David and John Wilkerson
We’ve been fortunate enough to be able to get military records for some of our older family members like Jim’s dad Loren, my dad Wm G Yates, and Jim’s uncle John Wilkerson. The fathers were both participants in World War II, and John (as well as his younger brother David Wilkerson) were in the military during the time of the Korean War. Loren, my dad and John were all in the Navy, while uncle David was in the Marines.
My focus in this article is about John E Wilkerson though because we have documentation from his military records that he was on the Navy ship USS McKean during Operation Wigwam in 1955. In May of that year the ship and crew were one of 30 vessels and 6,800 personnel present when the underwater nuclear test took place. The purpose of the test was to see if it would be effective for use against enemy submarines. No protection was provided for anyone. In later years Uncle John told Jim the only thing that was done was to wash down the ship afterwards.
After Effects of Radiation Exposure
The USS McKean (DD 784) was in service for many years (In Commission 1945 to 1981) after Operation Wigwam, during which time it was probably brought into shipyards like ours in Bremerton. There, the civil service workers were also exposed to the radiation and most likely somewhat lesser contaminants as they worked on the ship during routine repairs and refurbishment. Ponder that for a moment and digest just how far-reaching the health effects might have been. [As a non-medical person I cannot say whether or not John’s health might have been affected by his exposure to the radiation during Operation Wigwam.] John is still living and his personal information is private.
Sources and Additional Documentation
For more information about Operation Wigwam, please visit this article by Thomas D. Segal The Wigwam That Kept Nobody Safe.
Clarence Pentecost was the son of James Eli Shields and Laura Breedlove Pentecost. Born in Howell county Missouri in 1892, Clarence led a seemingly nomadic life during his short lifetime. My cousin Kathleen and I have been talking about him as of late because of the recent death in the Pentecost family tree of his baby sister Ina Pentecost Smith
Some new information we have found on Ancestry includes a WWI draft record for Clarence from 1915 that helps us track his residences and occupation. Since Clarence was the oldest child he was probably counted on to help his parents in any way he could, which it looks like included cooking. In 1918 he was employed as a cook by the U.S. Reclamation Service in Naches, Washington (near Yakima) at Camp 1. His record states he was 26 at the time of his signing the draft record.
I haven’t yet been able to find him in the 1910 census, and he isn’t listed with his parents and siblings at their residence in Fulton County, Arkansas.
Between 1915 and 1920 we have some proof that Clarence was in the Army as there was a saved address by his sister Ina Pentecost which says, “Private C A Pentecost, Corozal, CZ, Depot QM”. That translates to Pvt. Clarence Austin Pentecost, getting his mail at Corozol, Canal Zone (Panama) via the Depot Quartermaster.
From the 1920 Federal census he was listed as living with his parents again at Wilson, Fulton, AR with his occupation as ‘farm labor”.
In 1944 Clarence is found working at (presumably) a logging camp in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. He’s registered to vote too, or at least he declared he was. Sadly, just two years later Clarence passes away in Sacramento, California.
I have a letter he wrote to one of my family members in which he says he isn’t feeling all that well. I’d have to hunt up the letter to see the date. Since we didn’t know he served in the Army and was in the Panama Canal Zone it makes me wonder if his health was jeopardized while he was in the service.