AURORA - If anyone knows the difference between work and duty, Gene Jiggitts has known ever since he met his wife Mary.

"Mary is a keeper," Gene said. "Now, when I say a keeper, I mean somewhere in our early years in kindergarten, I decided she was gonna be mine. I was gonna keep her."

He kept her through his days in school. He kept her through his career in the military. He kept her through a life -- of secrets.

"At the time when we got to Albuquerque was to conduct nuclear testing," Gene said.

In 1951, Gene was assigned to an elite group of 28 men working on something they called the hydrogen bomb.


"If you say, how did it affect me? I was up to it. I was stepping up to the bar because I knew it was good," Gene said. "Whatever I was doing at the time was good for my country."

If you have ever seen the images of the bright flash and mushroom cloud, Gene was probably there.

"About seven miles from detonation," Gene said. "I can tell you about the aftermath. It was a hell of a shockwave and it's overpowering."

His job was in operations figuring out logistics for these hydrogen bomb tests. It placed him in a small club of atomic veterans.

"So, if you were to say I was the only African American, I would say that was unique," Gene said.


This work required him to have the highest government clearance of anyone in the military. Through his accomplishments, he got to be known the Master Chief.

"I'm in an alert state of mind and that's what I'm supposed to do," Gene said.

But, he knows he wouldn't be anywhere without Mary, whom he called "The Little General."

"Because she has been the main driver for our family," Gene said.

Mary was a lifelong leader in the Girl Scouts and devoted mother and wife.


"We've been married for 67 years," Gene said.

Now that his work is done, it is time for his duty of assisting his 93-year-old wife.

"In entering into dementia," Gene said.

He helping her deal with a disease that is slowly taking away her mind.

"I lay out her clothes in the morning and make sure she gets her meal on time," Gene said. "She was a keeper."


He keeps her happy. He keeps her safe. He keeps his promise.

"I said one thing that I will pledge that I will never do as long as I am able to assist, I will never put you in a home," Gene said.

The man, in his 90s himself, will do his work to keep his duty.

"She is enjoying her life and I tell her I say you have earned the right to do whatever you want to do," Gene said.

To this day, Gene says he doesn't know how got assigned to help test the hydrogen bomb. His only theory is that when he was in college he had a professor who had worked on the Manhattan Project and perhaps he made some sort of recommendation.