Thursday, September 15, 2016

An Interesting Coincidence — Or Is It?

Bataan survivor Dwight Cable, formerly a Sergeantt in the 515th Coast Artillery (Anti-Air) of the New Mexico National Guard, died last month as previously noted. But there is a coincidence that's not noted in the Albuquerque Journal article about Dwight, or in his obituary — one that makes one wonder if there are ever really any coincidences.

Dwight was born at home, in an apartment at 5622 S Ellis Avenue in Chicago IL on December 16, 1916. (Babies were normally born at home, not in hospitals, in those years.) That apartment was right across the street from the west stands of the University of Chicago's Stagg Field, home of one of the founding members of the Big Ten Conference. (The Chicago Maroons dominated that conference until the University dropped its football team after the 1939 season.) That apartment building has long since been torn down.

The Nuclear Energy sculpture at the University of Chicago
The importance of the Stagg Field Stands in Dwight's story is that a squash court in the space under them was the location of the first man-made self-sustaining controlled nuclear reaction — the first operational nuclear reactor, which went "critical" on December 2, 1942. Henry Moore’s “Nuclear Energy” sculpture now stands on the exact spot. (This article provides more information.) Producing that self-sustaining nuclear reaction was a key step in the development of the atomic bombs which were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th & 9th of 1945, respectively.

The Prisoner of War camp commandants in Japan had standing orders that, when the Allied invasion of the home islands began, they were to kill all the prisoners. The atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ending World War II, avoided the need for an invasion and thus saved the lives of Dwight and the other POWs being held in Japan. So the research carried out across the street from Dwight's birthplace came to be used "across the street" from his internment camp — a use that saved his life.

Another coincidence. The apartments where Dwight was born were eventually torn down and replaced by a University of Chicago laboratory building, the Enrico Fermi Institute for Nuclear Studies. A laboratory in that building was used by one of Dwight's nephews. As best as that nephew could determine, the location of his laboratory was at the very location (though in the basement) of the apartment where Dwight was born. It really is a small world.

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