THE BOMBER, THE BOMB, AND THE BOMBERS:
Myth, History, and Traditions
By Keith Maupin
February 7, 2001
Copyright Ó 2001
THE BOMBER, THE BOMB, AND THE BOMBERS:
Myth, History, and Traditions
Richland High School has long been known as the home of the Bombers. The large block letter "Bombers" sign on the gymnasium wall north of the football field clearly identifies them to all that travel Lee Boulevard. A mural now adorns another gymnasium wall, but it is an interior wall, one far less visible to passing traffic, a wall that forms one side of a common area where students congregate. It is a large mural, about 3200 square-foot, and it commands the attention of all that visit the courtyard. The mural depicts a formation of vintage World War II bombers flying above the clouds and the leading bomber of the flight is named "Day’s Pay." The mural was a gift of the class of 1993.
Another artist’s rendition of Day’s Pay was spliced into the hallway floor near the north entrance of the school, a gift of the class of 1999. The Day’s Pay image has also embellished banners of school marching units, it has flown at the head of the school paper, and the class of 1997 sponsored a flyover by another B-17 bomber. Near the bomber on the hallway floor there is a trophy case that contains Day’s Pay memorabilia and an American flag.
The 1993 yearbook featured another symbol in its sports section. It was a photo of the tiled rendition of the school’s sports logo located near the north entrance to the gymnasium. It is a stylized atomic mushroom cloud with a superimposed "R" monogram. The cloud is recognized as the school’s official logo and it was featured on the football helmets for about twenty years, but the helmets now display a script "Bombers" logo. As might be expected, the school has drawn on local history for its traditions. But do the traditions accurately reflect the history, or are they based on myth?
Myths are inventions that often use historical events to validate their claims, but they sometimes reconfigure the elements of reality to support fanciful stories. Roland Barthes, French semiologist writes that we hold onto certain images turning them into myth and anything may be converted to myth, if it is described in mythic language. Myths may use real names and real happenings but they present a vague inaccurate history that often includes a distorted chronology. The beliefs of most cultures include an origin myth and it has been said that we all seek mythical beginnings. But myths are not history.
History is about what truly happened and it is not fantasy or fiction. A historian’s accounting of the past should always be based on evidence. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. said in The Disuniting of America, "The purpose of history is to promote not group self-esteem, but understanding of the world and the past . . ." Those who speak for history owe their audience an authentic accounting.
When history is disputed an investigation of the evidence conducted in much the same way as a criminal investigation may allow one to separate fact from fiction. While an investigation seldom turns up the smoking gun, events can be determined with a relatively high degree of certainty. But evidence is often biased. To filter out bias, look at the words and determine their definitions and intent; look for the author’s viewpoint, his motivation. Compare the words to contemporary accounts. Investigate the evidence in context for greater insight and understanding. Compare the arguments for and against a given point, and then decide if the statements are credible. Do the facts agree with other facts as known? Finally, all the evidence must be weighed, and only then may one reach an informed decision.
A CREHST Museum display highlights scenes from Hanford’s history and one scene depicts the story of Day’s Pay. Text from the display reads:
At the height of World War II, each of 51,000 construction workers at the secret Hanford Engineer Works donated a day’s wages to pay for a Boeing B-17 "flying fortress."
Built in Seattle, the warplane was delivered to the U.S. Army Air Force on July 12, 1944. Eleven days later it was flown to the Hanford airport where, at a ceremony attended by a crowd of cheering Hanford workers, it was christened "Day’s Pay.". . . This exhibit was first introduced in 1993 in observance of Hanford’s fiftieth anniversary as a nostalgic vignette from Hanford’s unique past.1
As a World War II construction boomtown, Hanford grew in a little over one year from a desert of sagebrush and sand to the fourth-largest city in Washington State. Less than a year later it was a ghost town inhabited by wild goats.
But it was never truly a city. It had no charter or self-government. It was not incorporated and had few of the services normally found in a city. From first day indoctrination to exit interview, the government controlled every aspect of life at Hanford. Hanford was designed and administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers while Du Pont served as prime contractor, responsible for construction and operations. It was a temporary military camp with security fences, check points and barricades, much like other military camps built worldwide during the war, but it differed in purpose. Secrecy was a very high priority. The weekly newspaper was carefully screened to eliminate any information that might have been useful to the enemy. A mixture of jargon, code words, and acronyms that helped conceal process and purpose soon developed: for example, P stood for product, and that stood for plutonium, a word never mentioned. A high security clearance was no guarantee of access to construction or operations information, as it was revealed only on a "need to know" basis. The Manhattan Project was later to be called the best kept secret of the war. Military Police, the FBI, and civilian guards sworn to duty as Auxiliary Military Police provided security. Like the gold rush miners a century before, leaving families behind while seeking quick riches and adventure, the workers headed west. Men outnumbered women seven to one, and for their protection, single women lived in a segregated fenced compound with guards always at the gate. There were few amenities and long lines queued for every available service. A catalog mail-order store was a popular retail outlet, but many items were in short supply. Rationing was in effect and an "A" card entitled the holder to three gallons of gas per week. Eight mess halls served family-style meals and could feed up to 19,500 workers at one sitting. Employees lived in Spartan single-story wood barracks and hump-backed Quonset huts that were baked by arid heat in the summer and shrouded in cold penetrating fog during the winter. Heavy construction that stripped the land of its sparse desert vegetation contributed to severe and frequent dust storms aptly named termination winds. Living conditions were harsh, but most Hanford residents fondly remembered their experiences with few regrets.
