The Manhattan Project

J. P. Moore's Interview

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J. P. Moore's Interview

J. P. Moore worked as a chemist for US Vanadium Company and then as Chief Chemist at Grand Junction, where he analyzed uranium. He worked for Union Carbide for forty years. He recalls Grand Junction’s social scene, including dancing lessons, and the emphasis on secrecy.
Manhattan Project Location(s): 
Date of Interview: 
June 28, 2013
Location of the Interview: 
Grand Junction
Transcript: 

Ron Elmlinger: Well my name is Ron Elmlinger. E-L-M-L-I-N-G-E-R. And we are in Grand Junction, Colorado. Today is June 28, 2013 and I am here with J. P. Moore. Mr. Moore, would you please say and spell your full name?

J. P. Moore: James Phillip Moore, Junior.

Elmlinger: And that is M-O-O-R-E, I am sure.

Moore: Yes.

Elmlinger: And when were you born, Mr. Moore?

Moore: New Orleans, Louisiana.

Elmlinger: Wow. And what was the date? What was your birth date?

Moore: March the 13th,1916.

Elmlinger: Oh, wow that’s great. We would just like to ask you some questions. I am here representing Cold War Patriots. I am the National Outreach Coordinator for Cold War Patriots, and I am here representing the Atomic Heritage Foundation. It is a group that is dedicated to documenting the history of Manhattan Project veterans, which you definitely are one. And so we are excited to have you here, J. P. So are you ready to answer some questions for us?

Moore: I will try my best.

Elmlinger: All right. How did you first become involved with the Manhattan Project?

Moore: Well, I worked for US Vanadium Company at Uravan, Colorado. And they were building a plant in Grand Junction and wanted me to go and be Chief Chemist while they were working on it. And they were building it for the Manhattan Project.

Elmlinger: Wow. So you were the Chief Chemist.

Moore: And I was Chief Chemist.

Elmlinger: Wow. So what was special about your background or your ability or education that made you a good candidate for working for the Manhattan Project?

Moore: That has been a puzzle of my life. I do not have a degree in chemistry. I taught myself. I went to libraries and got books of my own and made friends with wonderful people, and I taught myself how to analyze over 90 elements. And it is amazing that, so many college graduates would come and did not know how to analyze. They knew the elements, but did not know how to analyze them. It is kind of surprising.

Elmlinger: Well, if possible, I do not know if you know this, but can you explain why the Special Engineering Detachment or the Manhattan Project detachment recruited you? Do you know how they picked you?

Moore: No, I am not certain of why, I can’t think right now. For some reason, they set their selves up in Grand Junction as the Manhattan Atomic Bomb Project. And they needed somebody here who had a chemistry background, which I do not think they knew that when they asked me to come and be Chief Chemist.

Elmlinger: Wow. That is so neat. So what was your initial job on the project? What did they have you do first?

Moore: On my initial job?

Elmlinger: Uh-huh.

Moore: I organized and ran a chemical laboratory and analyzed samples that were brought in from a wide variety of areas while they were looking for uranium. A lot of times, people do not realize that it was not uranium that was explosive, it is plutonium. And I did not know it either for a while, but I finally realized that.

Elmlinger: But when you first started at the AEC [Manhattan Project] facility, did they tell you really what your role was, what part you were playing in the Manhattan Project?

Moore: No, they did not. 

Elmlinger: So they even kept it secret from you?

Moore: They were, for a long time.

Elmlinger: Did they ever tell you that the purpose of the project was to build an atomic bomb?

Moore: No, they did not. They made sure that we all kept our mouths shut and did not say anything, but they would not tell us why. The only time that I knew was when the second bomb went off in Japan and they told me about it.

Elmlinger: So they had never told you anything about any of the work that was going on in other parts of the country?

Moore: No.

Elmlinger: Wow. Did you know much about any other work that was going on at your facility, the AEC facility? Did you have full access to all of the projects that were going on there?

