The Monaghan man who captured nuclear devastation

2 weeks ago 23

Col McGovern in NagasakiImage source, US National Archive

Image caption,

Just one month after the bombings, Lt Col Daniel A McGovern was the first person sent by the US to document the damage

By Adam Mandeville

BBC News NI

The success of the film Oppenheimer has shone a spotlight once more on the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

However, the story of one Monaghan man involved in the aftermath appears to have been forgotten.

Just one month after the bombings, Lt Col Daniel A. McGovern was the first person sent by the US to document the damage.

A member of the US Airforce, he was a specialist cameraman trained to document bombs and their aftermath.

In one scene in the Academy Award winning Oppenheimer film, the titular character played by Irish man Cillian Murphy looks in horror at footage of the aftermath of the bombing.

But these images may not have survived for others to see if it were not for one man from Carrickmacross.

McGovern's biographer said the story is one of most amazing he has ever heard.

"McGovern's story is better, in my opinion, than Oppenheimer's," he said.

Image source, US National Archive

Image caption,

Col McGovern's team collected over 125,000ft of colour and black and white footage

In total, Col McGovern's team collected over 125,000ft of colour and black and white footage - though much of this was classified.

When he returned from Japan, Col McGovern made secret copies of the footage to ensure it would be saved from US government censorship.

He took these from the Pentagon, storing one set at an air force motion picture depository in Dayton, Ohio, and kept the other himself.

In 1967, a US Congressional committee, that included Robert Kennedy, asked to see the atomic bomb footage.

The material had been declassified but no one could find the originals.

Col McGovern directed the authorities to his copies.

In 1970, the general public got its first glimpse of some of the footage as it was incorporated into a film called Hiroshima Nagasaki - August 1945.

McGovern's huge risk to secretly keep copies of his footage ensured that the committee had access to crucial documents.

Image source, Joseph McCabe

Image caption,

Joseph McCabe spent twenty years working on a biography of the Col McGovern

Joseph McCabe spent 20 years working on a biography of Col McGovern, called Rebels to Reels: A Biography of Combat Cameraman Daniel A. McGovern USAF.

He said Col McGovern could have been shot for treason after making copies of the classified footage, but did so to save it for future generations.

Born in Carrickmacross, Col McGovern's family left Ireland in the early 20th Century following the War of Independence.

Despite this, biographer Joseph McCabe said Col McGovern remained a "proud Irishman" all his life.

Mr McCabe described the story of Col McGovern as one of the great untold tales of the 20th Century.

Mr McCabe first became aware of Col McGovern after they were introduced at Carrrickmacross library in the 1990s.

Upon hearing his story, Mr McCabe could not believe that the lieutenant was not a household name.

"I guarantee you that everybody… has seen some of Daniel McGovern's footage at some stage," he said.

Mr McCabe suggested the footage watched by J Robert Oppenheimer would have been captured by McGovern.

Image source, Joseph McCabe

Image caption,

Mr McCabe first became aware of Col McGovern after they were introduced at a library in Monaghan in the 1990s

Historian Dr Tom Thorpe said without the footage captured by McGovern, films such as Oppenheimer may never have been made.

"McGovern's actions to save the footage ensured that it remained available for future generations," he said.

"[McGovern's] contributions indirectly influenced the availability of such archival material for films like Oppenheimer."

He added that the images are "immensely important to our understanding of history".

'Rubbing shoulders with everyone'

After moving to the United States with his family, Col McGovern developed an affinity for photography.

During his time in the air force, he was tasked with setting up the School of Combat Cameramen - an institution which aimed to train military personnel in the art of war photography.

Not only was he given the responsibility of setting up the unit; he was also asked to design the syllabus and teach the first class.

Col McGovern was also, for a time, the designated photographer of President Franklin D Roosevelt.

While stationed in Europe, he also helped gather footage for William Wyler, who would go on to direct films such as Ben Hur, Roman Holiday, and Wuthering Heights.

Mr McCabe commented that Col McGovern "rubbed shoulders with everyone".

Image source, Joseph McCabe

Image caption,

The photographer's family returned to Carrickmacross to witness the unveiling of a commemorative plaque in 2022

In the latter half of the 20th Century, Col McGovern would continue to work for the US military and government, photographing various bomb tests, including those of Wernher Von Braun, co-developer of the V2 rocket.

He was also asked to help gather footage in and around Roswell, New Mexico following the now famous Roswell incident.

Col Daniel A McGovern passed away in California in 2005.

In 2022, 100 years after the McGovern family left for the US, his family returned to Carrickmacross to witness the unveiling of a commemorative plaque, dedicated to the man who photographed one of the most infamous events of the 20th Century.

Read Entire Article