Arthur Compton, Nobel laureate in physics and director of the Manhattan Project at the University of Chicago, put into words what wartime Hanford workers felt. He was quoted in Paul Boyer’s book, By The Bombs Early Light:
The Manhattan Project epitomized . . . cooperation, the spirit of service, and dedication to a common ideal . . . . a chance to share in what was instinctively recognized as one of the great human adventures of all time.
Hanford’s peak population was reported to have been about 51,000 and while it consisted for the most part of single men and women it also included the families of workers living in about 4,300 trailers. W.S. Carpenter, President of E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, wrote to employees in August 1945, "The actual construction force reached 45,000 at its maximum in June 1944."2 His four page letter outlining Du Pont’s contribution to the Hanford Engineer Works described the project in some detail, but it contained only one sentence about Richland: "The separate village of Richland, built to house the plant operating force, has a population of 15,000."
In the spring of 1944 Hanford workers were well aware that America was fighting an all-out air war. A March 6 story was typical of near-daily reports. It said in part, "‘Bombers blast Berlin’ 660 American bombers delivered 1,626 tons of bombs. 69 bombers and 11 fighters were lost."
Spencer Weart summarized half a century of air war in Nuclear Fear. He wrote that H.G. Wells, in The World Set Free while writing in 1913, imagined the advent of nuclear bombs dropped from open-cockpit monoplane aero-bombers. A short time later bombers were used in World War I, and German airships created hysteria in London air raid shelters. The 1930s saw Japanese bombers over China, Italian bombers over Ethiopia and German bombers over Spain.
World War II introduced a new generation of heavy bombers, able to fly farther and carry larger payloads of bombs; large bombs sometimes called "blockbusters." With TNT and incendiary bombs it became possible for large flights to destroy major cities. Hamburg, Germany was an early example of the destructive force of an incendiary firestorm and firebombing of cities became all too common.
During the war, heroic tales of the air war, from the "Flying Tigers" in Burma to "The Memphis Belle" over Europe, were exploited and romanticized with honors awarded to heroic flight crews who often appeared in movie newsreels, most often speaking at War Bond Rallies.
So it came as no surprise that after D-Day in June 1944, patriotic craftsmen at Hanford initiated the idea of donating a day’s pay to buy a bomber for the Air Force. The idea came at a time when victory in Europe was far from certain and the high morale of servicemen and workers alike was all-important, and the project Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel F.T. Mathias, encouraged their patriotic enterprise. Workers, an estimated ninety-percent, donated enough to buy the B-17 bomber christened Day’s Pay during a subscription period that lasted less than two months.
The life of Day’s Pay has been well documented. The July 23, 1944 dedication ceremonies were reported in Hanford’s The Sage Sentinel and the Kennewick Courier-Reporter. The histories of Hanford, Working on the Bomb by D.L Sanger and On the Home Front: The Cold War Legacy of the Hanford Nuclear Site by Michele Stenehjem Gerber, both mention Day’s Pay. Charles R. McCarter chronicled the bomber in greater detail in his book, Boeing Flying Fortress Known as Day’s Pay. The bomber was assigned to the Eighth Air Force in England and during eight months of active service it flew a reported 67 bombing missions over Europe. It’s last mission from Debach, an airbase near Bury Saint Edmonds, was on Valentines Day 1945. Day’s Pay was often hit by anti-aircraft fire but suffered only minor damage. No Day’s Pay crewmembers were lost and they remarked it was a very lucky plane. Following V-E Day, Day’s Pay was flown back to the United States and in October 1945 it was declared surplus property.3
The Richland Villager reported on December 6, 1945 that Villagers Inc., a group of civic-minded Richland citizens, had initiated an effort to buy Day’s Pay and Bock’s Car.4 The latter was the B-29 bomber that dropped the atom bomb August 9 on Nagasaki. The Richland Villager reported December 13, 1945, that Day’s Pay "might be bought by school children here."5
High school students are seldom called "school children," but this story might have referred to grades K-12. More to the point, if a link existed in 1945 between Day’s Pay and the Columbia High School Bombers this would have been a likely place to make the reference, as happened so often in articles during the 1990s. But it didn’t happen. The efforts to buy the planes failed and two years later, on December 4, 1947 Day’s Pay was reportedly melted down for scrap at Kingman, Arizona.
Charles R. McCarter was employed on the Hanford project for 20 years and spent 25 years researching his book, Boeing Flying Fortress Known as Day’s Pay, yet it contained only one reference to Richland, a reprint of the story in the Richland Villager titled "‘Day’s Pay’ Demolished."
It is significant that the Kennewick Courier-Reporter, and the "Souvenir Program of the Christening of the Bomber" gave full credit to the Hanford Engineer Works employees but they did not mention Richland in their reporting of the Day’s Pay story.
