No matter which direction you drive into Hawthorne, Nev., you will be fascinated with the miles of countless bunkers surrounding the small desert town. But if you nose around you will soon learn that those bunkers — 3,000 all together, spread over 237 square miles — house the world’s largest supply of munitions. One third of the weapons used in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan were once stored in Hawthorne.
The Hawthorne Ordnance Museum, right on the main drag of town, tells everything you ever need to know about munitions — bombs, rockets, depth charges, mines, torpedos and whatever else the American military has developed in the last 75 years or so to kill an enemy. All the weapons were either manufactured, stored or tested in Hawthorne. The display is mind-boggling.
My tour guide was Herman Millsap, who retired from the Hawthorne Army Ammunition Depot after 42 years. The military facility was established in Hawthorne in 1930 after a disastrous explosion destroyed a similar Navy facility in New Jersey that leveled a town and killed more than 50 people.
His “five minute” tour lasted about a half-hour and was fascinating. What I came away with was the thought of how incredibly brilliant and innovative we Americans are at building weapons, but saddened that we need to create such evil things in the first place. Just thinking about the destruction many of the weapons can bring to a human body is like pondering a nightmare.
“The way it works is develop and counter,” said Millsap. “One side develops a weapon, then the other side devises a way to counter its effectiveness and the process goes on and on.”
One story that Millsap told was of a World War II magnetic device that was launched over the side of a destroyer with the intent of landing on a German submarine and then attaching to its side. Once there, the “Anti Submarine Knocker” would bang away, exposing the location of the sub for the destroyer’s depth charges. Watch the one minute video below to see Millsap explain the device.
Stop by the museum if you are traveling U.S. 95 through Nevada. You can’t miss it. It’s open 10 to 3, Monday through Saturday. Admission is free. For more information, call (775) 945-5400.
Photos: Top: Inside the museum. Middle: Outside the museum. Bottom: Control panel that controlled remote control helicopter than could be used to drop torpedoes or for reconnaissance.