The Manhattan Project

Arno Roensch's Interview

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Jerry Roensch

Arno Roensch, a glass blower in the Army, worked at Los Alamos. He met his wife after catching her eye while playing in the band at a dance. He talks about military-civilian relations and the time he helped Enrico Fermi change a tire.
Manhattan Project Location(s): 
Date of Interview: 
March 21, 1992
Location of the Interview: 
Los Alamos
Transcript: 

Theresa Strottman: We are speaking with Arno Roensch.  We thank you for coming this morning.  To start off the interview, I was wondering if you could briefly tell me when and where you were born and something about your early education and training.

Arno Roensch: I was born in Berlin, Germany—1918. We came to this country in 1922.  I remember the boat we came on, it was called the S.S. Orbeta; it was a British vessel.  It took 21 days to cross the Atlantic.

When we arrived it was very hard times because there was still a depression and there was a great deal of anti-German feeling in 1922. We landed in New York and we lived in New York for a while before we moved out on Long Island. At that time, I began my education.  I had to learn to speak English fast because there was so much feeling that every other day I got beat up on my way home from school because I didn't speak English.  I don't necessarily recommend this procedure for learning a language, but it is very efficient.

I started school in New York and we moved to New Jersey. At that time - after graduation from high school - I started going to Rutgers University in the evenings in Newark.  I went 4 nights a week and was working as a glass blower during the day.  I had started my training in glass blowing in 1932.  My father was a glass blower and I had had some previous experience with some work at a glass blowing bench set up in the basement. So I had an early start at about 14 or 15.

After that time, I was at Rutgers University for 7 years which is equivalent to about 3 and a half years of day school. One of the things I did in my spare time which there wasn't very much of, but I became interested in music and I started playing trumpet.  At graduation I was so interested in the trumpet that I had studied and had played the Carnival of Venice at high school graduation.  So at that time, I was also interested in jazz and I started playing. I could remember going to school on Friday nights at Rutgers wearing a tuxedo because I had to be on the bandstand at 9:30 and this is how I got into music. I played semi-professionally for many years. Then in 1944 I was inducted into the U.S. Army.

Strottman: What were you studying at Rutgers, music?

Roensch: No, I was studying business administration with a minor in psychology.

Strottman: In 1944 you were inducted. How were you recruited for the Manhattan Project?

Roensch: This has always been one of the big mysteries to me.  How a glass blower winds up blowing glass at a national institution or a laboratory.  Usually the Army—if you are a baker you wind up in the motor pool. I mean, the foul up of the Army is notorious, but somehow at the interview in Ft. Dix in New Jersey during processing—which takes 2 to 3 weeks, they give you all sorts of aptitude tests and you have to see, you get intelligence tests and they see what your aptitudes are.  Screen you pretty much for what outfit you are going to go into. What happened—after all my tests—I was assigned to the Combat Engineers which does not fit with what I just said.

But in my 5th or 6th week of basic training at Camp Claiborne and after Ft. Dix, I was called out of formation one morning at 5:30.  We were going on a 22-mile hike and I was told to report to the orderly room, which meant that I had goofed up again, I thought.  Instead I was confined to my barracks for a day awaiting new orders.  My orders read, I am being transferred to the Special Engineers, report to Santa Fe, New Mexico at the Bishop Building, not 109 E. Palace as everyone's been telling me.  That's how it started.

Strottman: Do you recall what you were told about what you would be doing and what you were allowed to tell your family?

Roensch: I recall we were told to write home and say we were overseas and that we had an APO number and we could not say “Los Alamos.” We could not say anything—what we were doing, where we were and it was very, very restrictive.  That I do remember.

Strottman: How did you physically get to Los Alamos?"

Roensch: I left Camp Claiborne with some food chits and some money, full field pack, helmet liner, and traveled alone.  There were no other GI's with me. It took 3 and a half days to get here—to Santa Fe—at which time I arrived at 5:30 in the morning by bus from Albuquerque. Most people came through Lamy, but somehow or other I was routed through Albuquerque, got on a bus there. My orders were to take the bus, had travel vouchers and arrived in Santa Fe 4:30 Sunday morning.