Time, location, and participants delimit a historical event. The time was the summer of 1944; the location was Hanford; the participants were the workers; the event was the birth of Day’s Pay, from concept to christening.
By June 1944 when Hanford’s population had reached its peak, Richland’s was really starting to grow and Richland was booming. It was a kaleidoscopic mix of treeless unpaved streets, heavy construction equipment, constant drifting sand, and half-built skeletal houses. Operations personnel recruited from all across the country were moving into the new houses as fast as they were completed, and by August 1945 Richland’s population would reach 15,000.
With paper cups from temporary drinking water barrels drifting across a bare sandy landscape, and while only partially completed, Columbia High School opened in the spring of 1944 with 277 students. Nearly half of those were students from families of construction workers living at Hanford; students bussed to the school. The wartime national speed limit was 35 miles per hour and that resulted in about an hour-long ride for students from the trailer camp at Hanford to the high school. As the construction phase was completed and most workers moved on, the number of bussed students decreased steadily until February 1945, when the boomtown site of Hanford stood empty.
1944-1945 was the first full year of operation for Columbia High School and students enrolled numbered about 425, more than a fifty-percent increase in only four months. The curriculum was quite comprehensive considering the size of the school. Aeronautics was soon to be offered and promising students often joined the local Civil Air Patrol. Teachers were in short supply and some were recalled from retirement while others were allowed to teach without credentials. Both student and teacher turnover was very high. Many students that enrolled in September were gone before June, and more arrived to take their places. At one time, a study hall survey revealed the student population represented every state in the Union and the Territory of Alaska. As strangers in a strange land, both students and teachers were affected by the instability and uncertainty brought about by a nation fully committed to winning the war. But group identity did slowly form, gaining strength with every school event, and interscholastic sports helped greatly to shape school loyalty.
With 38 football team members, 26 states were represented, and valley sportswriters dubbed the team, "All-Americans." Although sportswriters are often the source of adopted team nicknames, this name, among others, did not stick. Having never played together before that season as a team, their record was very impressive. They suffered only two losses and one tie, a game when Pasco and Richland fought four quarters to a 0-0 score at Richland’s temporary field, a field without bleachers located near the city park.
No Student Council or Associated Student Body was featured in the yearbook that first year. Students and teachers were barely acquainted. But friendships and cliques tentatively formed from scratch and it was much like rush-week for all during the entire year. Senior boys were anticipating a new life in the military, and some friendships led to a group visit to the Navy Recruiter in Pasco with subsequent sea duty.
Some traditions were carried over from the original high school, but there was little sense of continuity, and rather a sense of a totally new beginning. The "Green and Gold" remained as the school colors, and the new nickname "Beavers" remained for only a year, The Lariat yearbook was replaced with the Columbian, and a new school paper, the Sandstorm, was first published.6
Hanford was a ghost town by February 1945 and construction was finished for a time, but the war persisted, and the secret high-priority production of plutonium continued twenty-four hours a day. The entire project was a restricted flight zone and only approved military planes were allowed access.
Military airfields were common in the western states where flying weather was usually good. McCord Airbase near Seattle was the nation’s largest bomber school, and some of Jimmy Dolittle’s raiders trained for their famous "Thirty Seconds over Tokyo" at Pendelton.
Fighters and bombers from airbases at Pasco, Walla Walla, and Moses Lake crisscrossed the skies over the Columbia Basin. A navy practice bomb scavenged from the bombing range west of the Yakima River exploded, injuring three boys from Richland, and a few months later, another dented practice bomb painted green and gold became Col-Hi’s first Bomber mascot.
The 1945 Columbian reported in an article by Clifford Nall titled "Columbia High and National Defense" that it was a year when patriotic students were quite active in buying war stamps and bonds. At an auction, students bought "more than enough bonds to pay for two ambulances." Day’s Pay was not mentioned, and the nickname, "Beavers," was used throughout the yearbook.
The final year of World War II was 1945, and it’s culminating event occurred on August 9 when Nagasaki was bombed. The plutonium for that bomb was manufactured by Hanford workers, and from that date forward "the bomb" would always have special significance, especially for people then living in Richland. The headline of The Villager for August 14, 1945 with letters six inches tall shouted, "Peace, Our Bomb Clinched It" and articles that day emphasized pride of accomplishment together with thanks that the war was over.
An article in the June 14, 1992, Tri-City Herald entitled "Looking Back" depicted the first Richland High School and eleven graduates of the class of 1942 (Pasco and Kennewick graduates of 1942 were not published). The article spoke of the old high school that was built in 1911 and closed in 1943. And it spoke of traditions:
In 1944, classes resumed at the new high school then called Columbia High School. The school mascot was the Beavers, but wartime patriotic fever helped spur a change to the Bombers, originally a reference to a bomb-dropping airplane. It wasn’t until the 1970s, that the school adopted its controversial mushroom cloud symbol.7
Long before the school’s mushroom cloud became controversial, it was depicted in drawings and a photograph published in the 1948 Columbian and it was copyrighted as part of the school coat of arms in 1965. As a logo designed for the changing style of uniforms, the mushroom cloud was adapted as a football sports logo in the 1970s.
