The Manhattan Project

Patricia Postma's Interview

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Patricia Postma's Interview

Patricia “Pat” Postma arrived in Oak Ridge in 1943 when her father was recruited to join the Manhattan Project. She grew up in Oak Ridge and was a professor in the College of Business at the University of Tennessee. In this interview, she discusses her involvement in the effort to build Oak Ridge’s International Friendship Bell, a symbol of peace and reconciliation between the US and Japan. She discusses what the bell represents and some of the initial opposition to it. She also reflects on how living in Oak Ridge has shaped her and how she believes the “bell speaks to the values of this town.”
Manhattan Project Location(s): 
Date of Interview: 
April 26, 2018
Location of the Interview: 
Oak Ridge
Transcript: 

Cindy Kelly: Okay. I’m Cindy Kelly. It is Thursday, April 26, 2018. If you could say and spell your name?

Patricia Postma: Right. I go by Pat, but it’s P-a-t-r-i-c-i-a P-o-s-t-m-a.

Kelly:  Great. So tell me, how do you fit into Oak Ridge?

Postma: I fit in for a long time. I came in 1943, in September, and entered the first kindergarten the first day of school in Oak Ridge. I have unexpectedly been here ever since. Growing up here was a very special experience, although as a child you don’t really appreciate that. What you get as a child is what you consider normal. But as I look back on these many years, I understand what an extraordinary place this was to be.

I like to say that the people who came to Oak Ridge were all immigrants, and they were, not just from around the United States, but scientists from all over the world. They all had a common goal, which they were dedicated to, although they didn’t know what it was other than that it was to end the war. I think that’s given this town some very interesting values. It’s far more international than an indigenous southern town for that reason

People have a sense of community. It’s a small town, so you can really make a difference here. You can know most of the people who are here. One of the stories that I’m closely connected to is the school system. I know when our first school superintendent came, he told General [Leslie] Groves that in order to have a school system that would be adequate for the scientists they wanted to bring here, we needed to have a New York curriculum and New York pay. And that’s exactly what happened. So we were a city that valued education from the very beginning, and that’s still a very important part of the appeal of our town, I think. Lots of connections over many years.

Kelly: You were here in 1943 as a first-grader. 

Postma: Kindergarten.

Kelly:  Kindergartener.

Postma: Probably the first kindergarten in the south is my bet.

Kelly:  Oh, for heaven’s sake. Your parents were both Manhattan Project–

Postma: Well, my dad [Thomas Dunigan] came here, was recruited from the Army Signal Corps in Lexington, Kentucky, and my mother did work in the post office for several years after we came to Oak Ridge. 

Kelly: Your father continued working, obviously, in some capacity here after the war.

Postma: Right. He was one of those 22,000 laid off a couple of years after the war, and he had been a schoolteacher before, and he appreciated the fact that we had an excellent school system. So he applied for a job here in the school system. Three days after he left Y-12, he was working as a high school teacher, and ended up being principal of the high school for more than 20 years. 

Kelly: That was his calling.

Postma: That was his calling. He always said – he was offered other jobs, he was asked to apply for superintendent – he said, “I have the job I want. It’s the best job I could ask for.” He was a town fixture, too.

Kelly:  That’s wonderful. Are you in any of Ed Westcott’s photographs? 

Postma: I always look, and I was looking at this one here on the wall. I always think I’ll find our family, but I haven’t yet. 

Kelly:  He took 10,000 photographs. 

Postma: Right. I’m sure I haven’t seen all 10,000, yeah.

Kelly:  Were you a Girl Scout? 

Postma: I was a Brownie for a little while. I don’t know why I didn’t matriculate through the Girl Scouts.

Kelly: Well, what we wanted to catch you to talk about was the Friendship Bell, since you’ve been such a part of that, and I guess one thing that you might talk about is exactly how you got involved in this effort.

Postma: Well, my husband [Herman Postma] was, as Shigeko Uppuluri mentioned, very involved in the first go around. I was part of the group she took to Japan to see the bell rung. That was a once in a lifetime experience and made a big impression. But I think the bell speaks to the values of this town. For the 50th anniversary for a town as intimately involved with the war as this town was, for them to have chosen a peace bell as their commemorative statement about who this town is was very impressive. I have watched as it’s been there for years. We’ve finally been able to ring it.

It was just too important not to rebuild it, and I always describe the rotting wood as a silver lining, a cloud with a silver lining in a way. Because – a year, or maybe it was the same year that we decided we had to build it back again and find a way to do that – then the Manhattan Project National [Historical] Park was designated. No money, but Oak Ridge was one of three places to be part of that park. The bell and the history of peace and commitment to peace in this town had to be a very important part of the national park. The timing on that was a really good thing.

Ram Uppuluri, who found the architect, the architect came here and saw Oak Ridge and got to know it, saw the site, saw the bell. And he really fell in love with this project. A very dashing design, the ideas about making it a traditional bell, but with using some of the modern technology, carbon fiber for the beams across the top, and the bench backs will be carbon fiber as well. The [Oak Ridge] National Laboratory was very involved and made the first and very large donation to get us started. 