Walked around; of course, everything was closed—the Bishop Building. I found a USO that was also closed but some janitor was mopping up and I remember knocking on the door and he came and waved to me, said, “No, no, no we are not open yet.”  I motioned that I was very, very tired, which I was.  He let me in and I fell asleep on a bench.  When I awoke it was about 11:00 in the morning and the place was just jammed with people and GI's and women serving donuts and coffee.  The smells were wonderful but I felt so out of place, hadn't shaved in 4 days.  So then I really cleaned up and walked around town a little bit.  

I could not find out where—the Bishop Building being closed, I still did not know where to report to. But they told me at the USO office, “You wait here, your First Sergeant will be down.”  His name was Winston Dabney.  And that's where he picked me up finally.

Strottman: Do you remember the trip up the Hill?

Roensch: I do, very vividly. There were a few incidents here—I might backtrack a little bit.  Having traveled so much from one place to another, my paycheck hadn't caught up with me yet, so I was walking around with 25 cents in my pocket.  I didn’t know whether to buy a pack of cigarettes or—so I bought the cigarettes.  That's about all I could do.

Then Winston picked me up—I should say Sergeant Dabney—said, “We're not going right back, soldier.  We are going to have something to eat at La Fonda.”  So we walked over to La Fonda.  

I said, “No.” I had a lot of donuts; I wasn't going to eat with him. 

He had another WAC with him—I think there were 2 gals, 2 WACs. So we talked a little bit, he said, “What'sa matter, you broke?”  

I said, “I'm not hungry, I had lots of donuts.”  

He said, “Well, I'll buy you dinner.”  For a First Sergeant, my first day in Santa Fe, I think I was very impressed with that.  Of course I ordered a chicken salad sandwich. I was afraid to order anything more expensive than that because I didn't want him to go broke.

We got in the car—it was dark then.  I remember getting in the car and driving to Los Alamos. It was quite dark, but I could see there were lots of open fields, lots of bumps going through Espanola. We had to go the routes where the road went like this. I'm sure everyone has mentioned that.  Finally arrived at Los Alamos. He signed me through the guard gate, took me to the orderly room. They assigned me some bedding at the Supply Sergeant's place.  He said, “You can sleep in till 9:00 tomorrow morning, report to the orderly room.” That was my arrival."  

Strottman: When you began working here, what work did you do here?

Roensch: Now I'm back to the glass blowing. That was my training and as I say, I was very amazed that the Army placed me in a position where there were 5 other glass blowers.  There were 3 civilians and 2 GI's. Later we got another GI and it made it 3 and 3.  Len Sylvester was in charge of the glass shop at that time.  The shop layout was different than I had been used to in New Jersey. They had higher benches.  They had different type torches than I was used to.  Of course, there was a cute incident about that. When I first entered the shop—I was here about 4 or 5 days before I really got into the glass shop because there were the security lectures that you go through. There were the other tests that they wanted to have.

Finally, I got into the glass shop.  So he showed me my assignment and my bench.  He said, “Have you made any manometers?”  

I said, “Of course, I've made many a manometer.”  

He said “All right.” He gave me the sketch.  

I sat down at the bench, got my tubing.   I started to—they had crossfires instead of the single torches that I was used to.  The crossfire is so much hotter than a normal fire.  So when I'm trying to rotate the tubing back and forth to make a U-bend which was a manometer, the whole thing just collapsed on me.  So I thought, “Oh, boy.” Don't forget, I had been out of practice. I was in the Army, basic training, not too much glass blowing in basic training.

So I went to the bins and got another piece of tubing. Started over again. Well, one thing led to another and I goofed that one, too. Finally, he came over to me and said, “Roensch, are you sure you are a glass blower?”  

I said, “Yes, Len, I am.” 

He said, “I'm sorry buddy, why don't we ease into it. I'll give you something else; you can do some glass cutting for a while.”  So I sat the first week or two cutting and grinding glass instead of blowing glass."

Strottman: The man in charge of the group, was he a civilian or military?

Roensch: He was civilian. That all came to an end then when one evening I was in the barrack and a soldier by the name of Paul Numerov, I'll never forget him. He came up to me and said, “We're having some trouble with the glass shop.”  

I said, “'What is it?”  