Although the June 1992 article was supposedly about the class of 1942 and the fiftieth anniversary of their graduation, the nickname change and the bomber were introduced. Why? The article claimed pointedly that "Bombers," the current school nickname, was "originally a reference to a bomb-dropping airplane," yet even at that late date, Day’s Pay and the date of the name change were not clearly specified. Why?
About six months later, well after the Day’s Pay mural had become a work in progress, on January 20, 1993, the Tri-City Herald printed in "Seniors gift flies in face of tradition":
About 51,000 Hanford employees each donated a day’s pay to build the bomber for the World War II effort. At about the same time, Richland High School, which was formally known as Columbia High School, changed its school nickname from the Beavers to the Bombers . . . The senior class’s intent is to honor the workers who paid for the bomber and the history of the community. "This is commemorating an historical event," Santille said.8
As with many memorials nation-wide that are dedicated to commemorate historical events, the first thing to suffer would be the history.
By May 30, 1993, the Tri-City Herald reporting became more specific, but not more accurate. A full page story titled "Day’s Pay, Richland High Seniors Leave Mark On School," while reporting about the Day’s Pay mural by Pablo Soto, its dedication, and including excerpts from the July 1944 Hanford Sage Sentinel, it also stated:
During the war Richland High which was known then as Columbia High School changed its nickname from the Beavers to the Bombers to commemorate not the atomic bomb - for the real purpose of Hanford was a dark secret then - but the airplane donated by Hanford workers to carry the battle to the Nazis.9
These two articles tell us the mural "honors a historic event," "the Hanford workers," and "the history of the community," the nickname was changed "during the war," and it commemorates, "not the atomic bomb . . . but the airplane." The connotation, "not the atomic bomb" leads one to believe the statement might have been disputed, yet no corroborating evidence or balancing counterclaim was offered. A causal relationship was asserted, but the argument to accept the bomber as the source of the school’s nickname rested on the presupposition that the atomic bomb was still a dark secret when the name was changed, and so a disputed claim was posited as the deciding proof. These stories offer up arguments to accept Day’s Pay as the source of the nickname based on assumptions that are stated as facts. But facts cannot be assumed. Facts must be supported by evidence.
A bronze plaque was added to the mural. It did little to explain the mural’s significance. However, it did say, "In 1944, 51,000 workers at Hanford gave a day’s pay to donate a Boeing B-17G to the war effort. The following year students . . . decided to change their name . . ." Unlike earlier articles, it did not specifically "honor the workers who paid for the bomber" or "the history of the community." It did not clearly state the school nickname was derived from the plane, but again, it was implied. It did say the mural was donated "to commemorate the spirit of Day’s Pay" and it did corroborate the fact that the nickname change occurred in 1945, a fact denied January 28, 1999 in the Sandstorm, and November 27, 2000 in the Hanford Reach.
Murals are considered heroic art, in part for their heroic size, but also for their heroic message. While the image is fixed, the message is subject to changing interpretations and is influenced by time, location, dialogue, and context, and at Richland High School, the earlier message of honor, history, and community fades from view and the compelling message becomes the school is the "Home of the Bombers."
Richland High School students, with any knowledge of World War II, would experience entirely different emotions while viewing the B-17 painting at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum than while viewing their own much larger mural, even though the two are similar in subject matter. Heroic art is rarely commissioned without a fixed goal in mind and one might speculate on the true purpose of the mural. With input derived from context, experience, association, and related communications, the image soon becomes a symbol and the symbol becomes an icon, able to call up meanings and emotions far beyond the original symbolic message of the artist.
Four years after the mural was dedicated, the Senior class again focused attention on Day’s Pay with a flyover by a B-17 bomber at the graduation ceremony. May 31, 1997, the Tri-City Herald reported in "Bombers Await Flight Plan Fate":
With a mushroom cloud sprouting from an oversize ‘R’ Richland High School doesn’t shy away from its radio active roots. But Chad Kreutz, the school’s senior class president is hoping the class of 1997 will embrace another piece of Richland’s history: The B-17 bomber. . . . "This is the namesake of our school," said Kreutz. . . . "We became the bombers before the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki," Kreutz explained. "For all these years the mushroom cloud was kind of our symbol. We really have started to go back to the bomber. . . . Many assumed the name [Bombers] was tied to the atom bomb, which Hanford workers helped to produce during World War II. But the team name actually pre-dates the nuclear age. . . . Once known as the Beavers, the school changed its mascot in favor of the donated bomber. But as tastes changed and time moved forward, the mushroom cloud overtook the B-17 as the school’s official symbol. . . ." "We’re not trying to change (the mushroom cloud mascot)," said activities director Qualheim, "but to educate the kids about the history of their namesake."10
Does this article express "the history" that activities director Qualheim and others are trying to teach? Historians are witnesses to the truth, but a witness that tells the truth only part of the time cannot be trusted and his message must be suspect.
