Both national and international media have been covering the Manhattan Project and the 70th anniversaries of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Here is a roundup of articles on the anniversary of the Trinity test.

 

Nationally, the Washington Post, NPR, C-SPAN American TV, the New Yorker and PBS have developed stories and programs about the anniversary, many drawing upon our Manhattan Project interviews on "Voices of the Manhattan Project." Stay tuned!

 

In This Issue
509th Composite Group Interviews Now Online
Little Boy and Fat Man Photographs
Manhattan Project Park Update
AHF Meets with NPS Interpretative Experts
Manhattan Project Veterans Database
Upcoming Manhattan Project Events & Programs
Voices of the Manhattan Project
Bob Caron
"I could not see very much of the city, but I could see this cloud coming up. It shot past our altitude. Inside the center of the core of the mushroom was this boiling cauldron of salmon-colored pink flame," said co-pilot Fred Olivi, describing the sight of the atomic explosion over Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. 

The Atomic Heritage Foundation is pleased to present the 509th Composite Group Collection, courtesy of official 509th historian Joseph Papalia, who has maintained close friendships with many veterans of the group. The collection, which is featured on the Voices of the Manhattan Project website, showcases more than a dozen exclusive interviews and oral histories.

 

The 509th Composite Group was an array of ordinary soldiers trained to perform a secret and critical mission: dropping the atomic bombs. Assistant flight engineer Ray Gallagher, who flew on Bockscar, the plane that carried the Fat Man plutonium bomb on the Nagasaki mission, summed up the emotions the crew felt before the mission. "We all get on and we are all heroes. But then, when you sit in your own little individual spot and you have your own self to think about, even though everybody will help one another, I can say without a doubt, everybody is scared. But as a group, we are brave."

 

Abe Spitzer

The members of the 509th were unaware of the purpose of their training. "We knew we were working on something really important. But no one actually could determine what it was," remarked radio operator Abe Spitzer. Even after Colonel Paul Tibbets, just before the missions, revealed that the 509th's purpose was to drop devastatingly powerful bombs, the word "atomic" was never used.

 

Enola Gay tail gunner Bob Caron was the only person to guess at the true nature of the bombs. "I said, 'Colonel, is this a physicist's nightmare?' He gave me a funny look and he says, 'You might call it that.' I said, 'Colonel, are we splitting atoms this morning?'"

 

Many of the 509th veterans remember feeling a sense of relief after the completion of the Hiroshima mission. Radio operator Richard Nelson recalled his exact emotions at the time as "a feeling of elation. We all felt this had ended the war. I think we were surprised when a second drop was necessary." Nelson was not alone in his shock, as many other 509th members were confident that the second mission would not happen.

 

However, despite their surprise, the 509th veterans almost uniformly did not regret their role in history. Years later, Charles Sweeney, the commander of the Nagasaki mission, expressed his feelings on the morality of atomic warfare. "My personal attitude was, ours is not to question why, but to do or die." Gallagher, however, was more reflective. "As you get into your years and you see pictures of these different situations and people at the memorials, your heart goes out and you say, why did it happen? But it had to happen."

 

Jacob Beser and John Kuharek
Radar countermeasures officer 
Jacob Beser was the only person to be on the strike plane on both missions. He visited Hiroshima years after the atomic bombings, on the invitation of the Japanese government. He was the only member of the 509th to do so. Although he did not have qualms about flying on planes that dropped atomic weapons in wartime, he did admit that the U.S. government made certain oversights.

 

In his interview, Beser said, "Eighty-five percent of the survivors within three thousand feet of the explosion suffered some form of radiation disease. This is something that people ask - didn't we know, didn't we anticipate? We did not know the extent. We did anticipate that anybody within a radius of several hundred feet would be hurt badly by radiation, but would also either be blown to hell or burned. So as a separate entity and as a prolonged aftereffect, we were a little nave."

 

These powerful interviews will provide valuable resources for educators, historians, students and anyone interested in the history of these era-defining missions and the people involved. For these interviews with members of the 509th and more reflections on the atomic missions, visit Voices of the Manhattan Project.

 

This project was made possible by Joseph Papalia who shared the recordings he had of the 509th members. AHF is also very grateful to Crystal Trust for their generous financial support for our oral history projects.

