Oral History

Narrator: Donna Fuzi

Interviewer: Donna Sinclair
Date: April 8, 1999
Place: Umatilla Army Depot, Hermiston, Oregon






Donna Fuzi was born in eastern Washington and was raised in the Hermiston - Echo - Stanfield area. She recalls visiting the army depot as a child and talks about her work at the depot for nearly twenty years.

[Begin Side A, Tape 1 of 1]

DF: My name is Donna Fuzi. I was born in Walla Walla, Washington on the tenth of September, 1954.

DS: How did your family come to this area?

DF: My father grew up in John Day and my mother grew up in LaGrande. My father came here for work. He was a roofer, and that's what he did for a living. There was work here and there wasn't in John Day. It was even smaller than Hermiston, and my mother's folks moved from LaGrande because my grandfather worked for Union Pacific Railroad. So they met here in Hermiston.

DS: And how did you come to join the army and get into this position? Can you talk a little about that?

DF: Sure. We did move a lot when I was a kid because of my father's career choice, but for the most part I lived in Hermiston-Echo-Stanfield, but when I was seventeen we moved to LaGrande and I graduated from there. And a friend of mine, my roommate and I, after we got out of high school had talked about joining the navy. And she got married instead, and then I met and married and my husband and I moved to Boise. He joined the service out of need because there weren't many jobs, and he was, he joined the army. So, shortly after that, two or three months actually, after he was out of boot camp, we went to Kentucky, Fort Knox, where his school was taking him, and I actually joined the army there. So, I was in the army for two years, spent most of that time in Germany, Mannheim.

[her son was born in Germany, then they came back to the LaGrande area. She moved back to Hermiston because she needed money, was divorced, a single mother]

DF: So I heard that they were hiring out here and I had military service. So I actually hired on as a security guard here, 1979.

DS: Oh, is that right?

DF: Um-hum, been here ever since.

DS: Were you nervous about starting to work here when you first came to work or was this a place that you'd known about all your life?

DF: I knew it was here all my life because when I was, oh, I think I was about twelve, they used to have, make a great big deal out of Armed Forces Day, and they'd have a lot of displays, but they used to have a train, out here, I mean they still had trains even up until the last five years. But they actually had a passenger train, and they'd take tours out on the area, and I remember doing that as a kid, they'd have a bus pick everybody up in town, in Hermiston. And come out to the depot, and I'd spend the day here and take the bus back.

DS: They'd drive around where the igloos are and?

DF: Um-hum, yeah they didn't take you in any. But at that time they were mostly full. Not like now, they're empty. We take tours in there, inside an igloo so people can see what it looks like. But it was real interesting to see it at that time. Of course the chemicals didn't come here until 1962, so, and then when they did it was classified and couldn't tell anybody anyway. I didn't actually know about the chemicals until I came to work here in '79. But. It never really made me that nervous, and I'm not sure why. As a security guard I had to take chemical surety training because I had to know the commodity that I was guarding. But, the way they teach you and the way that the munitions act and the agent acts it's not as scary as all that.

DS: Can you explain that? I've read a little bit about the binary chemicals that are housed separately and then. . . to the nerve agent that's in K-Block. So could you talk a little bit about that?

DF: Sure. When they first created chemical weapons it was the nerve agent or the mustard agent, which is a blister agent, was housed inside the munition. And it was, it's a lethal agent, as it sits. Then the army got smarter, I believe it was seventies, late seventies that they started creating the binary weapons. Because, with the, what they call unitary, that mean it's there, it's lethal as it sits, and it's all combined together. Those were as hazardous to soldiers as they would be to the enemy if they were ever to be used. So they created a weapon that is actually made of two components. One is just, well the munition is the same, it's designed exactly the same as the other ones. But the agent itself is kept in two separate canisters. One is just industrial strength alcohol, which is what we store here, and the munition casing. The other is di-flouride. . . , yeah it's a long name, short name DF and you can see why. That was actually a powdered chemical that isn't harmful by itself. But once it's combined in that munition, and it's projected from the howitzer, the spinning action punctures the two canisters, it mixes in the air while the weapon is going down range, and then and only then does it become a chemical agent. So it's not hazardous to the soldier at the front line that would be using it against the enemy, so, that's what the binary is.

DS: Prior to the seventies, it was actually, they were actually, it was already mixed?