Moore: Well, yes I did, but I do not remember all of them. They were a busy bunch.

Elmlinger: Well, I guess then they did not tell you anything about the goals of the Manhattan Project or any of their specific operations then, did they?

Moore: No they did not.

Elmlinger: You know, I think the military, I think they call that “compartmentalization.” Compartmentizing, you know, not telling the guy next to you what you are doing.

Moore: Well, we were actually working the Army. We had an Army supervisor here, General Leahy, who was—he was in charge of the project and everything had to go through him.

Elmlinger: Now even though they did not officially tell you about the Manhattan Project, was there any of your friends or coworkers that thought they knew what was going on and talked to you about it, or everybody kind of kept their mouth shut?

Moore: They all knew something was happening, but they did not know what. They would ask me and I’d just say I did not know.

Elmlinger: Wow. So when you were working, I guess, basically you knew you were working on top secret projects, how did that affect the day-to-day operations there? I think that would be very interesting, working in something that secret.

Moore: No, I just did my daily work. And I walked to work and I lived fairly close to the Manhattan area, and I just did not talk to anybody.

Elmlinger: Wow. Did you have any role in intelligence or security out there at the site?

Moore: No. They had a series of guards that were guarding. And they caught a Japanese woman taking samples one time, and she had a child with here and she was roaming up and down the river taking samples. And they picked her up, and I never heard anything about her.

Elmlinger: And she was a Japanese woman?

Moore: She was a Japanese woman and she was considered a spy.

Elmlinger: Wow. Did you have—discharge any material into the river? Would she have been able to pick anything up from the river?

Moore: We were on the Gunnison River, and there is obviously water and discharges, so it probably contained some of the elements we were working with.

Elmlinger: Wow. Well, did this secrecy ever interfere with your ability to do your work?

Moore: No. 

Elmlinger: Now you talked about the Japanese woman, you said with her child, but did they find out ever at a later date that any of your coworkers had also been spies?

Moore: No.

Elmlinger: No. Okay. And were you ever approached by anyone to reveal information or tell them anything that you were not supposed to tell them?

Moore: No, never was approached.

Elmlinger: Well, that is good.

Moore: That was a good thing.

Elmlinger: What were some of the most serious challenges that you and your colleagues faced out there?

Moore: Well, really I did not consider it a challenge. I just did my job, and worked eight hours and sometimes sixteen, and walked home and slept a while, and went back to work again.

Elmlinger: Wow. So you were pretty good at analyzing elements and the substances and things of that nature, so you knew what you were doing, didn’t you?

Moore: Yes. I did the uranium analysis and the vanadium analysis, but the rest of them were sent out to other places that could analyze.

Elmlinger: Okay. So you analyzed uranium and vanadium?

Moore: And calcium, maybe some of the arsenics and things.

Elmlinger: Now I think your nurse Jane told me that you had said something about polonium? You also did some work with polonium. 

Moore: I did not know about polonium until—it has come up here recently, really.

Elmlinger: Oh, really?

Moore: They had—nobody said anything about that.

Elmlinger: Wow. Because I guess polonium is an alternate material that you can use instead of uranium, right?

Moore: Well, uranium is not explosive, but polonium is highly explosive. And that is what they were buying the uranium for, because it contained about seven-tenths of one percent polonium, which—our products were sent back east and they did the separation.

Elmlinger: Now where did your product go to be separated? Was it to one of the gaseous diffusion plants or was it—

Moore: Yes.

Elmlinger: Okay, so it would have been—

Moore: Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Elmlinger: Oh, it went to Oak Ridge, to K-25.

Moore: And some went to Hanford, Washington.

Elmlinger: Okay. Now Hanford was plutonium breeder reactors, wasn’t it?

Moore: Yes.

Elmlinger: Yeah, okay. Okay, this is a funny question. How hard did you work?

Moore: As hard as it was necessary to get the job done. My biggest problem was managing people.

