitors can walk through the McDonald ranch house where the bomb’s plutonium core was assembled.
“The only reason I’m standing here is because of the bomb,” said Ben Pate, another visitor. The 63-year-old had traveled to the site for the first time with friend Julia Broussard.
Pate said his father fought in the European theater in World War II and returned to the United States in June 1945 for a three-month layover before he was to be shipped out again to fight in Japan.
“He had only gotten out of Europe by the skin of his teeth — many in his unit had died — so (his chance of) eventually making it out of the Pacific, I think, was probably not very good,” Pate said.
A small contingent of protesters with the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium, a group dedicated to gaining recognition and compensation for those affected by the fallout from the Trinity test, gathered at the Stallion Gate
entrance and other nearby areas to inform visitors of their plight
Luisa Lopez, 66, who lives in the small town of Luis Lopez about 35 miles from the site, said she believes many families living in the towns and cities surrounding the test site, including her own, were affected by fallout from the test.
Lopez’s husband Richard is a cancer survivor, having suffered from mantle cell lymphoma. Lopez also said there have been entire or near-entire families that have died of illnesses believed to have been caused by nuclear radiation from the bomb.
“There’s a lot of people who don’t know this, but not only do we have a high incidence of cancer, we also have a high incidence of sterility,” she said. “What people don’t realize is the suffering we go through.”