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Sandusky brothers kept it Top Secret

Andy Ouriel • May 27, 2013 at 8:00 AM

The Trautman brothers, Frank and Robert, served on the U.S.S. Belle Grove in the early-to-mid 1950s.

Both brothers, along with about 500 other soldiers, protected precious cargo crossing mostly the Pacific Ocean.

The Sandusky natives escorted a massive hydrogen bomb capable of killing thousands during the Cold and Korean wars.

Had the bomb’s whereabouts somehow leaked, and America’s enemies learned about it, the breach could’ve resulted in nuclear warfare.

“People tested our ability to keep a secret,” Frank said. “They kicked about half the people off the ship, and we got a whole new crew. They wrote home to our parents and checked us out to see if we told where the bomb was to anyone.”

The pair participated in Operation Castle, a mission in which Navy personnel tested the capabilities of powerful bombs at Bikini Atoll within the Pacific Islands. The mission began in 1954.

While scary, the sight of such a bomb test impressed both brothers.

“It would be like what you see in the movies,” said Robert, who is brothers refer to as “Baldy.” “It would go off and look like a mushroom.”

Said Frank: “All the different colors from the test were beautiful. They prepared us that the sound waves were coming. We were young guys and didn’t think nothing of it. But it went ‘boom!’ If you weren’t holding onto something, it knocked down the guys on the ship.”

American forces never detonated this bomb, nor did any U.S. enemy track its coordinates.

As pipe fitters, the siblings ensured everyone on board had access to working toilets, sinks and fire equipment. They also fixed valves and kept all the fire equipment functioning.

Between watching the bomb and performing daily tasks, Frank and Robert found time for fun and pranks. Among the more memorable moments both brothers recalled: the day crew members thought Robert’s life was in danger.

“It was up to me and Baldy to build a garbage shoot,” Frank said. “So we built it, and brother said, ‘I’m going to take a little dip.’ So he slid down the garbage shoot and into the ocean.”

Hysteria ensued.

“Everyone’s then saying ‘man overboard!’” Frank said. “He’s down in the water and we’re just laughing about it.”

When it came to helping others, both brothers took their jobs serious. They constructed an airstrip near a northern Alaskan beach, and it was the region’s first runway, allowing military aircraft to land there.

Their boat primarily cruised along the Pacific Ocean, with stops in metropolitan areas such as San Diego and Seattle, transporting goods and military ships.

Today, the brothers — Robert, 81; and Frank, 78 — remain active in honoring local military personnel. Recently, they’ve coordinated close to 100 funerals for local military heroes in the past couple years.

Both said they plan on marching in today’s Sandusky Memorial Day celebration to honor their late brothers.

During the ceremony, Frank and Robert will pay respects to Cliff and Howard Jr., who also served in the Navy. Vince, a fifth brother still alive today, also served in the Navy.

They’ll also pay homage to their mother, Verna, who birthed 13 children and lived to be 76.

“That woman is in heaven, don’t we know it?” Frank said.

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