Cindy Kelly: Terrific. I am Cindy Kelly, President of the Atomic Heritage Foundation and we are in Rockville, Maryland. The date is Wednesday, October 1st, 2014. I have the privilege of interviewing Rosemary Maiers Lane. The first question is to ask please tell me your name and spell it.
Rosemary Lane: Spell it? Well it’s Rosemary Maiers Lane. Rosemary, R-O-S-E-M-A-R-Y, one word Maiers – my maiden name – M-A-I-E-R-S, and then Lane, L-A-N-E.
Kelly: That was very helpful for the record. Now, if you could start by telling us your birthday and something about where you were born and your childhood.
Lane: My birthday is September 8th, 1921. I was born in a small town in Iowa, Holy Cross, Iowa—300 people. Still has about well, I think they have added about twenty-five or so more, but it is still a small town. I went to that little Catholic school in that community and actually left that area when I was eighteen years old and went to Chicago to go to nursing school.
My first eighteen years were spent just having a wonderful childhood, I felt, in this little town. I was the oldest of four children. My father was an implement and a hardware dealer in the town—the little village actually.
Most of the people that live there were relatives. A lot of them were. It was a community of primarily German and Irish heritage people. I actually didn’t really even know people who had met anyone who was colored or met anyone who was colored or any other denominations except those two for all of the years that I grew up. Although, I didn’t think I had a deprived childhood. By today’s standards I didn’t have much exposure—I was very limited in the kind of exposure I had.
But I went to school in Chicago and went to nursing school in Oak Park, Illinois actually. It is on the west side of Chicago and it is a school affiliated with Loyola University. We got our credits and many of our professors were from the university that came out to teach us during the program. I was there from ‘39 to ‘42.
Kelly: So what was your degree?
Lane: Nursing. And it was an RN [Registered Nursing] degree. It was actually given to us by Loyola University and the credits were applicable to getting a B.S. At that time most of the nurses were still RNs. Now of course all the programs are pretty much geared to the B.S. program.
Kelly: So you say you finished in 1942 is that correct?
Lane: I went for nursing until ‘43 actually – ‘39 to ‘43.
Kelly: What happened next?
Lane: Well, it was during the war and many of my classmates opted to go into the service because everybody was very conscious of doing something and wanted to do something to really support the war effort. It was a very difficult time for a lot of people. Many of my classmates did. I had planned to probably do that when surprisingly I got a call one day from a former professor of mine in nursing school and she no longer was at the school. She was working actually at university. She called me and said she had something to talk to me about and if I would be interested. We had just become very good friends as well.
I had lunch with her and she had been hired as the recruiter for nurses for the Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. I don’t know if she was recruiting nurses for all of the other Manhattan Project facilities as well. I had just been a graduate for a few months. She said she thought it would be a wonderful opportunity. I was thinking about going into the service. And she said, “Oh, you would be making a wonderful contribution to the war effort by serving in this ultra-secret wonderful project."
I thought that I should seriously consider doing that and I could have the job of being Director of the Emergency Room, or Head Nurse, I should say. Not the Director. I didn’t do any of the hiring. I was the head nurse for the emergency room if I was interested. I thought well, I think I’ll try it because if I don’t like it I can at least quit. In the service you are stuck. At any rate, I loved it. I loved every minute of it.
So I said yes. I agreed to do that. I actually went to Oak Ridge on August the 15th, 1943. I told you by the way, I just remembered, I graduated in ‘42. I went to Oak Ridge in 43. I’m sorry about that. I went on a train from Chicago—took the sleeper train. I did know one person who was already in Oak Ridge. She too had been a classmate of mine. She came to the train in Oak Ridge with a friend to pick me up. We went out to Oak Ridge and at that time the living quarters in the town were two dormitories for women and I think one or two for men and a big cafeteria. That is all that was built at that time.
They were in the process of course of developing this huge city that eventually had 75,000 people. But most of the people who were currently working at all three site—K-25, Y-12 and X-10—had already been established. And they are each about ten miles out from the town of Oak Ridge. The workers who were there were living in Knoxville primarily—the scientists and so forth. There wasn’t enough housing in the town of Oak Ridge yet. It was being developed and being built. Of course, not nearly enough people had been recruited. At that time it was a big project.