He said, “Well my boss, Dr. Wright Langham, came in and wanted something repaired and was told it would take two weeks.”  He said, “We can't wait two weeks in these days.” He said, “Wright's such a nice guy, isn't there something we can do?”  

I said, “Well, let's go back to work and let me look at it.”  He was in my barrack; it was D barrack.  So we walked back to work—the laboratory was open day and night in those days.  Everyone felt so dedicated.  There were no time limits.  We had certain duties, of course, that we had to report, but if you wanted to go back to work and work till 1:00 or 2:00 o'clock in the morning there was no problem.  You just signed the out sheet in the orderly room and you could sleep in in the morning.

So we went back and instead of repairing this thing, I just went ahead and built a new one.  So that was the end of that.  We went back and stopped at the PX and had a beer.   A few days later Wright Langham came in to the glass shop and he said he needed another one of these pieces of apparatus.  Sylvester looked at it and he said, “Who made that?” 

Langham said, “One of your men over there.”  

He came over to me and said, “Did you make this?”'  

I said, “Yes.”  

He said, “Why didn't you tell me you were a glass blower?”  Which, of course, I had told him.  That was the end of that.  From that time on, I got excellent work.  We all worked very hard.

The feelings sometimes between the civilians and the GI's—I'm sure that question is going to come up.  If you don't ask it, I'll ask it myself.  What was the relationship between the GI's?  To be truthful, there has to be a little bit of resentment. You are working next to someone doing exactly the same thing, they're getting $450 a month and you're getting $50 once a month as a buck private.  Not that it meant anything. We had a job to do and we did it, there was no question about that.  

But then there were little things like, they would get the better work and we got the crappy work.  Until finally we rebelled a little bit and said, “Look I know we are just lowly GI's, but we can do the work.  So let's spread the work evenly so that one person doesn't get all the hot work or someone gets all the easy stuff.”  We split it up that way.

In fact if there was friction, it was very minor. The only real friction that I felt one time for about a month was between 2 of the civilians. This was rather interesting to me because here they were in the same boat, they had all left their wives and families at home, as they were told to do. So it was just rather one of those things I thought was rather interesting. 

There was just a little bit of jealousy.  There was a guy by the name of Ed Greeley. He was an excellent glass blower. He came from General Electric in Schenectady.  Len Sylvester had his training done in St. Louis, Washington University. He came from there and the training was just a little bit different. So when we had cold fire seals to make which is a glass to metal seal, Len Sylvester hadn't made too many of these and Ed Greeley had. So Len would give Ed the job to make some of these things and then Ed would go in at night when it was not there and in the morning, it would be there. So that lasted, it was petty. It lasted just a few weeks. It blew over and they became friends." 

Strottman: Who were your commanding officers?

Roensch: I'm trying to think.  There was a Capt. Palmer I think was in charge of the SED's. He used to come—he was a southern boy with a nice southern accent.   He was “Proud to be with this outfit” and stuff like this [mimics a Southern accent]. We didn't see him much. He was more of the overseer of all the other officers. We got to know the non-coms. By this time, I was playing in the band.  Fishbine had contacted me.  We had started a group and we were playing at the non-com club on Friday nights and at Theater No. 2 on Saturday nights.

Strottman: Getting back to a work-related question, when did you realize what the mission or goal of the Manhattan Project was?

Roensch: It wasn't too long after we were there. You are in the Army and there are barracks and you do talk.  Pretty soon you start putting 2 and 2 together.  Not that anyone ever came up and said, “Do you know what you working on, you're working on so and so.”  They never said this. It was always something that we knew was secret. If it worked, it was going to end the war. We were going to be very proud of it.  There was an excitement about working on this thing.  We did our jobs.  Who thinks in terms of glass blowing for the device today, or the bomb. You don't think of those things.

We did our jobs. This was the sketch that somebody needed whether they were separating uranium or plutonium, it didn't matter. They needed equipment for this. At the time we didn't know exactly what it was, but sometimes we'd have to go out and we knew it would be contaminated.  We had a special place we had to work if there was some contamination.  Pretty soon you begin to realize that you are working with something that is unusual, if nothing else.

Strottman: Do you remember, you talked about the civilian/military relationship but do you remember if any of the officers in your unit—you had a civilian boss in your work situation then you also had officers—do you remember if any of the officers had differences in the way that they handled civilian/military relationships?