DF: Um-hum.

DS: Or, it was housed together. . .

DF: [It was actually mixed. The unitary agent is one liquid inside a container, the binary is actually two separate components and it's not an agent until it's fired. The unitary agent is what is now in K-Block]

DS: . . . So when you came here in the seventies, were there a lot of people working here? Was this still pretty active? Because there area all these buildings and it's pretty clear that there was a pretty large community at one time.

DF: There were actually a lot of people in the beginning. There were up to 2,000 people at one point. Because of World War II to start with. But there were a lot of conflicts that the depot also supported - Grenada, Panama, um Vietnam, of course. But after World War II, they didn't need as many soldiers or civilians so they cut back and over the years they just kept cutting back, especially after Vietnam, they cut back some more. When I came to work in '79 there were about, I think 380 people who worked here.

DS: Were there any people living here at the time?

DF: Yes, we do have housing. We have seven units that are used for senior non-commissioned officers. We have a bachelor enlisted quarters, and we also had family housing units for the lower enlisted people. And that's already been closed and the houses have been demolished and done away with. But, yeah there were people living here. Now, if you're talking about Ordnance, the city of Ordnance itself. They, when they first built this in 1941 is when they started in January, they had so many construction workers here. In Hermiston, the quantity varies depending on who you talk to. Some people say it was about six hundred people, some say there was 800, when the depot started building and, brought in almost 2,000 construction workers, and there was no place to sleep, no place to live. So they were actually living in their cars. And they had tents all over the place. So they built the city of Ordnance, the government did. Right across the freeway. It is now, well it's not now because they closed it, but it was a pig farm. And uh, because the Hansel brothers bought it, in the sixties after the depot didn't want it anymore they bought it and turned it into a pig farm. But they actual built housing over there and there was a school and a grocery store and a movie theater, and gymnasium. The whole, the whole thing.

DS: Do you have any information on that here? Any photographs or anything?

DF: We do have some photographs, but most of the photographs we have are in the Outreach Office, because they were doing some special projects downtown. And so they just kind of stayed there.

DS: [says she's seen some of the little white houses of Ordnance]

DF: [The construction company was owned by J.J. Turteling. Dean Homes Plaza, used to be called Tertletown, built by the same company for people who worked at the depot. DF used to live there as a child]

. . . It was huge. . . from Eleventh Street, back to where the other side of the park is now, behind the apartment complex. Those were all houses on the whole block. I think it made up two or three city blocks. Yeah, it was good sized.

DS: So you grew up in the middle of all of that boom period?

DF: Um-hum.

DS: [asks DF how she got into her current position - she took some administrative courses in high school]

DF: . . . The security force was actually, and still is sometimes, the gateway to get in here. Because of the hiring freezes that Department of Defense has on most positions, they always need security guards, especially because they have a special law that you have to be a Vietnam era veteran to work here, so that pretty much limits how you get into the Depot, so.

DS: For administrative positions also?

DF: No, for the security force. But they were the only ones that were able to hire. So, since you had to be a Vietnam era veteran, there weren't that many around that needed work, so they had to, at least around this area. So they had to go long distances to find people. But anyway that was the only place that was hiring, so that's how I got my foot in the door and then when a secretarial position came open I applied for it and got it. And been moving up ever since.

DS: So what kinds of positions have you, what kinds of things have you done on the Depot?

DF: Okay, the first job I had was the secretary for Quality Assurance. They're the quality assurance inspectors who make sure that the ammunition handlers are doing things properly. Then I went to the, I was a secretary for the Mission Division. They're actually the crews who work in the ammunitions themselves. From there I went to the commanders office as the commander's secretary. To administrative specialist for the commander. And from there I went to Public Affairs Officer, which I was for ten years. And then last August I took this job as the Chief of Chemical Preparedness. I'm, I supervise the people who work in our operations center.

DS: So have you had very many direct dealings with the chemical weapons, or have you mainly worked in the office?

DF: Working, I've been strictly limited to administrative except for tours, because there are, let's see, what was it? Early '80s they finally started letting us take people into the chemical storage area. I've taken a lot of media and tours inside the chemical structures, so I've been in there where things are stored. And because I was Public Affairs officer, I was taking historical pictures for chemical operations that they were doing. Like if they were remarking or repainting or something like that I would be taking pictures of it, so. I was exposed you might say [laughs].

