Tuesday, November 20, 2012


My friend, Sam Cohen, was a Jew, and you will see later why I mention it.  Sam was a nuclear physicist who was famous in nuclear circles as the Father of the Neutron Bomb.  I wrote this piece awhile back and have had to change all the “is” words to “was” words, because I learned a few weeks ago that Sam died a few months ago just short of age 90 by a little bit.

It about broke my heart, because Sam and I called each other three or four times a year, and it was his turn, and I hadn’t heard from him, which foreboded bad tidings.  So I called him at his home in Pacific Palisades.  I got a no-longer-working message and thought, uh-oh.  I Googled him and there found his obituary.  Look for it, if you like.  He was quite a guy.  I was always proud of the fact that he called me his good buddy.  Sam was a tough pisser to deal with, but he and I never had a cross word.

I have a million stories about Sam, like the one he told me and Sundi at dinner one evening about the time Curtis Le May told him he wasn’t satisfied with a bomb that would take out Minsk or Pinsk or even Moscow.  He said, “You know what I want from you nuclear guys!”  He clamped down on his cigar and growled, “I want you to make me a bomb that will take out the whole goddamn Soviet Union!”  I asked, “Was he serious?”  Sam said, “You’re damn right he was serious.”  That danger was a real one back then and someone over there was having the very same conversation.  I said that this made all those guys who were digging bomb shelters back then not look so silly after all.  Sam said, “They weren’t.”  Sam was interesting to be around.

But one of my favorite stories about Sam is a short one.  In the 1940s, when Sam was a young man working on the Manhattan Project in New Mexico, he hitched a ride with an old farmer in a pickup truck.  Sam played tennis a lot and tended to tan pretty quickly, and the desert sun had him pretty dark.

They had ridden along for a spell, when the old farmer asked, “What tribe are you with, Sonny?” 

I said he should have told him the Levites.

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