Roensch: I don’t think so.  The civilians didn't have to salute, all right?  We did. Things like this. They were very lax about that. They weren't that picky.  The only incident I can think of here, where it was annoying to me was there was a fellow soldier in my barrack who went to school to become a Second Lieutenant, it was one of those programs that they had. He was gone about 2 or 3 months, you could do it with the right background. And he came back as a Second Lieutenant and I'm standing in line waiting with Jerry to go to a movie one day and I have my cap in the summer time under my arm instead of on my head. He comes along and says, “Roensch, put your cap on and salute.”  He was a 90-day wonder right out of the military Second Lieutenants.  But that's the only thing I can remember.

I think the civilians treated the GI's with respect because we were a valuable asset to the program.  In some respects the workhorses.  We thought they were lucky because they made more money.  But they envied us, too, because we had the 15-cent movies, we had our clothing issued, we had little privileges that they didn't have either. So it sort of balanced out.  I think the thing that was so important was the vibrancy of the town at that time. The feeling of camaraderie and no matter what we’re in this together.  Let's see what we can do.

When we got a pass to go to Santa Fe it was a big deal. We'd all wind up at La Fonda and watch the civilians nosing around to see if we were going to talk about anything and found out later on that they were security police.

Strottman: How often did you get passes to go to Santa Fe?

Roensch: Again I was more fortunate than most because we had a little group, a dance group and we used to go to Bruns Hospital to play on Sunday afternoons for the wounded veterans who came back. So that made it a little easier.  At least once a week I got off the Hill—later on. At first it was weeks and weeks before we really got off.

Strottman:  How and with whom did you spend your free time?

Roensch: That's a leading question.  Well, what we are leading up to, I think, is:  Jerry and I met early in our stay up there. I'd say we got there within 4 days of each other.  We had calculated that.  One day I was—it was a Saturday night; I was playing in the dance band.  It was the large band. We had 2 groups.  We had the small group that we took to Bruns.  And we had the larger band, 12 to 14-piece band.

We were playing at a dance and this couple danced by, a WAC and her boyfriend. Our eyes sort of met. This happens a lot when you're on the bandstand. You're not glued to the music all the time, you can look around and see who’s dancing with whom.  They came around again, and it was the first chorus of the number.  I thought, “Gee, I have time to run down and cut in and still get back for the next number.”  So I said to Tommy Harmon who was sitting next to me, “Take over the lead.” So I got down off the bandstand and cut in, finished out the dance. Didn't say anything, just, “Hi.  May I?”  Finished out the dance and went back to play.  So that was the end of that. We finished out the night.

When I got back to the barrack later on and I found out that she asked—we had one saxophone player who was a WAC—and she asked this WAC who the new guy was in the band.  She said, “Well does he play trumpet or trombone?”  Jerry said she wasn't sure which instrument.  She would watch the next time.  It wasn't long after this that we met formally, then.  Somebody introduced us and we started going together.  So it was shortly thereafter that we saw each other a lot. 

We had a lot of things in common.  She was from Rochester, NY.  I was from New York City.  We liked the same things.  We took long walks.  Which was all you could do, actually. We liked concerts. We'd go over to the Big House and listen to Otto Frisch play piano.  There were lots of things going on. She would invite me to the WAC mess hall, which was better than the GI mess hall.  The odds were good, too. There were 300 WAC and 3000 GI's so it was rather interesting.  At first when we dated, I'd say, “How about next Saturday?” 

And she'd says, “No, I'm sorry. I have a date.”  But it dwindled.  So I made a date for Christmas Eve—I remember that—for 1944.  We did spend Christmas Eve together."

Strottman: Did you—say among your close personal friends—were all your close personal friends military people or did you have some civilian friends who you spent time with?"

Roensch: 90% were military—of the friends. When we got to Santa Fe we met some civilian people, I remember Leo Gonzales played clarinet at La Fonda with Billy Palo.  Every chance we got, we'd go down and visit him.  We met a young Spanish American, Elias Espinosa. We became very close to him. He was stationed in the South Pacific and was discharged because he had some fungus, so they discharged him.  He came back. He was a waiter at La Fonda.  Although he was a civilian, there was still the tie-in from the military.  There was a closeness.  We became very close.

