By late afternoon most of us were back at the camp site only to find that two of Dave Nicholas’s New York buddies (known as the BARC Boys) had brought over some oranges and grapefruit that they had misappropriated from nearby groves. They were a welcome treat for all and after another night of partying Russell and I retired to our humble sleeping quarters.
Again, I had to make an early morning visit to the bathroom and upon my return saw a UF coed by the name of Gail awake and looking toward the airport. She said she was a former Sebring High School grad and one of her classmates was a sheriff’s deputy doing security at the raceway.
He told her that there were strange goings on at one of the big World War II era hangers but he was not allowed to go over there. Her curiosity was peaked and she asked if I was interested in going over there with her to check things out. I couldn’t turn down an invitation like this from a pretty lass and I grabbed my camera from the car. When I turned around Gail had two bicycles for us and two flashlights and before I knew it we were biking down the racing surface and on our way to the hangers.
It was pitch black in that area of the race circuit and the flashlights helped illuminate the way. However, as we got near the runway I noticed that the area beyond one of the very large hangers was aglow with light and the sound of generators could also be heard.
I called for Gail to stop and turn off her flashlight. When she asked why I pointed to a cluster of Air Police and Highlands County Deputies in the distance standing around a burn barrel to keep warm and smoke cigarettes.
We were near enough now to the backside of the hanger, which was in shadow, to walk the rest of the way. Coming around the south corner of the hanger I saw this huge B-52 Stratofortress under auxiliary lights. As I raised my camera to take a picture one of the race cars came flying by between me and the bomber. This shocked me and I didn’t know if I had actually taken the picture until later when the film was developed. No less than 30 seconds later a Sheriff’s car zoomed past us chasing down the race car. Fortunately we were still in shadow and they didn’t see us. I found out later that race mechanics were known to take cars out at night to find open area where they could test repairs and suspension settings.
I had a sinking feeling that if the deputies were in hot pursuit of the race car the Air Police were not far behind so I asked Gail to follow me trying to keep the hanger walls between us and the Air Police. We found a man-sized door in one of the hanger walls and went inside the darkened hanger to wait until things cooled off.
After about ten minutes Gail began to stir and turned on her flashlight which freaked me out. In a low shout I asked her what she was doing. She said she “had to pee” and went off looking for a bathroom which she found in the far corner of the hangar. While she was doing her business I stood there transfixed at the sight of a World War II era B-25 Mitchell bomber that looked like it was undergoing some kind of refurbishing.
Gail began to beckon to me to see what she found in one of the rooms at the back of the hanger. As I entered what used to be a large parts storage room I turned on my flashlight to see what she was talking about. On the walls were a number of old Sebring racing posters and several girlie calendars which drew my rapt attention.
When she saw what I was looking at she said, “Not that you dummy, look over here.” As she swung her flashlight to a corner of the room I saw a large metal cylinder. As I put my light on it I knew immediately what it was and my heart literally missed a beat and I began to get nauseous.
I said, “You know what that is, don’t you?” She got a wicked smile on her face and said, “Yup!”
Not until later did I confirm that we were looking at what was a Mark 27 Thermonuclear bomb from the disabled B-52 outside. On top of that there were three more in that room.
“We need to get out of here.” Gail said. When I asked why she shown her light on the warning sign about radioactivity. She joked that if we stay any longer we would start glowing in the dark. I had the presence of mind to take a photo of the bomb before we left.
Years later I would find out that the B-52 was from the 4047th Strategic Bomb Wing out of McCoy Air Force Base in Orlando. It had been doing patrols just outside Cuban airspace and began to experience mechanical difficulties on their return to base. The pilot thought he could make it home but when things got critical he landed at Sebring.