 

AUExhibitionLittle Boy and Fat Man Photographs
Little Boy in the bomb pit on Tinian

August 6th and August 9th will be the 70th anniversaries of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In advance of the anniversaries, we are featuring photographs that show the Little Boy and Fat Man bombs being prepared, along with the planes, for the missions. The photos can be viewed on our website and on Facebook (Little Boy and Fat Man albums).

 

For more about the bombings, and for more photographs, visit our website:

We also have added over a thousand profiles of members of the 509th Composite Group. To learn about the scientists and airmen who participated in and supported the missions, visit our Manhattan Project Veterans Database.

 

NewsManhattan Project Park Update

 

The X-10 Graphite Reactor at Oak Ridge

The Manhattan Project National Historical Park moved one step closer to reality on Tuesday, July 28 when the National Park Service and the Department of Energy released their draft Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) for jointly managing the park. The public has a month to offer comments.

 

The new park will include three sites: Los Alamos, NM, where the atomic bomb was designed and tested; Hanford, WA, where plutonium was manufactured; and Oak Ridge, TN, where enriched uranium was produced. The proposed agreement calls for a site manager for each location that would coordinate with the Department of Energy and the local community and report to a superintendent of all three sites located at the park service's central office in Denver, Colorado. The agreement also suggests "each site will have similar levels of staffing as park operations grow over the years."

 

After visiting the three sites and meeting with local elected officials, Department of Energy and National Park Service officials decided which properties under federal authority should be included in the park. Among the initial properties included are the X-10 Graphite Reactor and Y-12 buildings in Oak Ridge, the B Reactor in Hanford, and the Gun Site and V-Site facilities in Los Alamos. For a complete list, please click here.

 

The Quonset Hut Assembly Building at Los Alamos, where the first Fat Man bomb was assembled, and the 221-T Process Building (T Plant) at Hanford will not initially be included in the park because of on-going DOE work at those properties. However, the NPS and the DOE did agree to consider including these buildings in the park "at the earliest feasible time after current mission use is complete."

 

The National Park Service will be collecting comments on the draft of the memorandum until August 28, 2015. Once the comments are reviewed, the MOA will be finalized and sent to the Secretary of the Interior and Secretary of Energy for approval. The agreement must be finalized by December 19, 2015 in accordance with the law. Once signed, the park will officially become part of the National Park System!

HarpersFerryAHF Meets with NPS Interpretative Experts

On July 16, AHF met with the National Park Service at Harpers Ferry, WV where NPS manages interpretative projects for all 400+ parks. The Harpers Ferry Center (HFC) staff create exhibits, brochures, maps and other interpretive and educational resources.

 

While the HFC staff were enthusiastic about digital products such as apps for visitors to park sites, they advocated "low tech" approaches to exhibits to avoid electronic breakdowns. Sometimes a flip book of photographs and stories can be as compelling as complicated interactive exhibits. In cartography, colorful 3-D depictions of a site may complement more conventional maps.

 

Overall, partners are becoming more involved in providing both input and funding for NPS interpretive products. The Harpers Ferry Center staff is looking forward to working on the Manhattan Project National Historical Park and collaborating with many partners over the years ahead.

 

VoicesManhattan Project Veterans Database
James Schoke, SED at the Met Lab

We now have 9,000 profiles of Manhattan Project veterans on our website. While some of these only have minimal information - their name, their position, and the Manhattan Project site they worked at - many others have more complete profiles, with photographs and documents. You can filter by site and role. For example, you can now find most of the members of the Los Alamos Special Engineer Detachment, the Military Police, and the Provisional Engineer Detachment. 

 

We are continuing to add many more profiles, photographs, and documents. We encourage family members of Manhattan Project veterans to send us biographical information and photographs so we can add more profiles to the site.

 

While still only a small fraction of the 600,000 people who worked on the Manhattan Project, the database is by far the most complete list of Manhattan Project workers online.

 

Many thanks to our staff for their hard work adding profiles to the website and editing dozens of oral histories. Special commendation to research assistants Caitlyn Borgi, Ruthie Dannehy, Anna Frenzilli, Emma Schaff, and Reed Srere for an excellent job.

