The Manhattan Project

Oral Histories

Al Zelver's Interview

Al Zelver served as a Japanese language officer in the U.S. Army during World War II. He spent a year in Japan after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In this interview, Zelver talks about becoming a Japanese language officer, his time in the China-Burma-India Theater during the war, and seeing the ruins of Hiroshima shortly after the Japanese surrender. Zelver ruminates on the decision to drop the bombs and on the surrender itself. He recalls his time in Japan both immediately after the surrender and years later when he returned to Hiroshima to speak with the Hiroshima Peace Foundation. He reflects on the atomic bombings and nuclear proliferation today, and describes a conversation with Manhattan Project scientist Felix Bloch.

Felix DePaula's Interview

Felix DePaula's Interview (2008)

Felix DePaula was an Army private stationed at the Trinity Site and Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project. After the war, DePaula stayed at Los Alamos, and worked for the Zia Company there. In this interview, DePaula talks about life at Trinity Site, especially the isolation and the entertainment he and his fellow soldiers would come up with to pass the time. He describes the rodeos the military police would help set up. DePaula also witnessed the Trinity test, and talks about the feeling among the troops after seeing the detonation. He also recalls the high security at the gates to Los Alamos.

Julia Maestas's Interview

Julia Maestas's Interview

Dr. Julia Maestas is the granddaughter of Manuel Maestas, a homesteader at Los Alamos, and daughter of Elipio Maestas, who worked as a civil guard for the Corps of Engineers at Los Alamos. In her interview, she discusses her family’s history and what it was like growing up in Los Alamos. She shares childhood memories about friends, skating, and watching movies. She also describes how her tri-cultural background and education at Los Alamos led to her career in speech pathology and educational psychology.

Larry DeCuir's Interview

Larry DeCuir's Interview

Larry DeCuir served in the 509th Composite Group during World War II. In this interview, he discusses his experience being stationed on Tinian Island during the war and working on the X unit of the Fat Man bomb, which was designed to trigger the bomb. He also reflects on the level of secrecy involved in the Manhattan Project. DeCuir describes the housing on Tinian, and recalls witnessing the B-29 planes take off from Tinian airfield for missions over Japan.

Nancy K. Nelson's Interview

Nancy K. Nelson's Interview

Nancy K. Nelson is the widow of Richard H. Nelson, who was the VHF radio operator on the Enola Gay on the Hiroshima atomic bombing mission. In this interview, Nelson discusses how she met her husband after the war. She describes his experience training to be a radar operator and in the 509th Composite Group. She recalls how he and other members of the missions felt about the atomic bombings. Nelson also discusses her experiences going to 509th Composite Group reunions and her husband’s friendships with General Paul Tibbets and other members of the 509th including Tom Ferebee, Dutch Van Kirk, and others. She also describes her husband’s visit to Japan and other reunions and events where he shared his wartime experience.

Lionel Ames' Interview

Lionel Ames's Interview

Lionel Ames is an Army and Manhattan Project veteran. In this interview, he talks about how his brother Maurice "Maury" Shapiro, who worked as a scientist at Los Alamos, was able to get him assigned to the top-secret site. Ames recalls his work at Los Alamos in the chemistry lab, and his role as a cantor for the weekly Jewish services. He also discusses daily life at Los Alamos. He concludes by discussing his post-war life as an entertainer.

William Ginell's Interview

William Ginell's Interview

William Ginell is a physical chemist who worked on the Manhattan Project. In this interview he describes how he became interested in chemistry and his experiences working at Columbia University and Oak Ridge, TN on the gaseous diffusion process. He reflects on the Army, living conditions, and the intense secrecy and security during the project. He also discusses his life after the war, especially his work at Brookhaven, Atomics International, and Douglas Aircraft.

Ruben Salazar's Interview

Ruben Salazar's Interview

Ruben Salazar was an employee with Reynolds Electrical and Engineering Company, tasked with doing electrical distribution around Los Alamos. Starting as a laborer on the electrical line from Santa Fe to Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project, he worked his way up to become an electrical lineman and foreman. For years, he was an expert on power in the area. In this interview, Salazar talks about what Los Alamos has meant to him, his family, and his community, and describes his work at Los Alamos from the 1940s through the 1990s. He also recalls witnessing a fatal accident where another worker was electrocuted.

Jim Sanborn's Interview

Jim Sanborn's Interview

Jim Sanborn is an American sculptor known for works such as “Kryptos” at the CIA Headquarters in McLean, VA. In this interview, Sanborn discusses his exhibit “Critical Assembly,” which is now on display at the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History in Albuquerque, NM. The installation recreates the Manhattan Project scientists’ experiments at Los Alamos to determine when plutonium would go “critical” in an atomic bomb. Sanborn explains why he decided to do the project, and how he carefully created each piece of the exhibit. He describes some of the artifacts in the exhibit, including the physics package of the Trinity device and an oscilloscope, and where he found some of the materials and artifacts he used. Sanborn also discusses the Slotin accident, the urchin initiator, and other key scientific and engineering devices from the Manhattan Project.

Jim Smith's Interview

Jim Smith's Interview

James L. Smith is a physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). In this interview, Smith recalls his more than forty-year career at LANL. He describes some of the history of the Manhattan Project and LANL’s innovative work during the war through today, including work on the human genome, computing, and radiation detection. He emphasizes the importance of having multidisciplinary national laboratories to produce pioneering innovations and scientific discoveries. Smith also recalls his friendship with Edward Teller, who he was assigned to teach about superconductivity, and other Manhattan Project scientists including Nicholas Metropolis. He discusses Teller’s relationship with Oppenheimer and other scientists.

Pages