Leo played clarinet and then later on came up to play in the band. It was rather interesting, his father also played a reed instrument and when I needed a tenor saxophone player or a baritone player, his father would come up and play the dances from Santa Fe.  So they could get passes and it was back and forth at these things.

Strottman: This was after the bombs had been dropped that the civilians were allowed to participate from Santa Fe?

Roensch: Yes, because I have in pictures—it shows definitely the different insignias that we got then.  Once you saw the atomic insignia we knew that had to be early October because it was after—see, the first bomb was dropped August 6th and 9th was Nagasaki.  Prior to that we just had the 3rd Army insignia.  Which meant the town was very restricted then.  So it did open up, that's true.

Strottman: Before the end of the war, did you ever feel isolated up here?

Roensch: Isolation is a strange word to use.  It's hard to be isolated when you are with 80 people in the barrack, a girlfriend across the street in a WAC barrack.  Constant company if you want to go to the PX. There is always something, a crap game going on in the latrine or a card game going on in the day room. So isolation is not—We felt—there was a little resentment that we couldn't get to Santa Fe more often. There were lot of GI's who had wives and they wanted to get them to come up here. They couldn't. They had to be no closer than Albuquerque. Well, there was that sort of resentment.

Maybe I'm confusing isolation with loneliness.  The area is so gorgeous, so beautiful. I can remember falling asleep at night—I had an upper bunk and there were these tremendous Ponderosa pines and the winds blowing through those things. The air was so pure. It was just such a wonderful experience. I don't want to go back in the Army ever, but I wouldn't have given that up for anything because of the time and the place that I was at.

Strottman: You mentioned your barracks a little bit.  Can you describe the barracks and what you thought of it?

Roensch: There were a lot of cute incidents. I remember there was always some dunderhead that getting ready for inspection Saturday morning—just the time the Sergeant is bringing the inspecting officer through—some guy kicks over the coal bucket.  This happened 2 or 3 times, he'd run and get the thing and try to clean it up. It was communal life. Sometimes you walk in at night in the summertime and you walk by 70 rows of feet and they don't smell too good, but you get used to that. That's why I think it was so nice to have a girlfriend, because she always smelled so good, too. 

Strottman: Did you go to Trinity Site?

Roensch: No.  We knew about it but I didn't go.

Strottman: When you say you knew about it, what do you mean?

Roensch: We knew there was going to be a test and there was talk about certain places like Camp May or maybe St. Peter's Dome.  They thought possibly if they got up there, they could see the flash from Alamogordo.  But I was busy with something else. Some of the guys went and they couldn't see a flash.  From what I understand the thing was postponed and postponed and there was a storm. When it finally did go up, whether you could see it that far, I don't know.

But there was a great deal of excitement the next day.  We knew it was successful because there was a bit of tension before, I might add, before this whole thing.  I'd say a month before Trinity there was speculation and tension. By this time, those who worked in certain areas knew what was going to happen.  There was always the fear that maybe it would start a chain reaction that could not be stopped.  But still better than the battlefields of Iwo Jima, or the Battle of the Bulge.  It was our job so that's what we did.

Strottman: Where were you when you heard about the results of the test, do you recall?

Roensch: I heard about it the next morning. It came over the loudspeaker in the barrack.

Strottman: Do you recall what the announcement said?

Roensch: Am I confusing that with the first drop on—no, I’m confusing that with the first drop on Hiroshima when they announced the first atomic bomb.  No, they didn't announce that, that I recall.

Strottman: But people were talking about it at work?

Roensch: Yes, oh yes.

Strottman: Do you remember the tenor of any of the comments?

Roensch: Well, there was a feeling of, “Well, it works.”  Not that we patted each other on the back just yet.  It was a sign that things were going right and that the war would soon be over. There was a great feeling of relief about that. If I recall, Jerry's brother was getting ready to go to the Pacific—he was in the Marines—and shipping out.  He was a Marine photographer.

Strottman: Where were you when you heard about the bombing of Hiroshima and do you remember if you had any reactions to that event at the time?