Elmlinger: How many people did you have to manage?

Moore: Oh, over a period of time, over forty. That was during the war years, and the husbands all went to war and we hired women. And I taught them how to analyze and used girls for our analytical crew.

Elmlinger: What kind of work schedule did you have? You said you worked eight to sixteen hours a day. Was it during the day, or whenever they needed you?

Moore: Well, it was during the day. If we had a callout, well, I would work at night.

Elmlinger: Did you say a “callout”?

Moore: Well, I said a “callout.” They asked you to work on some special program, and you had to do it extra.

Elmlinger: Okay. Did you have a phone that they would literally call you and say, “Hey J. P., we need you to come in, we got some extra work to do,” sort of thing?

Moore: Well, I lived in a home with my wife and we had a telephone.

Elmlinger: Okay. And you say you lived pretty close to the facility, huh?

Moore: And often my wife was wondering what the heck was I doing, going out at night.

Elmlinger: You know, there is something about wives and trust, you know, but during that time, that is interesting. So I presume she basically believed that you were going to work, right?

Moore: That is right. I am sad to say she passed away in January.

Elmlinger: Oh, I am sorry. I am very sorry to hear that. That was this January?

Moore: Yeah, this January.

Elmlinger: I am sorry. Well, the next question is, what did you and your colleagues do in your spare time for entertainment?

Moore: I am a golfer.

Elmlinger: Are you?

Moore: I played lots of golf and I caddied on a golf course. And in general, I like to fish. I have a lot of nice fish pictures. Fish caught up in—near Monte Lake.

Elmlinger: Mostly trout?

Moore: Trout. Only trout.

Elmlinger: All trout?

Moore: Uh-huh.

Elmlinger: And you’re a pretty good golfer?

Moore: Well, the lowest I ever shot was 68 on 18 holes.

Elmlinger: That is pretty good. Wow, that is like being a pro golfer almost.

Moore: I used to play par golf.

Elmlinger: Wow. Wow. Now I am really impressed with that. That is terrific.

Moore: I had to give it up, because I got to swinging and nearly fall down, so I just had to give it up.

Elmlinger: Yeah, I think that would be a good reason to have to give it up. How often were you able to leave? Were you ever able to take vacations or anything, or did they keep you working all the time?

Moore: No, we had vacation schedules. And I went on them maybe two weeks, three weeks. The longer you worked, the more vacation you were entitled to.

Elmlinger: Okay, so you got up to two or three weeks’ vacation.

Moore: I got up to six weeks one time. And I never took the six weeks at once, I would split it up.

Elmlinger: How old were you when you started there at the AEC facility? Do you remember?

Moore: About twenty-six.

Elmlinger: Twenty-six years old?

Moore: Yeah.

Elmlinger: And then how many years did you work there?

Moore: I don't remember how many. Quite a few, five years or more.

Elmlinger: Okay, what did you do after you worked there?

Moore: Oh, my goodness.

Elmlinger: Besides playing golf.

Moore: I played golf. And my memory kind of fades on some of it, but I do not remember right now.

Elmlinger: Okay. Well, you said you lived close to the facility. Was it a house that you owned? A rental house? Did they provide the house for you?

Moore: It was a rental house down along the Gunnison River.

Elmlinger: Okay. And was it a big house, small house? How many bedrooms?

Moore: It is just a two bedroom home owned by somebody, and I rented it. And it was right along the river, so I could go out and fish and I caught bass.

Elmlinger: Bass in the river there, huh?

Moore: Yeah, it is bass in the river.

Elmlinger: Wow. I did not know that.

Moore: A lot of people do not know it, but there is.

Elmlinger: I love eating bass myself actual. You said you were married; did you have any children back then?

Moore: Yes. We had two girls and one boy. I have one lady here, Jeanne, and I have got ten grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

Elmlinger: Ten grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. Are a lot of them here in the area, that you are able to see them?