Over a period of I would say a year or two–I can’t remember the exact length of time–the workers were able to bring their families to Oak Ridge and work out at these sites. But when they went to work they went by bus from the town center. Buses went out to either X-10, Y-12, or K-25 which were the sites of course. It was very much emphasized to all of us as we were getting indoctrinated into our jobs and the place how important this project was; how secret it was; how important it was that we make sure that we not discuss what we did with even co-workers and so forth. Just to be very aware.
Of course there were big gates and fences around the whole area. And you couldn’t get in and out of the project. No one could pay you a surprise visit. You had to get permission to have someone come visit you and make arrangements for someone to meet them at the gate, if you had a visitor.
All of my friends and relatives were up in the Midwest so I didn’t have any visitors, at least in the beginning. It was just a very exciting time. All of us that lived in the dorm were young and all from somewhere else; New York, California, Midwest, Chicago so we got to meet a lot of different people instantly.
Of course the only place to eat was this big cafeteria, which was just close to the dorms. You had no choice. There were no Burger Kings or anything. The nearest town was twenty miles away. Of course no one had cars or very few had cars. There was bus transportation into Knoxville for people who wanted to go in to do shopping or go out to another restaurant or something.
Oak Ridge did a good job of trying to keep young people happy. I think the average age group was like twenty-seven or twenty-eight. It was a very young group. Probably a lot were a lot younger than that and mostly in dormitories in the beginning. But they did a lot to try to have activities. They had a recreation center. They had music. They got theaters. They had an orchestra, tennis courts, organized ball games, and teams to try to figure out activities for people to do. But I think we did a very good job of it really. We didn’t lack for things to do.
Most people in the beginning went to the rec center evenings, which was one big recreation center. You know the cafeteria. And then went back to dorms. I was in a dorm until the nursing—the hospital was not built. It was in the process of being built. And I think I was the eighth nurse—some were from Minnesota and New York—[I was] the eighth person who was part of the staff. And we worked out of a kind of warehouse, basically a first aid station in the beginning, along with about four or five doctors. And we just would see people who had minor injuries; if anything serious or a hospital was needed they went to Knoxville. That is how we started. Until the hospital was completed, which was in December . I got there in August.
And then at the time the hospital was finished the nursing home—not a nursing home like takes care of people, but for the nurses to live in—was built right next to the hospital. So I was able to move along with other nurses to the nursing home. Then we [00:12:01] had our own room and we shared a bath with one other nurse. It was much nicer and closer than the other one wasn’t that far, but much better than a dorm. The dorms just had showers at the end of the hall and you shared a room with someone else. It was just like college dorms.
In spite of all what seemed like not very good living everybody seemed happy and seemed to have a good time. [I] met a lot of wonderful people. Stayed friends with many of them for my whole life. In fact, we still have friends who live in Oak Ridge. Not many left. They have to be in my age group; when you get to be ninety-three there are not too many of your friends around anymore.
Kelly: Tell us about the hospital. How many beds did it have?
Lane: It started to be a fifty-bed hospital. Why someone decided that figure was going to be adequate, [I don’t know]. But before it was even started they immediately said it would need to be at least 200 [beds]. I think that is about where it ended. And that was the size of the hospital. Of course it was just a regular hospital with the various departments.
We had doctors from all over the country that staffed it. All of the doctors there were military. They were from private practice and they came, as I said a lot of them were from the University of Minnesota and the University of Chicago. As the town grew and the emergency room was an especially busy place because there were no doctors’ offices anywhere else. As these houses were being built and families were moving in if they needed medical service of any kind they had to come to the hospital.
Within months they started to build an outpatient department and staff it with all the specialty doctors you would find in a normal city situation. Ob/GYN, EMTs, pediatrics. And that building was built next door to the hospital. Doctors from those specialties came to staff that clinic area. I kind of grew with the job and instead of just being in the emergency room I developed into being in charge of the nursing department the outpatient department. We had nurses in all of the clinics. I didn’t recruit or hire any of the personnel, but kind of helped set up the clinics, helped develop protocol and standing orders and things of that nature for setting up clinics. And then just as I said, I think we saw close to 1,000 patients a day at one time. This is from all of the clinics. That is how big and how fast the place grew.
