Nancy Bartlit is the former president of the Los Alamos Historical Society and co-author of Silent Voices of World War II: When Sons of the Land of Enchantment Met Sons of the Land of the Rising Sun. Her father worked on the Manhattan Project in New York City, Oak Ridge, and Canada. Bartlit talks about how her experiences teaching at a girls’ school in Japan and living in Los Alamos influenced her work as a historian. She discusses Japan’s surrender, the internment of Japanese Americans, Navajo Code Talkers, and how Japan remembers the bombings today.
In this segment, Groves discusses the establishment of the project sites at Los Alamos and Hanford. He talks about the role Oppenheimer had in influencing the choice of the Los Alamos site, and the planning that went into ensuring the site was both accessible but would not draw attention. In regards to Hanford, he talks about the innovative efforts to gauge water pollution and protect the salmon in and around the Columbia River.
Freeman Dyson is an esteemed mathematician and theoretical physicist at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study. In this interview, Dyson discusses his work at England’s Bomber Command in World War II, tracking the position of bomber forces. He explains the importance of scientific innovation in wartime, the effectiveness of strategic bombing campaigns, and why civil defense worked better in Germany than in Britain. Dyson later worked with Manhattan Project veterans Hans Bethe, Richard Feynman, and Robert R. Wilson, and recalls how they felt about the project. He discusses Niels Bohr and J. Robert Oppenheimer’s ideas for international control of nuclear weapons, and what methods he thinks would work best to further nonproliferation efforts today. Dyson also remembers visiting Oak Ridge, and explains Oak Ridge’s important role in building innovative nuclear reactors and conducting biological experiments.
Tom Gary was a military engineer during World War II. In his interview, he discusses how he began working at the age of nineteen, dropping out of high school just two months before graduation to support his family. He worked on the railroads for a decade before applying to become an Army first lieutenant. After earning the position, he was deployed to France, and sent back to the United States following the end of the war. He then became the head of design for DuPont. Gary also helped design the plants at Hanford and Oak Ridge.
Marge Shipley spent her time at Oak Ridge listening to the concerns and grievances of the female mechanics and operators at Y-12. As one of the plant’s counselors, she was responsible for mediating housing disputes and serving as sounding board in the face of workplace frustration or anxiety. She discusses the stories of the employees she knew as well as her own experiences, describing the poverty of the operators who commuted from surrounding towns, working long hours, and counseling young women after the death of their loved ones in the War.
Tom Gary headed the design division in the engineering department at the DuPont Company and served on the committee which decided among the proposed fissionable material production and purification processes. He discusses his time on the review committee, including Ernest Lawrence’s effective salesmanship, and what it was like to work with a young Crawford Greenwalt.
General Richard Groves was a cadet at West Point during World War II, getting ready to ship out for the invasion of Japan. His father, General Leslie R. Groves, directed the Manhattan Project. In this interview, Gen. Richard Groves discusses his father’s competitive drive, the pride he felt in Manhattan Project workers, and how he felt about what the project accomplished. He also recalls receiving letters from his father at West Point and what he learned working with him on his biography.
Patricia Hansard worked as a “cubicle girl” in the Y-12 Plant from 1943 until the end of the war. She was one of the many women tasked with monitoring the calutron machines essential to uranium production. She discusses the secrecy surrounding Oak Ridge, the working conditions in the cubicles and the Y-12 Plant, and her interactions with the other young women and GIs working on the site.
Val Fitch is a Nobel-Prize-winning physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos. He was drafted into the Special Engineer Detachment, and remembers George Kistiakowsky getting the SED special exemptions from their military duties so they could work harder on the Project. He was sent to Wendover, UT to observe the dummy bomb tests. He worked on the detonation team for the Trinity test, and recalls witnessing the test. He won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1980. Fitch served on President Nixon’s Science Advisory Committee in the early ‘70s, and discusses the importance of ridding the world of nuclear weapons.
Martin Skinner worked in the Beta 3 Building in the Y-12 Plant at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. In this interview, Skinner elaborates on his role as a troubleshooter for the Calutrons in the Beta 3 Building. He also highlights the degree of the secrecy involved in working on the Manhattan Project. After the war, Skinner returned to Oak Ridge to continue working on a project researching the stable separation of isotopes. He concludes by stressing the need to preserve the memory and importance of atomic history.