Moore: No they are in the Denver area, and the West Coast, East Coast, they are all over.

Elmlinger: Besides golf and fishing, how about your social life? What did you and your wife do for fun?

Moore: Dancing.

Elmlinger: Dancing.

Moore: We squared danced, we round danced, we ballroom danced, we did every dance.

Elmlinger: Wow. Were you in the Masons back then?

Moore: Yes.

Elmlinger: Was that part of the social scene for you?

Moore: Well, this may be interesting to you. I did not know how to dance when I met my wife, and she told me, “I never would marry a man that would not dance.”

Elmlinger: Well, you must have been special.

Moore: I took dancing lessons.

Elmlinger: Did you go to Arthur Murray [Dance School], or somebody else?

Moore: Well, I was at Uravan, and they sent an Arthur Murray group to Uravan to teach dancing, so I learned how to dance.

Elmlinger: They sent an Arthur Murray group to Uravan to teach dancing?

Moore: Yes.

Elmlinger: Uravan must have been quite a place at one time.

Moore: Well, it was not large. It was about, oh, five or six hundred people there, scattered throughout the hills and mines and Uravan. Uravan had an old country store there. And otherwise you had a main street that was graveled, and you might any day wake up and see a deer walking down the street.

Elmlinger: So for the purpose of the interview, in addition to the AEC facility, Uravan originally was a vanadium mine, right?

Moore: Right.

Elmlinger: And then they wanted to reclaim the uranium out of the vanadium tailings, right?

Moore: Yes, that is right.

Elmlinger: And that is how they got the link between the Uravan place and the AEC, I think. That is probably why they put it up here, because of all those mines here in Colorado.

Moore: Well, it is interesting, so many people think uranium is explosive for the atom bomb and it is not. Uranium happened to be in the Uravan mineral belt and was picked up when they precipitated a yellowcake, or uranium and polonium went along with it, about seven-tenths of one percent. 

Elmlinger: Wow. How long were you there in Uravan before you went to the AEC?

Moore: Well, I never was with AEC, because I was with Union Carbide for forty years. And Union Carbide kept changing their name, from US Vanadium to Union Carbide Nuclear, to right on up the line to five different names.

Elmlinger: Wow. So Union Carbide was like a contractor for the government then, sort of thing, huh?

Moore: Yes. Uh-huh. And they are on a contract now with Dow Chemical.

Elmlinger: Yeah, they are still going aren't they?

Moore: Yeah.

Elmlinger: You told me that you did not really know that you were working for the Manhattan Project at the time?

Moore: Well, I knew I was in a “Manhattan Project,” but they did not tell me why.

Elmlinger: They did not tell you why. Boy. Did you know about the possibility of developing an atomic bomb at that time?

Moore: No, I did not.

Elmlinger: No? So you would not have been worried about Hitler developing a bomb or anything like that, because you did even know you were contributing to developing a bomb also, did you?

Moore: No.

Elmlinger: Okay. Boy, that is interesting. Once Hitler was defeated, did you think that the project could deliver a bomb before the end of the war with Japan, or you just did not know anything about all of that?

Moore: Well, when I really first knew about it was when they dropped the second atomic bomb on Japan. And then they told me that we had been a part of it, a principle part of the bomb.

Elmlinger: How did they tell you that?

Moore: Well, they just come right out and say, “The project is ending and within a year we are going to close shop and we are going got send you to Rifle, Colorado at a plant there.” And so I was transferred to Rifle right after that.

Elmlinger: Wow. Boy. How did you feel about that? Were you pretty proud of your contribution?

Moore: Oh, sure. And I liked Rifle. Not many people.

Elmlinger: Yeah, Rifle they had a couple of mills there, didn’t they?

Moore: Just one. Well, they had an earlier mill, which they destroyed and built a new one later on.