DS: What prompted them to start allowing people to come in in the early '80s?

DF: The commander and I pushed for it. For, when I first, when I was the administrative assistant the Public Affairs Officer's position didn't exist. That was a collateral duty of mine. But at the time, since the stocks were classified, we could neither confirm nor deny the presence of them. So, I believe they declassified the stocks in, I think it was 1979. I'm pretty sure it was. And then, we were. So many people were afraid of them that we wanted to let people know how we do our jobs so they would feel better about the safety and about the equipment, monitoring equipment especially that we have out there that detects agent at such a low level. So we wanted to be able to take the mystery out of it. So we started a campaign writing letters to our higher headquarters to get them to authorize that. And I think it was, it wasn't until 1985 that we finally got that done.

DS: How long did you have to work on it to get them to. . . ?

DF: It was a couple years, because we were setting a precedent for the, all of the stockpile sites in the United States. So they didn't want to jump on anything real quickly.

DS: And before that, were there, as you were growing up, do you recall any emergency preparedness programs or anything like that? Or, how did that develop? Because that's really a big thing around here. You know, you see the CSEPP everywhere.

DF: Um-hum.

DS: Um.

DS: The Depot has always had plans, safety plans, and response plans. CSEPP actually developed when, well it was, they decided to get rid of the stuff, but it's getting older. And the biggest risk is during storage while we're waiting to destroy it. So they decided it was time to put some money out there to the community so they could better respond. Even though we can respond to mitigate an accident, if anything was to get out then they need plans too. So, it was, even though we had plans and, it wasn't like people out there didn't know that it was going on, because even though it was classified there are a bunch of news articles out there in the early seventies, Colonel Norris was the commander, and a state representative, retired Norris. And um, they were moving the chemical stocks out of Okinawa, and they were going to move them here because we're the only on the direct West Coast from Japan, so the governor's office fought that, but it was in the news. I mean everybody in Hermiston was supporting bringing it here because it meant more jobs and more work. So, there were people that knew it, it wasn't like it was a deep dark secret. Plus, most of the people in the community either worked here or were related to somebody or, you know, knew somebody here. So I think it was known, it just wasn't, people weren't, the awareness wasn't there. There wasn't the scare tactics that people try to put on it so that it scares people into doing something.

DS: So do you think that it's more, that there's more awareness now, or that the awareness that has been created through the public outreach programs has changed the way that people view the Depot?

DF: I think there's been several different awareness levels. The first awareness was, they knew it was here. But like I say, they knew people who worked here so they weren't concerned about it. Then the awareness came when the stocks were declassified, so there were people who were moving into the area that didn't know it was here, and it was like, "Woah, where am I and what are you doing to me?"

Um, and "How dare you not tell me where I live," and that kind of stuff. A media blitz mainly did that kind of thing.

DS: In the seventies?

DF: No, because, that level of awareness like I was telling you, in the newspaper everybody supported bringing the chemicals here. More chemicals. They actually started shipping them in in 1962. This was more late '70s, '79, '80, where reporters from Portland were trying to make a name for themselves and so, they'd come up with the big television stations and make a big deal out of this "deadliest place on the earth," you know, that type of thing. Just to, they have to sell their news. They have a lot of competition, so they had to use these scare, scary things of introduction to get you to watch their show to bring up their ratings. And it was, it's usually at two different times of the year because they have um, the ratings where they rate all TV stations, tell you whose popular and whose not. In the spring, like in March, and then they have it again in the Fall. [says that's usually when reporters would come from the city] . . . we'd get news reporters from the big cities who wanted to get a Peabody Award or something, by doing a big story on discovering this deadly place in northeast Oregon. So that was like, it scared people into thinking they were all going to die if, you know, anything happened. With the Outreach Office efforts it's helped to let people know that, yeah they're deteriorating, but they're pretty well safe the way they are, as long as they're not moved. We don't move them unless there's a leaker. So, and with the equipment we've got and the experienced workers, we're not that concerned about it. But, even though the possibility is pretty remote, the consequences are going to be real high if anything happens.

DS: What kind of consequences would there be if?