Roensch: Yes, I remember both. I remember I was at work and it came over the loudspeaker that we had - the first atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima, Japan and successfully—or, detonated over Hiroshima, Japan—there was a mixed feeling. We knew now that the war would soon be over; there was no question in our minds about this. We were not surprised at all. 

There was this mixed feeling about the bomb being successful.  We were devastated at the devastation that the bomb did of course.  But again, we have to take these things in perspective, why we were there.  What were we doing if we weren't going to use it? This is one of the things we didn't have to decide but somebody had to decide, the higher ups.  It was finally decided by Harry Truman, President Truman, as I recall. He had to make the final decision to use it or not to use it - from his advisors.

Then when the second one, Nagasaki - I know from the facts in the paper, the peace treaty was signed on the 15th of August but the war was over by the 10th.  Japan had surrendered.  It took another 4 or 5 days to get the ships and MacArthur to do all the full treaty bit.  But the war was over.  That's when the bottles came out of the footlockers. I never knew there were so many booze bottles in the footlockers.  Not just the SED's, but the MP's, everybody was celebrating. There was dancing in the streets, practically, because the war was over.  There were tears, mixed emotions because there had been some friendships and some alliances that now had to be broken because there were some complications back home. Some of the guys were married and now had met some gal or vice versa. This always happens.  There is always that aspect of it.

But I think the big thing that came up then besides feeling the wonderful completion of a job well done, of “Let's get out of here, let's get home.” Rest up a little bit, get a furlough.  See what happens and get out of the Army.  That was another thing we were told that - here's where the Lab was so wonderful—we were told that if we signed up—see, all induction notices read 6 months past the end of the war. The Laboratory was willing to write a letter to the War Department to get us out 6 months to the duration plus 6. Eliminate that 6 months so we could get out sooner.  Everybody signed up. Well, not everybody stayed.  If you signed up, you would stay 6 months in the interim at the Laboratory before leaving.

But once we had the ruptured duck and the little thing on our uniforms, they couldn’t hold us.  And a lot of people left.  I was one of those that did not leave, because before that, I was still in the Army. About a year before that I was given my fifth stripe and put in charge of the glass shop and I still had 2 civilians and 3 GI's working for me. I had established some sort of relationship with the job and with the people—the chemists and scientists that needed glass blowing so I had every intention of staying because of my commitment to Jerry, she was going to stay and my commitment to the Lab. Here's where we met, fell in love and we were going to get married. We did the following December, same year, December 1946.

Strottman: If I can back up a little bit, do you remember the bombing of Nagasaki as a distinctive end and do you remember having a different reaction to that bombing than you did to the Hiroshima bombing?

Arno Roensch: I remember being surprised that we had two bombs. First I thought we just had the one when I heard about the news of Nagasaki then I remember being surprised at that and I guess I shouldn't have been.  It was more a feeling of now its just one day later and we knew Japan surrendered so it was a little different feeling than the first one but not that much.

Strottman: Do you remember after the war was over and when you left Los Alamos even if briefly on trips or visits, and you told people where you had been and what you had been involved in, do you recall what their reactions were?

Arno Roensch: Okay.  I knew we were going to come around to that. There are some who disagreed with what had happened, with the loosening of the atomic bomb and the atomic energy. The scientists were even fighting about this. They had their own groups that were against it continuing this and what to do.  But, by in large, like my parents, they thought I had contributed something and I felt that way.

Other people, Jerry's relatives, it was the same way. They were proud to be part of this thing that we could tell them about. Those, as I say, were very few and far between that disagreed with what had been done because the war was over, let's face it. There were I don't know how many lives you can speculate all you want.  How many lives might have been saved or were saved by this rather than invading Japan, going from island to island and cleaning everything out.

Strottman: Did working in Los Alamos alter the direction of your life in any particular way?  You mentioned how you stayed here and worked here, but can you think of any other ways?

Arno Roensch: No, I continued my music here. I got into light opera. They always did Gilbert and Sullivan every year and I was the first music director to do a Broadway show.  We were married and we started having children. We had twins in 1949, another son in 1951.  Jerry was active in other things in the community, in the hospital auxiliary. By this time we were getting interested in American Field Service. We had a foreign student come visit.  With the music and the work and raising a family, we had enough to do to keep us busy and keep us quite content here.