Elmlinger: So once they told you, and you were proud of it and everything, then the Union Carbide transferred you away from the AEC facility and sent you to Rifle to work more uranium.

Moore: Well, I went to Rifle as Assistant Chemist to Paul Crable, and he was Chief Chemist at the time. And I worked two, three years there and became Chief Chemist.

Elmlinger: Did you know Mr. Shriver there in Uravan? I think he was a chemist too. Shriver?

Moore: The name is familiar, but I am kind of lost on just knowing him to well.

Elmlinger: Okay. Well, this one here is a little strange question. It says, what role did patriotism and wanting to win the war for the United States play in motivating you and your colleagues? And I wonder about that, because if you did not know that you were supposed to be developing the bomb, you would even hardly realize you were a patriot, would you?

Moore: No, not really. I had a job and jobs were scarce in those periods, and I just did what was necessary to keep my job.

Elmlinger: How did you end up being a chemist instead of being drafted into the Army or something like that?

Moore: Well, for some reason the Army would not accept anybody that had anything to do with atomic bombs, period. I have one interesting thing. I had one man that was so obnoxious and wanted to get in the Army that they finally let him get in the Army. They trained him and shipped him to Borneo.  

Elmlinger: To Borneo?

Moore: Where he could not see the Japanese.

Elmlinger: Oh, goodness. 

Moore: I never saw him again.

Elmlinger: You think maybe they did that just to keep him quiet?

Moore: That is right. Just keep him away from Japanese.

Elmlinger: Wow. 

Moore: That was before the bombs were dropped.

Elmlinger: Well, you know, speaking of the bombs, you said you did not know about the bombs until the second one was dropped on Nagasaki, but did you know that they were planning on invading the Japanese homeland?

Moore: Yes, I knew that they had plans to invade Japan very soon, you know. And it is interesting hearing [inaudible], there is a man that said, “You saved my life.” He was ready to be invading Japan when the second bomb was dropped, and it was all stopped.

Elmlinger: How do you feel about that? You feel pretty proud of that?

Moore: I thought that was real nice.

Elmlinger: Wow. Did you ever meet General Groves?

Moore: No I did not. I know of him and I have got a picture of him, but I never met him.

Elmlinger: You have a picture of him? Did he sign a picture for you, or something like that?

Moore: No, no. I just have one.

Elmlinger: Okay. How about Oppenheimer? Did he ever come through?

Moore: I never did speak with him.

Elmlinger: Did he ever come over to the facility that you know of?

Moore: No. No.

Elmlinger: Okay. Were there other key figures of the Manhattan Project that you might have known or met?

Moore: I cannot think of any now.

Elmlinger: Well, there are only two more questions on here, and I think they are great questions. The next one is, how do you feel about the decision to drop the bomb on Japan?

Moore: I thought it was the correct one if it would stop a war, because that was a very serious war and a lot of people were going to be killed if they had to invade.

Elmlinger: You know, I have heard it could have been—another million people could have died.

Moore: That is right. By dropping the second bomb, Japan automatically surrendered and we did not have to invade.

Elmlinger: And the last question, how do you feel about your role in working for the Manhattan Project?

Moore: Well, I am very proud that I could be a part of the Manhattan Project and it will always be in my memory. And these ladies here keep reminding me to, and they got me all gussied up, so I could see you properly.

Elmlinger: Well, I see your Masonic pin, but I also see some atomic pins there.

Moore: These pins is—the large ones, that is the Atomic Bomb pin and it was given to me for being in the atomic bomb project.

Elmlinger: Yeah, I think that bronze one is from the Department of Energy, and then you have one of those silver ones. That is the original one, wasn’t it?

Moore: That is the original, and then they came along with the special one, which is the bronze and I have three of those, for some reason or another.

Elmlinger: And then you told me that your blue hat is, because you have been in the Masons for over fifty years.

Moore: Well, about ten years ago they gave me the blue hat, the fifty year award, and I have kept it and I thought I could wear it today.