1957 letter for "designated key personnel" to escape mass destruction


John Ptak, dealer in rare science books says:

This letter, written in 1957 by Colonel Leslie S. Moore of the U.S. Biological Weapons Program at Fort Detrick, Maryland, to a member (whose name I've removed) of the A.S. "(Atmospheric Sciences") division, was basically a get-out-of-hell-free card for its bearer in the case of devastating nuclear attack.

"In the event of a mass destruction attack on Fort Detrick with the resulting loss of Biological Warfare physical facilities, it is anticipated that it will be necessary to re-establish the BW activities at some other location."

"In order to accomplish this in the most expeditious manner, the availability of certain designated personnel...is deemed essential."

The "letter serves as notification that you have been selected as a member of this group which is to be evacuated" to get the biological weapons program up and running again. As you can read in the clickable version of the document, there are directions about what top do and when to do it. There is no mention of family. My read is that this is Endgame stuff, end of civilization as we know it, and that this was the Darwinian sweep of necessary people. Or is it Dr. Strangeloveian? I get the two confused.

Suffice to say that Fort Detrick, which had been established in 1943 (constructing and delivering anthrax bombs by 1944) as Camp Detrick, already had a fairly full career before it was up-named to "Fort" in 1956. It was the recognized home/collecting node for the American Chemical and Biological Weapons programs until Richard Nixon, of all people, disbanded that capacity at Detrick in 1969.

Read the rest at John's blog.

Two Minutes to Doomsday: "Get out of Hell Free" Card, 1957. Armageddon and All That...


  1. hah! come Armageddon,the lowly troops assigned to guard the bunkers will kill their officers and bring their own families into shelter.

  2. I wish we had the document detailing what happens after everyone assembles at the Field House.

    I assume they would be boarding a train or aircraft of some kind.

  3. This reminds me of something in Fallout 3.

    In the town of Minefield, there is a mailbox with a letter inside. The letter notifies the recipients that their application for shelter in a Vault has been rejected. Inside the foyer of the house that the mailbox belongs to is still packed luggage.

    That game is unsettling, to say the least.

  4. I’m reminded of Tom Lehrer’s song, “We’ll All Go Together When We Go” In one verse was “You will all go directly to your own Valhallas, go directly do not pass go, do not collect $200.”
    In introducing the song he said, “Life is like a sewer. You only get out of it what you put into it.”
    There were a number of homes with custom underground fallout shelters. They aren’t featured in real estate ads anymore.

  5. Yeah, total ditto on the Fallout 3 thought.

    The real eerie thing about that game is how right they got it! I almost imagine it as some parallel universe where the cold war took just a slightly different direction, and I really do mean only slightly.

  6. Oddly, I was playing “Fallout 3” last night and one of the post-apocalypse soldiers say “You can always make more humans, but the knowledge to build a plasma rifle is disappearing”

    Cold comfort when doomsday comes.

  7. I’m always amused with phrases like “until Richard Nixon, of all people” after all he Ended the Vietnam War, established the EPA and OSHA, and appointed 4 (3 of which voted in the majority) of the supreme court justices that handed down Roe v. Wade (Blackmun, who wrote the majority opinion was a Nixon appointee).

    Yes, there were atrocities in Vietnam, and the Watergate burglaries, but the man did do a fair amount of good too. People are complicated, I guess

  8. I love how the see his value, in the face of Armageddon, not in his knowledge of how to counteract bioweapons…but how to make *more*

  9. I used to deliver pizza to the USAMRIID building at Detrick in the 90’s. We used to joke that all you needed to do to get onto base was to put a Pizza Hut magnet on your car and the guards would wave you through.

    Related to this though….My father (somewhat crazy back in the day) used to say that after a nuclear holocaust he was going to wait by the entrance to one of those fallout shelters and shoot any of those “designated individuals” that came out.

  10. drtwist@11: Nixon “Ended the Vietnam War, established the EPA and OSHA, and appointed 4 (3 of which voted in the majority) of the supreme court justices that handed down Roe v. Wade”

    Every past president is a champion compared to the willfully ignorant nincompoop currently in office.

  11. You do have to wonder how many of these things were handed out and to who? I would so buy one on Ebay just to have it framed.

  12. #5: “I assume they would be boarding a train or aircraft of some kind.”

    No. There’s a . . .

    . . . flying saucer landing pad behind the building.

    . . . stargate in the building.

    . . . elevator shaft into the hollow earth under the building.

  13. Dr. Twist #12: I think that it was Nixon that was the atrocity. He extended the Vietnam war in order to pull out, in a shambles–of that there is no debate, absolutely, in that the man extended the war in order to be able to play to the crowds about ending it. The man did NOT end the war. HE extended its life until it crumbled and died. He did go to China and did a tragically bad job there; his justices weren’t supposed to do what they wound up doing (these people change in time); he was a paranoid anti-semite anti-intellectual with a hit list for crying out loud, a small man who went far with an above-average IQ (and an ability to concentrate for 12 hours at a stretch, what he called his “lead ass” ability)and a wide mean streak. Thank whatever creator he never got to perform his evil magic through 1976. I can’t even begin to deal with RMN in a miniature format. And MF #15 is correct about these former POTUS looking better than whatever is in office currently, and especially currently, though a wet stain might look better than what has been tragically in the big chair for the last eight years.

  14. #17 and #18
    There were thousands of these sent out, thousands. Tens of thousands? Probably. 100,000? Again, probably, especially if you consider a nation-wide evac. I must say though that I haven’t seen these things anywhere else, though now that one has been surfaced, perhaps others will too. There would of course be lists of these folks somewhere, and the question would be whether or not they were archived and whether they are unclassified. *That* would be an interesting bit to find.

    #18: if I recall correctly this person was supposed to drive wherever he was going. In a car. I think he was supposed to go to a bus/staging area. then from there to one of those bad national-secret hollow mountain places (Paris Mtn?) and sit and sit and sit.

  15. My grandfather was in treasury dept. during the coldwar. He was important enough to get into the bunker with the rest of the big wigs when the poop hit the fan, but NOT important enough to bring his family.

    During this period my youngest aunt was in High School in the DC area. He told her to keep blankets, water, canned food, etc in the back of her car 24/7. She was told that he might call her at school one day, and tell her to start running. And run she should.

    “Run every red light, break any and every traffic law, ignore police officers, run people down if you have to,” he told her. “You’ll have a 10 minute head start on the rest of the world.”

  16. I grew up by Ft. Detrick. The East Coast Relay is there, including the Hotline to Russia. (Plus one of the few Bio-Hazard-Level 4 labs in the country)

    We used to joke that if the US ever got into war with Russia, they’d nuke Frederick before the Capitol.

    Fun times. We used to sit on a hill and watch the enormous satelite dishes track.

    They’re still cleaning up old toxic dumps there from the 50s. Lotsa bleach.

  17. #23: What was your grandfather doing at treasury that he got to go on The Big Ride? I can understand if you can’t say…

  18. Well, I’m horribly late to this party, but I’d like to say hello to (at least at one time) fellow Frederick-goers Toolbag @ JadedDissonance!

    And Toolbag has it right – security at Detrick always seemed startlingly lax… up until 9/11, at least…

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