(Of late, my memory certainly isn’t what it used to be. So I thought, for a while, I should devote some journal entries to random events from my own distant youth.)
(Photo from http://www.vcsc.k12.in.us/staff/mhutch/modpres/truman/A-Bomb.gif)
In a much earlier posting
here, I talked about my tattoo. In that 2001 blurb I wrote:
“I grew up in Gary, Indiana in the 1950’s. Like most people from my generation, we had our A-bomb drills every week, when the air raid sirens would howl and all of us kids would dive under our school desks in the properly tucked posture. I remember, as a young boy, looking up every time an airplane flew over … hoping it wasn’t a Russian bomber (in INDIANA of all places). The McCarthy hysteria seemed to be particularly rampant in the Midwest. We kids were taught not to trust our neighbors - you never knew who might be a Commie intent on taking over the world.
(Photo from the Detroit News)
Unlike others of my generation, however, as I said, I had the privilege of growing up in Gary, Indiana. The authorities were sure that the first place in the U.S. that the Russians were going to bomb would surely be our own precious steel mills. This fear reached such a great height that they – now I’m not fooling you here - they took every kid in the city and tattooed their blood type on the side of their torsos. I still have mine here as my own badge of living with all that hysteria. Think of it – isn’t all of this a hell of a way to raise innocent kids?”
(end of quote)
Now, two or three times in the ensuing decades, when I've met someone who grew up in Gary during the '50s, we’ve ended up lifting our shirts (to the amazement of onlookers) just to bond by comparing our tattoos.
My older brother used to always explain to me (I think he loved scaring the hell out of me) that when they dropped the bomb they'd be able to pick up that piece of skin from my side and be able to say "Yup! He was an Oh-positive, uh-huh!" (Big brothers will never change, god bless 'em)).
He later told me that when he was about to get his tattoo, he asked why they couldn’t do it on his arm and they told him that his arm might get blown off in the coming A-blast (I guess this was long before any sensitivity-training for interacting with children). He said that at that moment, he instantly found out what weak knees were all about (he was all of 12 years old).
I remember that each class lined up behind a curtain where the tattoos were being given. While waiting in line, we could hear the sound of the tattoo "gun," with it's loud vibrating noise, immediately followed by screams and sobbing and crying. Needless to say, it was all pretty scary.
This macabre scene came AFTER they had pricked our little fingers to actually type our blood. We were given i.d. cards to carry in our wallets. These cards listed our name, address and blood type, etc. The coolest thing on the card, though, was the printed circle in which we smeared our blood. Never figured out what the smear was good for other than to let us know that our blood was red (for a kid, though, it was pretty neat, huh?). Maybe it was just to give us a little souvenir of this torture session. I wonder if mine is still upstairs somewhere in my attic?
Our mom, being a schoolteacher, also got the Tattoo. Her session, however, resulted in a string of AB-s down her side because either: (a) she jumped; (b) the "gun" slipped; or (c) both.
Since my O+ looks like the sign of Venus (well, when I’m lying on my back), I always made up some story about being abducted as a child by Amazons and forced to be their Love-Slave...or, as I got older, I used to say that I belonged to a free-love commune in the '60s and all the men were tattooed with the sign of Venus, while all the women were tattooed with the sign of Mars...amazingly, many people BELIEVED these outrageous stories (well, the second one, at least), perhaps because their initial incredulity was blown away by the tattoo, itself.
My first attempts to google this whole program have resulted in nothing. “They” must have done a pretty good cover-up of a botched program. I did, though, find some more information from an earlier graduate from my old high school that sheds some further light on it. His name is Al Shanahan. I never met the fellow, but I copied the following from the Miller Beach
web site.THE TAT-TYPE PROGRAM OF THE U.S. IN GARY AND MILLER.
At some point in the Dwight D. Eisenhower administration, and at the start of the "Cold War" process that was to last for many years, our government made preparations for what was believed to be an inevitable war with the U.S.S.R.
Drugs, including morphine, codeine, barbiturates and amphetamines were stockpiled in "hidden" locations around the country, later to be looted by knowledgeable dope crooks. Sections of the new "Inter-State High Way System" were paved in straight and level sections to be used as "emergency airfields" in the event of nuclear war. (There is now some speculation about this high way project/airfield plan, but it appears that some, if not the entire story is true).
"Drop and Cover" programs were instituted in schools all over the U.S. I remember that we were told to "not look at the bright light" and immediately get under our desks and cover our heads with our hands".
