Richland High School’s bomber mascot and mushroom cloud logo in the news again

Some students at Richland High School wanted to change the schools atomic bomb mushroom cloud logo in 2003.
Some students at Richland High School wanted to change the schools atomic bomb mushroom cloud logo in 2003. Tri-City Herald

Recent news coverage of Hanford has renewed calls among some people for Richland High School to be a little less proud of the cloud.

When a portion of the PUREX plant tunnel recently collapsed in the center of the 580-square-mile nuclear reservation, it drew reporters from across the country to Richland.

Three Washington Post writers noted the city’s fondness for remembering its connection with the Manhattan Project.

“Bomber’s Drive-Thru sells milkshakes and burgers. The Richland High School mascot is the Bomber and a mushroom cloud is painted on the gymnasium floor,” Leah Sottile, Lindsey Bever and Steven Mufson wrote.

Samantha Frost, an alumna of Richland High, called for the school to adopt a less radioactive mascot in a post on Western Washington University’s Odyssey community.

She called the logo and the name a shameful reminder of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“It is estimated that 200,000 Japanese people died when the atomic bombs exploded, and thousands more died later from radiation exposure,” Frost wrote. “People with hopes, dreams and aspirations were lost in mere moments. Why do we celebrate this?”

If the more than 120 comments on her post are any guide, any change is unlikely. Only a single commenter supported her opinion.

Many pointed out the Japanese were unlikely to surrender if the U.S. didn’t drop both of the atomic bombs. They said they were proud of the name and tradition.

Renee Lewis, a Hanford High graduate, pointed out in a Tri-City Herald guest editorial that the people working at Hanford during the war didn’t realize what they were involved in until the Fat Man bomb exploded.

“At the same time, we don’t need to celebrate it ‘with chilling flippancy,’ as one article put it, either,” Lewis said. “It’s more than just a little politically incorrect to have a mushroom cloud as a high school mascot in the city that built the bomb dropped on Nagasaki.”

She called on Richland High School to change the name.

A brief history

One of the points of contention between many commenters is the history of the name.

Several people repeated a story perpetuated in the 1990s about the school’s connection with the “Day’s Pay” collection drive, in which Hanford workers donated a day of their pay to help fund construction of a B-17 heavy bomber.

A mural of the plane decorates the side of one of the school’s buildings. It flew more than 60 missions in Germany, bombing oil refineries at Hamburg and an ordinance depot at Dusseldorf, according to an essay from the state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation.

While some criticized Frost by claiming the Bombers’ name is derived from the plane, their claim appears to be incorrect, according to an essay by Keith Maupin on the Richland High School alumni page.

The student body decided to change the name in September 1945, and Maupin said documents from the time show the name was derived from the atomic bomb.

“The fall of 1945 was a very emotional time and Columbia High School students saw themselves as markedly distinct from Pasco and Kennewick students. ... Richland was a center of the most current science and technology, as attested in newspapers and magazines across the nation and around the world,” he said.

The 1946 yearbook is the first to refer to Columbia High School students as Bombers, saying “We have carried the ‘Atomic Bomb’ theme through the annual in an effort to symbolize the world history.”

Maupin blames the confusion on a campaign to sanitize the history of the logo and the name.

“Was it a deep loathing of anything even remotely remindful of nuclear weapons, was it pietistic institutionalism, or was it something else that led to the distortions of history designed to deceive students and the community?” he said. “Whatever the true motive, the bomb was grounded while the bomber was flying high.”

Controversies and complaints

While it’s unclear when the first public complaints arose, the Herald reported in 2003 about a group of students who wore armbands with a red slash through the school’s logo.

“There’s no silver lining behind this cloud,” the armbands read.

“We’re not against the school,” said senior Ryan Butner at the time. “Our only big problem is the mushroom cloud. We’re glorifying death.”

At the time it was a perennial debate, having attracted 35 activists from Japan 15 years prior.

The debate resurfaced in 2005, 2006, 2009 and 2013, with supporters pointing to the role of the atomic bomb in the history of World War II and Richland, and opponents noting the casualties caused by the bomb.

The symbol has made national news before too. Sottile, one of the authors of the Washington Post article, wrote a story for Al Jazeera America detailing the cloud’s history.

Roughly a week prior to the recent tunnel collapse, a list was posted to BuzzFeed entitled “25 High School Mascots That’ll Make You Say ‘Wait, What?’ ”

The team names include the Sugarbeeters, the Appleknockers and the Cornjerkers.

Author Tom Vellner, said of the Bombers — at number 4 on his list — “Richland is home to the Hanford nuclear site, which supplied plutonium for the nuclear bomb detonated over Nagasaki, hence why their symbol is a MUSHROOM CLOUD and why student chants have included ‘Nuke ‘em ‘til they glow!’ and ‘Proud of the cloud!’”

The BuzzFeed list caught the attention of area television stations, and of one of Frost’s fellow Richland High School alumni, Giulia Szanyi, according to another column by Frost called “The Suggestion of Changing the Bomber Mascot Made People Lose Their Minds.”

Szanyi shared a copy of the picture from the BuzzFeed list, and called making light of the atomic bomb horrible and wrong, Frost said.

The post drew 200 shares and 300 comments.

There is little possibility the Bombers are going to change their logo soon, said Steve Aagaard, the district’s communications director. It would take a vote of the student body.

The district is facing a host of more important issues, including determining a budget without knowing how much funding the state is going to provide, School Board President Rick Jansons said.

“Richland High School has a proud tradition and there is strong support in the community for that tradition,” he said.

Cameron Probert: 509-582-1402, @cameroncprobert