The B-17 was a part of Hanford’s history. Day’s Pay was not the namesake of the school. The school was named "Columbia High School" and nicknamed "Beavers" before the workers had envisioned the bomber. No Columbia High Bombers existed before Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed. The name change is easily traced to the atomic bomb, but no earlier evidence documenting a link between the school and the B-17 can be found. The team name does not pre-date the nuclear age. The school used the mushroom cloud prior to any reference of Day’s Pay as related to the high school. Tastes do indeed change but facts do not.
History, some of it honorable, some not so honorable, but still all history, is about what actually happened. Myth is about what we would like to believe happened. Historical records of the early Hanford project do exist, and facts can be verified.
Compare the "Bombers Await Flight Plan Fate" article to one by Gale Metcalf, in the Tri-City Herald, "Richland’s Beavers, Bombers to Reunite," published June 1, 1987 that said, "The bomb had two lasting effects: it brought a conclusion to World War II and it spawned a new age in Richland sports - The Richland Bombers." In the same article, 1947 graduates, all students in 1944-1945, were quoted, "Students, taking pride in what their parents had done to help end the war, voted during an assembly to change the name." Gale Metcalf continued:
They [the alumni] have heard rumors that some people today would like to change the name of the Bombers because its origin comes from the atomic bomb but they want the people to remember the tradition and historical context from which the Richland High mascot came.11
The fall of 1945 was a very emotional time and Columbia High School students saw themselves as markedly distinct from Pasco and Kennewick students. Pasco was a railroad town and Kennewick was an agricultural town. Hanford, then deserted for seven months, had been a construction town, but Richland was a center of the most current science and technology, as attested in newspapers and magazines across the nation and around the world. That was pretty heady stuff for most teenagers to handle.
The 1946 Columbian was the first yearbook in which Columbia High School students called themselves Bombers, and the atomic bomb was picked to be its theme - Day’s Pay was not mentioned. The "Foreword" that year said:
For memories sake, and because of its greatness, we have carried the "Atomic Bomb" theme through the annual in an effort to symbolize the world history, which has been in progress here in Richland, in which we and our parents have a part.
The students recognized the importance of the atomic bomb that had been called "a technological achievement of staggering magnitude." By changing their nickname to Bombers they elected to give substance to their memories.
It was no "butterfly ballot" election in the Fall of 1945 as we had in Florida in November 2000. No documents have been found to indicate the election was a three-way race between the Bomber, the Bomb and the Beaver, and no formal protests were lodged. There was only one issue, and that was to decide if the school would retain the Beaver nickname or if they would become the Bombers. While the vote was not unanimous, a clear majority of students voted for the name change for reasons presented in the September 13, 1945 Villager and as stated in the Columbian - to symbolically claim a part of the history then in progress at Richland.
A follow-up story to "Bombers Await Flight Plan Fate" on June 5, 1997 in the Tri-City Herald said:
. . . Richland High School’s mascot is a B-17 named Day’s Pay. The school’s students have been the bombers since Hanford workers chipped in a full day’s pay to purchase The Day’s Pay as a part of the war effort in 1944.12
And again on June 6, 1997 the Tri-City Herald reported in "Graduation flying high in Richland":
. . . Richland High School seniors will finally get the graduation present they’ve been waiting for. . . . Its a B-17 bomber, that rumbling 36,000 pound ode to World War II glory - and the school’s namesake. . . . [quoting Jim Qualheim - Richland High activities director] "Not many people can have a real live mascot at their graduation. Lions and bears and tigers, you just can’t do it. . ."13
But Charles A. Conway protested the school’s stand in a letter to the editor titled "Richland Bombers, Cloudy History" printed June 13, 1997 in the Tri-City Herald:
I am getting tired of Richland High School claiming the name "Bombers" is taken in commemoration of the B-17 "Day’s Pay" purchased by Hanford workers in 1944 (Herald, June 5).
I lettered in football and track as a Richland Beaver, and the teams were still "Beavers" when I graduated in June 1945. To my knowledge, the name was changed to "Bombers" with the "mushroom cloud" emblem after the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan in August 1945.14
This letter did not change the reporting by the Tri-City Herald. A story on August 17, 1998 titled "Vintage World War II bombers dive into Tri-Cities," an article promoting plane rides for interested patrons from the Pasco Airport, was tenuously linked to Richland High School by repeating the Day’s Pay - Richland Bomber tale. It said:
. . . During the war, all of Hanford’s workers donated one day’s pay to pay for the construction of a B-17 - called "Day’s Pay" - which saw action in Europe. That led to the B-17 mural at Richland High School, and the school’s teams being the "Bombers."15
Two similar stories printed in 1999 did not link Richland High School and a bomber then scheduled to visit the Pasco airport. The Richland Villager of September 13, 1945 predicted:
Indications are that the Col-Hi teams formerly known as the ‘Beavers’ may this year be known as the ‘Bombers’ or ‘Atomizers’ because of the nation-wide publicity the village has received as the home of the atomic bomb.16
Notice the date of the story was not during the war, but the month following Japan’s surrender - and the name change had not yet occurred.