DF: Well, the worse thing they say that can happen is if an airplane, like a 747 size, not a cropduster or anything like that, was to fall straight out of the air and crash into an igloo and breach it and then cause a fire. Most of the chemicals, most of the munitions aren't even stored with the bursters or the fuses that would cause this fire. The only ones would be rockets, because those are actually one item and they can't easily be separated. So it would have to be a rocket igloo, to get the desired effect.

DS: And aren't those the first ones that are being?

DF: Destroyed.

DS: Dismantled?

DF: Um-hum, and that's because they are aluminum and the GB agent especially, it's a nerve agent. It's a caustic, and it's actually kind of eating its way through the aluminum, so that causes pinpoint leaks. [sound of microphone] So that's what we deal with the most. Those are the leakers we have, but the leaks, the equipment that we have is, like I said, detects it at such a low level, a person could actually work in that structure with a leak occurring for eight hours a day, forty hours a week, and not show any adverse effects. That's how low we detect it, and what we do once we find it is put it inside an overpack container, seal that up, and then put it in an isolated structure that's monitored everyday. So, other than that, if that igloo fire was to occur, ninety percent of the agent would be consumed in the first fifteen minutes, but there's still that ten percent of agent, and depending on the weather conditions, could travel a distance. So, if that was to happen, there would be some people who would be affected.

DS: Where have the weapons been used? You mentioned Vietnam. Somebody told me that you know about Operation Golden Cargo, was that during Vietnam?

DF: That doesn't involve chemicals. Our chemicals have never been used.

DS: They've never been used?

DF: Nuh-uh. In Operation Golden Cargo, we were put on the base closure list in 1988, and we were told, we have been told that we had to realign. That means get rid of all your missions except for the chemicals. Since the chemicals are a national program. I mean it's run by Congress and everybody else and you can't. They couldn't just say, "You're closing, move that stuff." Because obviously that isn't going to happen, so they had to wait until this disposal program was taken care of. So they said, okay, realign, get rid of everything you have and then when the chemicals are gone, you're closing. More than likely you'll close, actually. Because it's never been made law that we will close. So anyway, we have a thousand and one igloos and most of them, there's 89 that we store chemicals in. But the rest of them had conventional ammunition that we did use in Vietnam and Panama and other wars and conflict. So that Golden Cargo was actually a training program for the National Guard and Reserve units that are transportation units. They never, I mean even though they train every year for two weeks, they had never trained with actual live ammunition. So, in order to help us realign and get rid of those conventional munitions, we had to send them to another installation. Most of them went to Hawthorne, Nevada. Then the National Guard and reservists would bring in their trucks and they would get training on how to load ammunition and transport it. So we were killing two birds with one stone. That was Golden Cargo, it took, it was three or four campaigns that we did that.

DS: And that was in the eighties?

DF: Actually that was in the nineties. It started in '91 and, actually 1990 I think was our first one, and we finished in '94.

[they've moved out all of the conventional weapons. Many of the munitions are the same in chemical as in conventional, but with the agent]

. . . The conventional weapons are designed to explode and cause damage by shrapnel, where the chemicals are designed to break open, spread agent, and get the soldiers that way, get the enemy incapacitated that way.

DS: What happens when that happens? I mean, let's say right now we have this bombing in Kosovo, if those kinds of weapons are used, what, what?

DF: You mean what are the symptoms?

DS: What are the symptoms? What are the results of that?

DF: Depends on how much you're exposed to, but if you are exposed to a lot, death is the ultimate result. Um, there is a certain amount of the stuff that your body can handle on its own. But if you get more than the limit that it can naturally get rid of, your body has to handle certain toxins everyday. But if you get above that limit, then with the nerve agent it actually affects the nervous system. And, oh I can go through the entire symptoms if you want. . . What happens is you have chemistry in your body that allows. Your brain sends signals to your muscles telling them to expand or contract. And then you have another chemical enzyme that tells it to stop. So if your brain was telling you to, say bend your elbow, there is one chemical that does that, and then there's another chemical that your brain sends to your body that allows you to unbend it or relax. What the nerve agents do, is it blocks that second chemical that releases it, so that you, your body contracts, your muscles are in a constant flux. And then, you'd salivate because of that, because of all your glands and everything being so tight. Your nose runs, your eyes tear up, and you start sweating because all your glands are just, you know, being overworked. And then what eventually happens is you suffocate. With the blister agent, that causes huge blisters. Now that may or may not be lethal. Depends on how much you get. Because if, it doesn't go away, it's a carcinogen, and even though you can decontaminate it and get it off the top, you still got that, it goes through the pores, and then you've still got that carcinogen in your system, so if you get a big enough dose it will eventually cause cancer. But if you inhale it you can get blisters inside your lungs and die of pneumonia and that type of thing, so. That's. The mustard agent was actually designed to, they say that it take four soldiers to move one off a battle field. So mustard was designed to incapacitate one, and then take five out at the same time. So you're taking five soldiers off the battle field, where the nerve agent was designed so that it wasn't, it's not as persistent. That means it doesn't stick around as long, at least the GB nerve agent. That means that they could come by with, say an airplane and spray a bunch on this field that they want to be in, and so the soldiers that are there would be killed, the enemy. But then later on after it's dissipated, our soldiers could go through that area without getting harmed. And then they decided that they needed something that was more persistent than that, so they designed the VX which is more of an oily substance, and it hangs around longer. So.