"Atomic" bomb shelters were sold as pre-fab kits to be installed underground in back yards, and you were instructed to stock your shelter with water, and "C" rations from the nearest military surplus store, and there were several in Gary.
Gary, and "The Region" as we were known then throughout the State of Indiana, was thought to be a prime target for Russian intercontinental missiles. The steel and oil producing capabilities of northwest Indiana were considered to be major and "first hit" targets in any attack.
As a part of this overall governmental thought process, it was "obvious" that in the event of an attack there would be massive casualties in addition to the immediate deaths caused by a nuclear explosion. The local hospitals, Saint Mary's Mercy and Methodist in Gary, and Saint Catherine's and Saint Margaret in Hammond, and a few others in the general Lake County area would be immediately inundated with huge numbers of seriously injured patients, some requiring immediate and drastic attention.
To speed up the process of "Triage", (worst injury first), a project was started that would identify the blood type of the patient with just a glance, and not require lengthy lab work.
The idea was to identify the blood type of first school children, and eventually the entire population, and tattoo the blood type at some place on the body, usually near or just under the left armpit, but that location was not universally utilized.
The idea was that in an emergency, having the blood type of the patient immediately known at the first cursory examination, would speed up the treatment and save valuable lab time for other patients.
This project was known as "OPERATION TAT TYPE". I know for a fact that several schools in the Gary/Miller area participated in the initial attempts to establish this data base of personal information.
I believe that some/all students attending William A. Wirt School during the years of 1948 through 1955 (my guess, not founded in fact) were in fact blood typed and then given a tattoo of their blood type.
The program was short lived for what is now an obvious reason. No doctor would accept the tattoo as fact without first re-checking the blood type to make sure that it was correct. This unforeseen, but now obvious, error in the program caused the "TAT TYPE" program to close by no later than 1955.
WAW 1953(Subsequent Al Shanahan follow-up)
In the 1960s I met a person in Lake County who told me a story about how the "TAT-TYPE" program came to Gary during the "Cold War."
This person was at the time an employee of the City of Gary, and a political insider in Lake County. He/she told me that the federal government was having great difficulty in starting a pilot project using the TAT-TYPE idea.
There were widespread worries about the program in its entirety, but there was particular concern about using a tattooing device on young children. There were other problems with the plan as well, and no one was willing to become involved in tattooing grade school children.
I was told that the federal government "gave" a large sum of money to the City of Gary to induce them to become the first major city in this country to institute the TAT-TYPE plan. That sum of money, assuming that it did in fact exist, never appeared in the bookkeeping of the City of Gary and was never accounted for.
He/she then told me that the government also "donated" a similar large amount of money to a church group in Lake County that ran several grade schools in the area.
The church group then also allowed the government to TAT-TYPE the grade school children in several of the local parochial schools. I have not been in touch with anyone who actually received a TAT-TYPE tattoo in a parochial grade school.
(Note from Douglas: on the Miller Beach website, when I raised this memory about 7 years ago, there were probably two dozen folks from various public and parochial schools who responded about their own experiences and memories of being tattooed).
It is obvious from the numerous responses that I received about the TAT-TYPE program, that the inducement from the government was successful. The City of Gary or the church group, though, has never accounted the money that was alleged to have exchanged hands.
Much later, when I had some time to try to verify or refute this story, all of the city, state and federal records of the TAT-TYPE program had disappeared. The federal government could not locate any record of funding for the program, and in essence the TAT-TYPE program never existed, at least on paper or in official records.
The person who provided me with this information is now long dead. Over the years I became more and more curious about the total number of kids who participated in the program. I wondered if the schools in Miller and several of the parochial schools in Gary were the only school systems actually involved in a tattooing program.
Those of you who did in fact participate in the TAT-TYPE program are unique in this country, to the best of my knowledge. No other major city (and perhaps no other city or town at all)that I can locate ever initiated the TAT-TYPE program.
The exact sum of money (alleged to be 1/2 million dollars) "donated" to those who approved the project in Gary remains a mystery. How the money was distributed, or if it was disbursed at all is also in question, and these are questions not likely to be answered now, 50 plus years after the fact.
If you have a blood type TAT-TYPE tattoo, you are among the very few in this country who actually participated in this unique program. You may in fact be the only ones!
My thanks to all of you who responded to my original inquiry. I'm sorry that I don't have more complete information to finalize this short chapter in the interesting history of Gary and Lake County, Indiana.
Al Shanahan (Wirt High School – 1953)
Hugh A. Shanahan