Another story from the Pasco Herald at that time was titled "Suggests Pasco be renamed ‘Atomics’" and one from the Kennewick Courier-Reporter said, "‘The Atomic Bombers’ might be a team entered in the Western International Baseball League . . . representing Kennewick, Pasco and Richland." Consider that this too is part of the context in which students voted to change their school’s nickname.
The 1945 yearbook did not mention the Bombers or Day’s Pay, and it went to the printers nearly one year after Day’s Pay was dedicated at Hanford. The Sandstorm used the nickname "Beavers" in the September 28, 1945 issue. In the next issue dated October 19, 1945 the nickname for the football team had changed to "Bombers."17 The Kennewick High School paper, The Lions Roar, reported September 14, 1945 in "Football Jamboree in Lion’s Den on Friday Evening," "Teams participating . . . Richland Beavers, Green and Gold . . ."18
The nickname was changed, not in 1944, but after the war, in the fall of 1945, a fact alluded to on the bronze plaque attached to the mural and clearly documented in many contemporary accounts printed in the fall of 1945. The name was changed after the war was over and after the bombs were dropped.
But was the nickname changed to "honor Day’s Pay"? The reason for the change in The Richland Villager article of September 13, 1945 was not the bomber, but the national publicity associated with Richland and the atomic bomb. Alumni, all students in 1944 and 1945, quoted in the Tri-City Herald of June 1, 1987 said it was the atomic bomb and pride of the students in their parent’s efforts to help end the war. Gil Gilmour’s "Sports Notes" gave the following reason in the February 27, 1955 Tri-City Herald:
E.R. (Joe) Barker, who was athletic director in 1944, claims the honor of initiating the idea of the name change.
"I solicited the aid of Paul [Nissen], editor of the Villager and his sports writer and in a short time the ‘Beavers’ came off the sweaters and ‘Bombers’ on. The original idea of the word ‘Bombers’ was the atom bomb, not the airplane as it is now used."19
Ernest Jensen, a Bomber basketball fan from Seattle, wrote the following in Bomber Mania:
He [Gil Gilmore] said the team’s towel boy in 1945, ’46 and ’47 had used a towel rack shaped like a bomb . . . Throughout the 1950s and 1960s at State Tournaments the Richland towel boy used a towel rack on wheels, shaped like a bomb. It was a State Tournament tradition.20
A photo of the towel rack appears in the 1947 Columbian. After forty years, this tradition of the bomb at games was disallowed in the eighties, reportedly because rival schools were always trying to steal the bomb.21
Paul Loeb mentioned this tradition along with several other references to the school and its mushroom cloud symbol in his book, Nuclear Culture, published in 1982. He also parenthetically mentioned Day’s Pay and the Hanford workers, but not in connection with the school.
The CREHST museum display of Day’s Pay positioned the plane with Hanford’s history and it was included "as a nostalgic vignette from Hanford’s unique past." It originally included an addendum referring to Columbia High School that stated their mascot name was "changed to the Bombers in 1944 to honor Day’s Pay." A policy statement dated May 21, 1999 was made by the Museum Director, Gwen Leth. It said in part:
CREHST’s role is to provide preservation and access to the natural and cultural history of the Columbia Basin. This role does not include taking a position on either side of a political debate.22
But that letter also included a request by the CREHST Board of Directors asking Connie Estep, Museum Curator, to review pertinent material. Soon after the review the addendum was removed.
Without evidence we might argue that teenagers, many if not most who were still residents of cities and towns across the nation in the summer of 1944, would change their school’s nickname to honor a bomber donated by construction workers living in a temporary camp located some twenty-six miles distant, and do it fourteen months after the fact and seven months after the camp was deserted. Or we might argue that they would change their name for what has been called "the top story of the century" within a few days after the fact. Common sense would suggest the latter.
But ample evidence does exist supporting the fact the name was changed as a result of the atomic bomb, not the plane. Contemporary first-person statements and newspaper accounts make the case for the bomb. Many published Hanford historians do not link Day’s Pay with the school. CREHST Museum eliminated a reference that once linked the two. Verifiably false claims undermine the veracity of some promoting the plane as the source of the nickname.
News releases from Richland High School to the Tri-City Herald starting in 1992 and continuing through 1997 effectively implanted and nurtured the myth that Day’s Pay was the source of the school’s nickname. Statements, sometimes contradictory, often vague and equivocal, that proposed a historic scenario at odds with the evidence supported the myth.
Those stories followed a period in the 1980s when the image of the entire nuclear industry had become tarnished. Washington Public Power defaulted on their construction bonds; Three-Mile Island suffered a meltdown; Chernobyl suffered a catastrophic meltdown; N Reactor was shut down. In addition, released declassified government files exposed deception at Hanford by our Government on a grand scale. Apparently some at Richland High School decided that if the Government could hide the truth to enhance their image then so could they.
