Do Not Lose This Letter

At the height of the Cold War in 1957, the following, horrific letter was issued to key personnel working on the biological weapons program (BW) at Fort Detrick, this particular example having landed in the lap of someone within the Atmospheric Sciences division. In a nutshell, anyone who received a letter similar to this one was guaranteed a swift exit should a non-fatal nuclear attack occur, followed by relocation to another facility where the BW program could continue. As John Ptak notes, this was essentially a ‘Get Out Of Hell Free’ card.


Frederick, Maryland


10 July 1957

TO: (Removed)

1. In the event of a mass destruction attack on Fort Detrick with the resulting loss of Biological Warfare physical facilities, it is anticipated that it will be necessary to re-establish BW activities at some other location. In order to accomplish this in the most expeditious manner, the availability of certain designated operational personnel, who have considerable knowledge and experience in the present BW Program, is deemed essential. It is therefore the intent of this headquarters to provide for the evacuation of such designated key personnel in the event of an attack so that they will be available to re-establish BW activities as deemed necessary by the Department of Defense.

2. This letter serves as notification that you have been selected as a member of this group which is to be evacuated. Until more appropriate identification can be issued, this letter will serve for such purposes in evacuation proceedings and should, therefore, be kept on you person at all times.

3. The following plan has been devised for evacuation of key personnel:

    a. Evacuation procedures will be executed upon receipt of telephonic notification to your division office from this headquarters. Each division or seperate office will be responsible for expiditious notification of its key personnel.

    b. From the time of Warning YELLOW (attack likely) to the time of Warning RED (attack imminent) a maximum period of four (4) hours is anticipated. Evacuation will take place between one (1) and four (4) hours after receipt of Waring YELLOW.

    c. Assembly area for evacuation will be the Field Housw, Bldg. T-838, both for on-duty and off-duty hours.

     (1) Upon receipt of notification during on-duty hours, key personnel will immediately proceed to the assembly area on foot and report to the Evacuation Officer.

     (2) During off-duty hours, upon receipt of Warning YELLOW (3 to 5 minute blast of siren), key personnel will proceed by private transportation to Gate No. 1 at Fort Detrick, thence on foot to the assembly area and repot to the Evacuation Officer. Personnel arriving alone in private vehicles will leave such vehicles in the parking lot outside Gate No. 1 with keys in the ignition. (For such an emergency, the lot will be guarded). Personnel who are transported to the installation by dependent or other personnel will release such transportation at Gate No. 1.

4. A practice alert to test this evacuation plan will be held in conjunction with local Civil Defense exercises. You are urged to cooperate with the above plan for your own safety and for the assured continuation of the BW capability.


Colonel, CmlC