DS: So have those weapons been used?

DF: No.

DS: No. Not at all?

DF: No. The United States has not used chemical agent. Foreign countries have. Germany used mustard in France. They still, I think are finding mustard rounds that have been buried over the years and a farmer digs them up or something.

DS: Asks about how the incineration project came about.

DF: [says the weapons were designed as a deterrent to other countries] . . . [emphatically] It's like, if you can do it, we're going to do it back! My dad's bigger than your dad kind of thing. But, um, after, well like I said, they've been stored here since 1962, and the Cold War's over, the United States never has used them, they don't intend to. So now it's time to get rid of them, get rid of the risk to the community. So what the army did was, first did an environmental impact statement, a study to find out - okay, do we transport them? Do we leave them there? Do? How do we dispose of them? And then, of course transportation is kind of out of the question because they also decided, well they were studying whether to do two regional disposal facilities. One would be in Touelle, Utah, because there are like three of these installations on the West Coast and five on the East Coast or on the other side of the Mississippi. Then there would be one in Anniston, Alabama, and the thought was, move all of the munitions to those locations and then they can destroy them there. We only have to build two. But then you have to consider - do we move them by rail?

[End Side A, Begin Side B]

DF: And uh, take a chance of a plane crashing and not knowing where it's going to go down and you know, people not being prepared for that. [trucks as an option - convoys - terrorists, mass amounts of soldiers and security. They decided the least risk was to let the weapons sit where they were until they dispose of them - all across the U.S. Phase II was to ask how to destroy the weapons. Incineration was chosen - has been used for over 100 years in the army. At the time incineration was chosen, there was no other technology. They'd tried neutralization, but the technology wasn't mature enough]

. . . Originally the army planned on having all of these things gone by 1994, but because of public outcry, participation, um, and the cost of everything going up as they're doing studies. . . [now studying other alternatives - a contractor studying ways to get rid of the components and the agent, but it's not yet a mature technology. Backing from the Natural Research Council ]

. . . So anyway, they agreed that we should build incinerators at Umatilla, and it's because of the rockets, because the rockets are the least stable, Touelle, Utah, Anniston, Alabama, and also Blue Grass, Kentucky. And they were also supposed to do it at Pueblo. That's kind of been changed because of political things that happened. But anyway, get rid of them now, and if anything happens later on with the studying of the different technologies, then we can maybe use those at the other sites. There are actually two sites that they call bulk storage because there are no weapons, it's just stored in tung containers. And that's in Indiana, Newport, and also in Aberdeen, Maryland. So all you have to deal with there is the bulk agent. You don't have to worry about trying to get rid of explosive or propellant, or fuses or anything else that's come in contact with agent. So, that's what they're doing at those two sites.

DS: And doesn't this site contain like twelve percent of the nation's chemical weapons?

DF: It's probably that now. It's actually 11.6. We quit using the percentages because when they built the prototype in Johnston Island. As they destroy stocks there our percentages go up. [talks about the changing ratio]

. . . It made it sound like we might be moving stuff in here. So we didn't want to do that, but, originally, of the original stockpile, we have 11.6.

DS: So all of that kind of activity, the moving, moving any kinds of munitions in and out has completely stopped and it's?