Before the negative exposure Richland was acknowledged as a strong political, economic, and athletic force throughout the state. But the anti-nuclear bandwagon became a very popular ride. The Spokane Spokesmen-Review chastised Richland in an editorial February 27, 1985:
No longer can the people of Washington permit outsiders to assume their attitude toward the atomic industry is represented by the chilling flippancy that prevails in Richland, where the high-school symbol is a mushroom cloud . . .23
A display that opened in the spring of 1994 at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History helps make the point. There are two T-shirts in the Hanford section of "Science in American Life," a display that millions of people have seen. One shirt reads "Richland Bombers" and includes their symbol depicting the mushroom cloud. The other shirt reads: "Hanford – Close it Down – Clean it Up" and underneath this, "Coalition Organizing Hanford Opposition." The caption of the exhibit reads, "These two T-shirts reflect some of the feelings of the people who live near Hanford." Curators at the Smithsonian thought the two shirts selected for display "would graphically show how integral the development and legacy of the atomic was to the community."24 The museum display did not include the Day’s Pay shirt used in 1993 to help finance the mural.
How is the public so easily misled? How are deceptions so easily perpetrated? The answer lies in the power of our symbols and a predisposition to believe our own myths. William James wrote in Principles of Psychology, "Only act in cold blood as if the thing in question were real and it will become so knit with habit and emotion that our interests in it will be those that characterize belief." As with all effective propaganda, the arguments for the bomber as the source of the school’s nickname contained bits of irrelevant truth, but the conclusions drawn were not supported by facts.
In this Richland High School episode, a revised history was fabricated from coincidental events that were deceptively used to imply causal relationships that did not exist. School authorities next spread the concocted stories - and authorities are to be trusted. The media, facing deadlines and believing the stories to be true, printed the stories released by the school while overlooking their lack of credibility. Finally, the media continually repeated the stories and as William James suggested, the public soon formed emotional ties and began to believe the fiction had always been so.
But why falsify history at all? Edith Hamilton wrote, that like the Greeks, we manufacture myths to hide our dark past. Marilynne Robinson is quoted, "Ambivalent about the truth, we turn to myths . . . to reconcile the contradiction between our aspirations and our history."
J.F. Bierlein writes in Living Myths that we create foundation myths of a suitable past as a "history of prehistory." He writes that myths include heroes, mentors, allies, enemies, estrangement and reconciliation, and renewed fellowship, He also writes that foundation myths give birth to symbols, they are used to establish identity, and they are really collective hero myths shared by a group. All of these classic elements of myth appear in the stories of the bomber published in the 1990s.
Mary Douglas wrote in How Institutions Think:
An institution causes its members ‘to forget’ experiences incompatible with its righteous image and brings to their minds events which sustain the view . . . that is complementary to itself.25
Was it a deep loathing of anything even remotely remindful of nuclear weapons, was it pietistic institutionalism, or was it something else that led to the distortions of history designed to deceive students and the community? Whatever the true motive, the bomb was grounded while the bomber was flying high.
Battles between political correctness and tradition are currently being waged nation-wide. Many schools have dropped names that have been labeled offensive cultural stereotypes. But while the relative degree of "militancy" assigned to two co-dependent war machines might be a subject for rhetorical debate, any reasoned conclusion would seem irrelevant when used to judge the political correctness of school mascots that are commonly derived from birds, beasts, nationalities, landmasses, mythology, demonology, religion, wars, and natural disasters, mascots that exist only in a context of an emotion-filled irrational Wonderland where "Knights Eclipse Suns" and "Ducks Down ‘Devils."
Mascots, totems, logos and like symbols are traditionally selected for their attributes and to differentiate social groups. They may be associative: the Wiley Elementary "Coyote" seemed a natural. They may be unrelated: the Southridge "Suns" exemplifies the modern trend to totally neutral symbols.
Symbols often evolve from the environment or history of the community and include borrowed images, and so we have the Miami Hurricanes, the Chicago Flames, the Oregon Ducks, the Kansas Jayhawks, etc. The reasoning behind a selection usually follows the idea that the team is strong against its adversary like the totem is strong against its adversary. The Jayhawks were not birds: they were marauding abolitionist terrorist guerrillas who plundered Kansas and Missouri during the Civil War. But likeness is not sameness and Jayhawk fans today are mostly just noisy, like fans everywhere.
First used as good luck charms, mascots are now expected to generate group identity, loyalty, and spirit. Over time, these team names, mascots and symbols collect memories, and as we re-collect, the objects become symbolically valuable not for what they are, but for what they stand for. With repeated ritualistic applications, the symbols grow in power and soon a tradition is established.
But tradition is not the flag, the mascot, or the symbol, rather, it is the ritual and what it grows to mean to each of us individually and collectively. Thus Jim House, alumnus (Class of ’63), "in one of the greater moments" at the R2K All-Class Reunion basketball game, was able to bow "in reverence to the Bomb," traditionally paying homage to the decommissioned bomb.
Tradition, whether spontaneous or invented, is a symbolic interpretation of the past and subject to reinterpretation in the future. Changes in traditions are cumulative; they accumulate like stars on the Flag, and they leave the tradition with more symbolic meaning, but still in a recognizable form. The emblem, the symbolic object of the tradition, should likewise be recognizably conformed, and thus insure its continuity with the past.