 

Richard Rhodes and Linda Terhune at AHF's 70th anniversary events in June


 

Here are some of the special programs and events on the Manhattan Project developed for the 70th anniversary. First, on Tuesday, July 28, PBS aired a special two-hour program, The Bomb, with experts on the Manhattan Project, nuclear physics, the race for the bomb, and more. Richard Rhodes (above), author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Making of the Atomic Bomb, is one of the experts featured. Another PBS program, Uranium: Twisting the Dragon's Tail, also premiered in two parts on July 28 and 29. These programs are now available online.

 

Beginning the weekend of August 8, 2015, C-SPAN American History TV will be airing several interviews from the "Voices of the Manhattan Project" oral history collection. The series will begin with a ten-minute interview with AHF President Cindy Kelly followed by Ben Bederson, Jack Aeby, Val Fitch, and Robert Furman. The C-SPAN website should post the programming schedule soon. The videos will be available online at C-SPAN's site and on the Voices of the Manhattan Project.

 

In April the documentary "Garwin" premiered. Richard Garwin helped in the design of the first successful hydrogen bomb, and has spent much of his career since working to make sure such weapons would never be needed. Garwin has advised every president from Eisenhower to Obama including on the BP oil spill crisis in the Gulf of Mexico to the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in Japan. To learn more, visit the documentary's website

 

Dr. Frank Settle, author of the forthcoming book "General George C. Marshall and the Atomic Bomb," will be speaking in Lexington, VA for the George C. Marshall Foundation on August 6.

 

Here are a few selections of the interviews we have uploaded to Voices of the Manhattan Project in the past month.

 

Author Kai Bird, Senator Martin Heinrich, and Charles Oppenheimer at AHF's 70th anniversary events in Jun
Charles Oppenheimer and Dorothy Vanderford are the grandchildren of J. Robert Oppenheimer. In an interview with historian Kai Bird, co-author of American Prometheus, they discuss what it was like growing up with the Oppenheimer family legacy. They talk about living in the humble ranch house in New Mexico, Perro Caliente, with their father Peter Oppenheimer and their mother. Charles and Dorothy also reflect on the 1954 security trial and their father's involvement in anti-nuclear marches. They take issue with the conventional treatment of Kitty Oppenheimer by historians.

 

William Sturm and Robert Nobles were physicists working under Enrico Fermi's supervision at the Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory. Both physicists worked with graphite and uranium ratios and arrangements in the Chicago Pile-1. They recall the construction of Chicago Pile-1 between 1941 and 1942, and witnessed the first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction. Sturm and Nobles discuss Fermi's personality, noting his confidence and competence. They describe him as being one of the most brilliant physicists of his time, having knowledge of all fields of physics. The two also discuss the interactions among the scientists on the project at Chicago and how their personalities and specialties meshed together.

 

Dr. Joseph Katz was a chemist at the Metallurgical Lab at the University of Chicago. Katz was a part of a team that studied ways to separate plutonium from irradiated uranium. In this interview, Katz elaborates on the technicalities of the process to produce micrograms of plutonium. He explains how scientists had to speculate what the chemical structure of plutonium was. He also discusses the safety hazards associated with plutonium work, as well as his time in Chicago and experience working there. He recalls the tight security, and how scientists feared the Germans might beat them to developing the bomb.

 

John Healy was in charge of environmental monitoring and later worked on special studies regarding environmental impact of reactor operations at the Hanford site. He discusses the consequences of dumping materials into the river and air pollution from iodine volatilization. Healy touches upon DuPont's role, mentioning that the corporation was very safety-conscious in terms of reactor operations.

 

Dr. Richard Foster was the fish laboratory supervisor at Hanford. He talks about inspection of organic matter in the Columbia River prior to and after the construction of reactors at the Hanford site. Foster describes DuPont's central role in taking necessary precautions, highlighting their professionalism and efficiency. He also discusses research done at the University of Washington regarding X-ray radiation and its effect on fish. The extent to which safety and environmental harms were taken into consideration, according to Foster, was advanced for its time. The State of Washington, and the country as a whole, had very little awareness of ecology or the impacts of air and water pollution on the environment.

 

We have been working hard to bring you first-hand accounts from Manhattan Project veterans, updates on the new park and much more. Please let us know how we can improve and consider making a donation to support our future efforts. Thank you!

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