DF: Unless there's a leaker detected. And then, for example. If, the only way we store mustard is in tung containers. It's like a big chlorine tank. And if it starts leaking, it has to come out through one of the plugs. So what they have to do is they have to take that storage tank out of the storage structure and replace the valve. So, you know, it's like a valve in your car, the gaskets start, they get old and start leaking so you have to replace them. And it's the same concept. So, they will move them then. And uh, like I told you, on the leakers, if they have to over-containerize them, put them in a large steel container and seal them, then they'll move them to a different structure. Otherwise, the only thing they do is they go in and monitor with their equipment, inside the structure.

DS: Can you talk a little bit about the monitoring system? Have you seen that system change over the last, since the seventies?

DF: [laughs] Oh, yes! When I first came to work here they were using rabbits as the monitors. They would actually take a rabbit and stick it inside the igloo. After a few minutes, they'd open the door and if that rabbit was still okay then, it was okay. Because they were a lot more sensitive to the agent than a human would be. So uh, we went from there to um, they have what they call gross level detectors, which soldiers actually use, or they're trained to use out in the field. So that if there was a big puddle of agent, it would detect it. But it doesn't detect at real low levels. So, we also had what you call a bubbler, which is something that they'd use in the laboratory that actually draws agent out of the igloo, and then it, it's run through this bubbling system and you get an answer like twenty minutes to a half an hour later whether or not there's agent in there. So that wasn't very effective. Now they actually use Hewlitt Packard computers, and uh, gas chromatography, which, I mean technically they can detect to zero. But we don't because we're always trying to improve and you can't get better than zero [laughs], and it gets kind of tough with regulators. I mean if you detect anything over zero even if it's less than what would affect you, I mean that's getting kind of ridiculous, so. Anyway, it's real efficient now.

DS: Have there been any comparisons of what levels you might be able to detect with rabbits what you'd, what are safe levels or considered safe levels?

DF: I'm sure they have, there have been studies, obviously the Centers for Disease Control are the ones who set the standards for what is an allowable exposure limits. So there have been studies and I'm sure they've been done on animals. I remember when I first came to work here I saw a movie in the chemical surety training that showed them, showed scientists testing agent on monkeys and rats and that kind, you know, same ones that are used for cancer studies and that type of thing. So that's how they set the levels, but, as far as comparing it to, I'm not sure that's the same. I mean they were testing how much it would take to cause certain effects as opposed to the equipment as actually how low it detects.

DS: So with increased technology, then there's a better detection that's possible.

DF: Definitely. So we, whenever there's a leaker it, we catch it a lot earlier, so there's less chance of anything bad.

DS: Do you know how often they used to test versus how often they would now? I mean now they can have, they have consistent monitoring, right?

DF: Well, not every day. It depends on the munition, and that's based on historical data, because of ammunition like projectiles, it's a steel body. It's only got one moveable part and that's the nose cap. And what, because they have to take that off [sound of microphone] and put the fuse in. So that's the only place that has a gasket, it's the only place that can leak. Historically, they don't leak very often. On the other hand, rockets, because of the agent and the aluminum we talked about earlier, do leak more often, so they are monitored more often.

[Every structure monitored every quarter - 89 structures. DS asks about accidents - an igloo blew up in 1944]


. . . I can tell you what the investigation shows.

DS: Okay.

DF: At the time it was, since it was during the World War II, they were concerned about terrorism or sabotage, so they brought in the FBI to actually do the investigation [chuckles], and it's funny because they found that there were a couple of communists who were working here at the time. They didn't know that before. Obviously the clearance level wasn't [laughs] what it is today. So of course those people went down the road. But the stories that I have heard, and according to the investigation, there were a, there was one crew, and it made it sound like it was a totally Black crew, and I suppose they let them work together for whatever reason in the forties, but, they had worked in that structure the night before. And they left because, and one of them said, "The bombs are talking to me." And, so they left, they refused to stay in there, and then the next day is when the igloo exploded. What they say happened was, and I just hate this, because the guys can always blame it on a woman driver. But the woman, there was a woman that was driving a forklift. She wasn't at the time of the explosion, though, because she was in the pickup, but uh, anyway they figured then, the fork tines either ran into one of the bombs because at the time they were stored with fuses and bursters and everything else, because they were shipping in and out from the war, and uh, they figured that either exploded one of the bombs which sent, you know, propagated the rest. Or, that the forklift driver dropped one and it exploded. But, of course the biggest piece that was found is over in our parade field. It's a memorial now. We have a plaque on it, and uh, but they found. Seems like it was the door to one of the trucks that was sitting outside the igloo, it was down by the river, which is like three miles. But, yeah there were. The igloos are actually designed so they're thicker at the bottom, the cement is, like two feet thick, and they eventually get thinner, up to one foot at the top. So if there is an explosion, everything's forced up, so it doesn't affect the igloos on the sides. So, and the front wall, it's cement, and it falls forward and then the explosion goes up. Did what it was designed to do. The engineers knew what they were doing.