In any collection of mascots, totems, logos and similar objects, symbols must be defined, for the same symbol in another context will be defined differently. The symbol identifies the group, but the symbol is not the object it resembles. Likeness is not sameness. Seven universities claim "Cougar" as their name - all different. "Bomber" fans have cheered their respective teams in Richland Washington, Fairbury Nebraska, Sioux City Iowa, Winnipeg Canada, Clearwater Florida, and in Pomona, San Francisco and Oakland California – all different. In our local academic symbolism, Cougars are not Lions, Falcons are not Hawks, and Braves are not Indians (and vice-versa).
It is not unusual for a school to embrace several symbols as part of their traditions. Hofstra University has five distinct mascots to represent it at every game: Captain Spaulding (a Groucho Marx movie character), Katie Hofstra (a Dutch hausfrau), Kate and Willie Pride (of lions), and the Hofstra Duck. Also, changes are not unusual. The U.S. Naval Academy Midshipmen have claimed many mascots at different times: two cats, a dog, a carrier pigeon, and since 1904, an Angora goat. Beaver College (est. 1853) of Beaver County, Pennsylvania will soon change its name to Arcadia University. And in 1945 Columbia High School changed its nickname from the Beavers to the Bombers. But changes do generate controversy.
Erwin High School is located near Asheville, North Carolina, neighbor to the Eastern Band of Cherokees. They first named their teams "Demons." When a religious group complained, the name was changed to "Warriors" and the girl’s teams were called "Squaws," a term now defined as derogatory. When the U.S. Justice Department threatened a suit in Federal Court, "Squaws" was changed to "Lady Warriors" (Their rival Cherokee girl’s teams were called Lady Braves). Erwin High School was allowed to keep a twenty-five foot statue of Willie Warrior and two totem poles (read Dancing at Halftime by Carol Spindel).
Ironically, "Demons" might have been easier to defend. Another irony - the Olympics Committee, considered by some as the epitome of amateur sports, selected Squaw Valley for the 1960 Winter Olympics - and the name still remains unchanged.
Kamiakan High School of Kennewick faced a divisive situation in June 1993 when some thought their totem pole was culturally insensitive, a criticism also lodged against the Richland High School mushroom cloud. Critics asked that the totem pole be removed. After history teacher Linda Slick encouraged research, open public debate, and democratic action, the question was settled in a very short time, and the totem pole remained. An editorial in the Tri-City Herald said:
The process seems to be working well at Kamiakin. Students who have handled the preliminaries with such skill can surely be counted on to come up with a fair decision.26
Open discussion validates action and Kamiakin’s proceedings stands in stark contrast to the autocratic process initiated at Richland High School where school officials used invented traditions and bad history to surreptitiously effect change.
Within institutions the invention of ideological traditions is common, but they succeed only when they are in-sync with the opinions of the general public. Eric Hobsbawm wrote in The Invention of Tradition, that invented traditions are significant because they are indicators of problems (real or invented) and they:
. . . claim to be old [and] normally attempt to establish continuity with a suitable historic past. . . . either by semi-fiction . . . or by forgery. [They are] not what has actually been preserved in popular memory, but what has been . . . institutionalized by those whose function it is to do so. [They] are highly relevant . . . exercises in social engineering.
Social engineering advanced by the invention of a romantic mythical past was all too common in twentieth century history. Knowing that lessons learned in public schools soon become the philosophy motivating adults, idealists would often purposely teach a distorted history, believing it isn’t how you play the game, but only if you win.
But when history is distorted for whatever reason, individuals feel outrage as their remembered experiences are misrepresented or erased. This feeling of outrage raises the emotional intensity that may then lead to controversy and unpredictable action. As history has proven throughout the last Century, it is harmful to falsify history and better to tell the truth.
While certainly differing in details, the effort initiated by some to decontaminate Richland High School’s history by postulating a more pure origin is akin to the efforts of Martin Bernal who also seems to prefer a cultural crutch to historical accuracy. He too exploits myths that lack credible evidence. But myths are not history and they are useful, not for their historical information, but rather for what we can learn of those creating the myths. Unlike some, Martin Bernal readily admits the political purpose of his book, Black Athena: it is "to lessen European cultural arrogance." In her book, Not Out of Africa: How Afrocentrism Became an Excuse to Teach Myth as History, Mary Lefkowitz warns us of the dangers of suspending academic standards to indulge a political agenda. Cultural revisionism, while masquerading as history, "teaches students to disregard the scientific method, to distrust records of the past, to ignore known chronology and material evidence, and to invent facts to meet their own particular purposes." It cannot be good for society if students are taught that inaccurate information is acceptable when used to support one’s beliefs, especially when they are impressionable high school students taught such things during their formative years.
History is an account of what man has done in the past and what he may do again. To willfully falsify history denies people information they need in order to make educated decisions. It is hard to understand history and avoid past mistakes if one is force-fed ideological rhetoric and denied access to pertinent information of the past.
Public schools, while supporting academic freedom, should encourage scholarly research and debate. But they should discourage the dissemination of willful distortions of history fabricated solely to promote individual agendas.
Teachers should not use their positions to politically indoctrinate their students while selfishly promoting one particular ideology. They should not knowingly make false claims or mislead their students. When teaching history they should not deliberately suppress or distort it but present it as truthfully as possible.