Strottman: Given similar circumstances would you work on a secret government project again?

Arno Roensch: Not at this age.  Not at my age now, I don't think. I feel that this vibrancy that I talked about in the '40's is gone from my body so I can't continue this forever.  Given similar circumstances if I were younger, of course.  In fact I almost took a job in Nigeria one time with the United Nations. They were looking for glass blowers and I thought that might be an interesting experience but then it didn't happen.  They ran out of funding.

Strottman: What is your most vivid memory of the Manhattan Project?

Roensch: I think the most vivid memory of the Manhattan Project really is walking around town and seeing Oppie in his pork pie hats and seeing him in the hall and having him nod to you.  He was the Project as far was I was concerned. I got to know so many of the scientists.  They were all good and they were all wonderful people.  But somehow he was the glue that held them all together. That feeling always stayed with me. It’s synonymous with Los Alamos.

Bradbury did a great job and everything was fine after that but I'll never forgive Teller for what he did to Oppenheimer.  I think Oppie died from a broken heart.  I feel that very strongly when they took away his security clearance and it was all so unnecessary, so unnecessary, such a waste.  My personal feelings.

Strottman: Do you have any impression during the Manhattan Project of—Obviously Oppenheimer was the director, and as you say he was the glue that held everyone together.  Was Edward Teller a very public, prominent personality in those days?

Roensch: He was prominent all right, in public. But not always well liked.  These are things I don't want to go into.  He could be vindictive; he was loudmouthed.  He wasn't always the friendliest. That's enough.

Strottman: Is there anything you would like to add to this interview which we haven't covered during our conversation.  Are there any anecdotes or stories you would like to tell?

Roensch: There's one anecdote I would like to finish up with.  This is early, summer of '44. Jerry had met me and we decided to go to the movie one night.  It was a nice warm summer night.  It was the early show; it was still daylight.  We are walking toward the theater and here is an old Chevy on the side of the road. It was jacked up; the man had had a flat. He had jacked up the wheel of his Chevy.  He looked sort of bewildered so he sort of looked at me and said, “Do you have a wrench soldier?”  

I said, “No. But what seems to be the trouble?”  So I walked over; Jerry was with me.

He had taken off his hubcap and he had jacked up the car. But he could not get the lugs off.  And he said, “You know, I don't know how I'm going to get this off.”  

I said, “Well, how did you get the car up on the jack?”  

He said, “With this tool I have here.”  And I took the tool and I turned it around and showed him the lug wrench on the other side. He hadn't seen that.  So of course, I changed the tire for him.  Put the other tire on. 

He thanked me profusely, drove off and Jerry said, “That was Enrico Fermi."

I'll always remember that.  There were stories about Tuck. There were stories about everyone. But I got to know Elsie Tuck quite well because of the music and the light opera thing. She was choreographer one year for a show. So she wanted me to get some piano music for her for the dancers.  

So we arranged for Gusti Kalmas—I don' t know if you ever heard of her. She was a pianist up here, Viennese woman. She was going to play piano and we were going to tape this at the Tuck’s house.  So Jerry got over there. I went to work.  Jerry got over there with a reel-to-reel tape recorder at 9:30 or so and they're playing the piano and setting it up. About 10:00 down comes Tuck.  He said, “What's going on here?”  Jerry explained to him and he picked up the microphone, “One, two, three testing.” He said, “This is fun, this is fabulous.  Go ahead, don't let me interfere.”  

Pretty soon its 11:15 and the children come home from school.  The oldest girl said, “Mother, isn't father going to work today?”  

And Elsie said, “Apparently not.”  This is a very British thing that they did. It was delightful.

He was the only man I knew, the only scientist at Los Alamos who had a couch behind closed doors. If he wanted to nap, he would close the door and he had a couch there.  He put a sign up that said, “In Conference” and he was not to be disturbed.

Strottman: Can you think of any more reminiscences of particular people that you'd like to add?

Roensch: No, I think our time is about up.

Strottman: Thank you so very much.  This was delightful.

Roensch: Well, thank you for inviting me.  It's been a memory thing for me and it’s brought back many fond memories. So I have no resentment coming at all.

Strottman: Well, thank you.

Roensch: Thank you.

[End.]