DS: So it didn't affect any of the other igloos?

DF: No.

DS: And there were four people killed?

DF: Five. Four men and a woman.

DS: And the truck door blew all the way to the river? That's amazing.

DF: Yep, and they only found, I mean this is gruesome. . . they found a torso and a hand, and that's all the body parts they found. That was the woman from the pickup.

DS: That's a pretty violent explosion. And have there been any other accidents on the Depot?

DF: [just regular industrial accidents - broken bones - no exposure to nerve agent - excellent safety record]

DS: Comments about wildlife, asks DF to talk about wildlife on the Depot.

DF: It's pretty well protected inside the fence. The only predators that are actually here are coyotes. Of course they can freely come and go. During, let's see, I think it was 1967, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife were running out of places to have antelope. And, of course with all the people moving in they were getting squeezed out. So they were concerned about that population. They brought in seventeen antelope, and now we have 150, about that. There was over 200 at one time, but the problem has become, the Fish and Wildlife used to have a manage, I mean they still have a management program, but it's not as flexible as it used to be because of funding constraints. They used to come in every year or every other year and do roundups, and they'd catch as many antelope as they could and then they'd move them to different parts of Oregon. . .

[haven't done that for ten years - because of funding - a lot of in-breeding, not as healthy as they used to be. A lot of coyotes, especially with warm winters. There are badgers and rabbit, jack rabbits and cottontail, eagles, golden and American. Curlews come from South America every spring and nest. DS asks about photos - East Oregonian did a story on curlews. Baby curlews are cute. Curlews nest from March to June, will swarm humans. No natural water sources, water troughs and sprinklers are provided for the wildlife. Coyotes build dens in berms between igloos. Very few trees, mostly sagebrush]

DS: Do you have any idea what they're talking about doing with the Depot once the weapons have been disposed of?

DF: Yep. There's uh, there's been a base re-use task force and they're not called that anymore, but in 1990 Governor Roberts put them together to decide what to do with the Depot. [sound of the microphone] They've disbanded for a couple years because we weren't doing much of anything, but um, now they've been renamed to the local re-use authority, because in order to transfer property the government, from government to the community, they have to have deed rights, so they're now re-use authority, they now have the authority to accept that property. They've actually developed an entire plan for the entire Depot, except for the igloos, they haven't really decided what to do with those. Even though, some of them are double-doored igloos and they're big enough that you could store RVs in. But we have, we stored um, Delta II Rockets, the rockets that send up the space shuttles, you know. There's nine of them around each space shuttle. We actually stored those out here for a while, because they are, the powder is made by Hercules and in, I think it's Forum, Utah, is where they made the rockets. Well, for a while NASA was not sending any shuttles up for whatever reason, I don't know what, but they were still producing these rockets and they needed a place to store them, so.

[some of the double-door igloos are big enough to store the rockets]

. . . Oh, potato sheds, you know [DS laughs]

[they haven't decided what to do with them. Talk of making the administrative area a vocational tech school. The ports are interested in the newer warehouse areas. Railroad tracks to dock level warehouses - interested in that - want it right away, but had to wait until army decided how far the danger distance is around the disposal site. It's a couple of miles to the warehouses from the disposal site. No wind is the worst weather that you can have is an inversion]

. . . The wind, even though people hate wind in Hermiston is, it's actually good because it dissipates the agent if it was to release. Have you seen a farmer burning his field and you see the smoke coming out? On a day where it's not very windy at all, it just, you know it kind of stays together and hovers, where if the wind's blowing it, it mixes it, it dissipates it and it's gone. That's the good part about the agents. The wind in Hermiston [laughs].

[phone rings, DF answers, pause in tape]

DS: . . . I was wondering if there's any possibility of a wildlife refuge, if that's part of this or, is that something you've considered?