When the architect’s design was shown via video at our kickoff celebration, I had people come up to me who had already given some money, and they said, “I’m going to give you some more money.” They were so taken by the vision of what this is going to be that everybody just stepped up. They’re very proud of the bell and proud of the fact that we could get together and make this turn out right. It’s taken a while, but we’re getting there.

Kelly: If you could touch on some of the recalcitrance that Shigeko confronted and you confronted–

Postma: Right. There were a few people who were very vocal. They were veterans, and they resented the fact, or felt perhaps that their role and the sacrifices people made who fought in the military were diminished by the fact that we wished to extend friendship and peace. That’s the best explanation I can put to it. But they felt that very deeply and very emotionally, and so they fought it in as many ways as they could. One instance, as Shigeko [Uppuluri] mentioned, by insisting that it was a religious icon and that it didn’t belong in the city, the city shouldn’t sponsor this, this was a religious thing. But I think that was a convenient obstacle that they could put in the way for that.

There were and still are people who feel like money shouldn’t be spent. We have many things as a city that we need to finance, and we need to spend this money some other way. Many people understood when the City Council bowed to the pressure and said, “We will only let people ring this between 6:00 and 6:15, and you have to sign up for it in advance.” Many people understood that was really foolish, but it stayed in place for a good while until Elise Campbell was persuaded to come before City Council. Once that lock was taken off the bell and it was made possible to ring it at any time, it became then a friendly place, a place where people could go, if they were walking by, just to hear the sound.

After my husband died – he had been so involved in getting that pavilion built – it was where I went, because I could feel his presence there. I think many people have very warm feelings for this bell, and it’s important to Oak Ridge. Part of it was probably because we had to work so hard to get it to be an open part of the city. I know there are still people, veterans, who may still harbor difficult feelings about having a symbol that celebrates peace. But, by and large, I don’t think that’s a strong sentiment any more. We haven’t heard anything like that expressed, other than a few things posted on Facebook now and then.

Kelly:  That’s nice. Is there some push to have some counter-balance, some recognition of the contributions of the veterans, and was there any ideas along those lines?

Postma: Not in any permanent way that we’ve discussed. We try to recognize that the war was fought both at home and abroad. And this is, in fact, a recognition of what everybody did. I mention the veterans specifically when I talk from time to time. But no plans at this point to have a physical monument or anything.

Kelly:  I suppose with the two insignia on either side of the bell that it’s both about Tennessee and its contributions and–

Postma: Right. And Japan. Pearl Harbor, the dates of Pearl Harbor are there, as are the dates of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

I visited the Peace Museum in Hiroshima, the Peace Park in Hiroshima. I was very impressed with the displays they had there. A new one that they had added that took up a room was called, “Why was there an atomic bomb, ” something along those lines. All of the panels were in English. I thought they told the story in a very surprisingly dispassionate way. Why Hiroshima was chosen as the target, why Kyoto was not allowed to be a target.

I was hoping that as the national park developed, we could share some of those exhibits. I don’t know that that will happen. The national park is already at work, doing tours around town. They don’t have a presence as they used to with big visitor centers, but now it’s more of a hub and spoke. They will take tours out on buses or bicycles, and they’ll visit lots of different places in town. But the peace bell is going to be a big part of that, and they are, as Shigeko mentioned, putting up an interpretive sign, and we’ll work on what the language of that should be.

Of the three sites in the Manhattan Project National Park, this is the only one that has any kind of a peace gesture as part of their history. I think that’s important.

Kelly:  I think it is. It’s very admirable. There was an effort in Los Alamos.

Postma: Was there?

Kelly:  About the time that you began the peace bell, it must have been 20 or 30 years ago. It was at that time. They ran into the same sort of fractions within the community, those who felt–

Postma: Right.

Kelly:  Defensive about their role or weren’t ready yet to embrace the vision of peace.

Postma: Right.

Kelly:  But, I think, you know, that each generation–

Postma: Yes. It’s important to keep that history alive. That is to say there are young people now who don’t have any sense of what World War II was. There are people alive who don’t even know what radiation is and what damage it can do. I think the bell is a way to convey to coming generations what World War II was about. And how difficult it was, and yet that you can make a peaceful resolution after that. That’s a really important message to send.

Kelly: Is there anything else you’d like to add that Shigeko didn’t cover?

Postma: I thought she did a pretty good job and I learned a lot that I didn’t know about Shigeko and her husband and how his interest in that bell developed. It wouldn’t be here without her, that’s for certain. She, too, was awarded recognition by the [Japanese] Foreign Ministry a couple of years ago as being a person who had worked very hard to build relationships between Japan and the United States. We’re awfully proud of her, and grateful that she came to Oak Ridge.

Kelly:  Yes, indeed, That’s wonderful. Well, I think they ought to be all very grateful for your contributions as well.

Postma: It’s a labor of love.

Kelly:  That’s great. Well, thank you very much.

Postma: Thank you.