DF: Actually, that was one of the recommendations that they had. They also recommended that, of course they weren't real specific who, but somebody build a museum type thing that stored depot stuff. Except for we've gotten rid of so much of it, it's, it would have been real nice to keep one of our locomotives, but they were brand new, refurbished, and other parts of the army want those kinds of things. But you know, we have a, a cannon that they used to use for, oh they set it off at revelry and retreat, and well. . . it was an actual cannon that was redesigned to operate from shotgun shells, so. Um, historical things like that, but over the years we've lost track of a lot of things that.

DS: What were the locomotives used for?

DF: For internal rail movement. Union Pacific would bring conventional ammunition in on their rail cars and they'd park out by our class yards and they would move their engines and we would connect to their cars and take them out.

DS: Was that still happening when you were here?

DF: Um-hum, um-hum. Yeah and every time they brought in a new train then the security guards had to go out and check every car, because a couple of times we'd get a hitchhiker that would get stuck in the Depot and be surprised that they were there [laughs].

DS: Oh no! What did you do when that happened?

DF: Oh, we had to call the State Police and they'd come get 'em. . .

DS: Do you have anything else that you'd like to say about your history with the depot or about the depot itself?

DF: Well, let's see. I don't know what your audience is going to be, but, you know a lot of people are leery about the depot because of the chemicals, and we really do have an experienced work crew. They're really good at what they do, the best in the army. They have a reputation for being the best. And you know, we all live in the community so we're going to do everything that we can to keep it safe while those chemicals are here, so, just in case this is heard before they're gone, maybe that will help some people. But we do as many tours as we can. It's almost, we've almost become Tours R Us, and it's only going to become worse when the plant is on-line because we'll be taking people through, actually walking through the plant. It takes the mystery out of it. It's not quite as scary when you get to see what we do.

DS: Do you think it will be scary to go through the plant? I think I would be scared to go through the plant.

DF: Actually, no. . . They won't let you in there when they've got the chemicals in there. But during, there is a certain time, I think it's, I don't want to say, I think it's every thirty days or something that they have a certain amount of down time to perform maintenance, to make sure everything is up to snuff and working properly. And that's the time that they would take tours through, not when they're operating [laughs]. So it's, you know, they do try to help the community as much as they can and their awareness of it, but they wouldn't do anything stupid that was unsafe. And that's for everybody's safety.

DS: So you feel like the fact that the people who live in the community are actually the people who work on the depot, makes, it makes it a little bit safer than?

DF: I think it.

DS: Not so much that it makes it safer, but.

DF: Makes a difference in their attitude, what they, how they feel about taking care of the stuff. I mean, my wife, my kids, you know, my mom, my dad, they're out there, I'm not going to do anything stupid, you know, or careless.

DS: And then what happens to your job when all of this is over?

DF: I'm gonna retire.

DS: Oh.

DF: I'll be, I'll have thirty years in, and I'll be 55, so. . . [talks about retirement. Her husband owns a gun shop in Irrigon]

DS: . . . Have the dams affected your life in any way?

DF: As I was growing up?

DS: As you were growing up, um-hum.

DF: Yes, I used to live in Umatilla and we had to move out of our home when they raised the water level. They flooded the lower part of Umatilla. I remember that when I was a kid, I was in grade school.

DS: Do you remember how people reacted to that? How they felt about it or how your family felt about that?

DF: Well, we were renting so it was more of a, gotta move again, type of thing. And I think that the people who owned the homes, they sold them, to the government no doubt, so that they could. I'm sure they weren't just left high and dry so to speak. Of course I was too young to know any difference. To us it was more of an inconvenience because we'd have to move. I mean there were seven of us kids and so it was quite a chore to move that big a family.

DS: I can imagine.

DF: But, let's see, over the years I've also spent a lot of time at McNary Park, McNary Beach you know, swimming, and we've gone fishing and boating, so, it's been pretty positive to me.

DS: So you went to school in Umatilla?

DF: Nooo, well I did, I guess, first grade, part of the second grade I did. . .

[The nature trail at McNary Park has beaver. Talk about Don Eppenbach]

[End Side B, End Tape 1 of 1]

Photo Archive * Documents Archive
Oral History Archive    
Bibliography & Web Resources