Kelly: How many nurses?
Lane: Oh there were quite a few. We had at least two or three in each clinic. OB I think had four or five because we had three OB doctors. Of course, as I said, it was a very young population. A lot of young families moved in.
Lane: The hospital itself was I think eventually it was about 200 people. So whatever it takes to staff a hospital that size. We had a wonderful Director of Nurses. Isabel Weber was our Nursing Director. It was operated for the workers of the people who worked in the plants. We didn’t work with any radiation or radiation exposure or anything at that hospital.
Now each of the plants, the three I mentioned, had their own dispensary as well. And they saw patients seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day because it operated on that. Where people could go if they were sick or if there was an incident like radiation exposure, which occasionally would happen despite of all the many precautions they take to avoid that kind of thing. And there were certain procedures that had to be followed for decontamination. And that would be done out in those areas rather than not at the hospital. The hospital is primary for the families of the people of the workers in the town.
Kelly: Can you describe the decontamination procedures?
Lane: I really am not familiar with it. I just remember that there were lots of showers and nothing was ever a serious exposure in Oak Ridge that I am aware of nor did I ever hear. I know they had an incident or two in Los Alamos where people were over-exposed from working at the labs and ultimately died or probably suffered consequences years later, which we are not aware of or weren’t for a long time aware of. For the most part the procedure I remember they couldn’t maybe go home that night if it happened during the day.
Everybody wore a badge that counted the amount of radiation at any of the lab sites. You didn’t wear this badge in the town of Oak Ridge but if you went out to X-10, Y-12 or K-25 you wore a badge and it was monitored by Geiger counters. It was determined if you were getting too much exposure. If it met a certain amount—I don’t know what the rate was, but they would have to report to a place for decontamination. I just remember that there were showers and probably had to spend the night and were closely monitored. But the type of radiation was mostly on the outside. This was not the kind that would be the gamma, I think, or the really serious kind or like with the people who were working directly in the labs you know, the doctors. I mean scientists that worked at the labs.
The average worker would not have had exposure to serious radiation. They had done a tremendous job I have been told. And as we all know, [they earned their reputation] from not having any serious problems with contamination. They did a lot—people wore coats and Geiger counters and I don’t know, that’s about it.
I worked at the lab and everybody who worked there even though you didn’t work directly on any of the experiments or anything you still wore that little meter if you worked in the area. I know people think that was really dangerous, but I don’t think at any time it was really dangerous. They did a lot of wonderful things to keep that from happening to protect people. Apparently did a good job of it.
Kelly: You mentioned that everything was very secret there.
Lane: Yes. And they led us to believe that it really, really was. We shouldn’t discuss what we do at work. Well, that didn’t apply as much to people like me when you are just working in a hospital setting. Most of the information in the people I talked with were about their conditions. And it was like any other hospital really. I am sure people who went out to the various labs who are doing things very unique and different, it was really applicable to people like that to make sure that they didn’t discuss something that could have developed into a more serious problem.
Kelly: You had obviously a group of nurses that you got to know well that you worked with. But you also have friends that actually did work on the project. How did you meet them?
Lane: I met them primarily through the social service that was arranged through our church. I happen to be Catholic and we had a very active and wonderful priest who was assigned to that parish—St. Mary’s parish. And his house became an open house every Sunday for all the Catholic young people who were there. A big group of us met—I would say probably fifteen to twenty people every Sunday. That was one place where you got it.
The recreation center was open on a nightly basis with music and then just by working with people you made friends. And of course Norris Dam and Norris Park was not very far away. Not a lot of people had cars, but those that did, we had a lot of picnics in those areas. Beautiful. And of course Smoky Mountains is only bout twenty or thirty miles away. As people moved in—people who had cars—we got to know people who did. And there were ways by bus to go for a weekend up to Gatlinburg, which was about forty miles away. In the town there were not a lot of—except for theater they also had developed a little theater group. And a lot of people became active in that. And dancing, music and that was primarily the extent of the activity. [We] went into Knoxville to games. University of Tennessee was there for football games.
Kelly: Do you think that you had more freedom than let’s say Colleen Black, your friend who was working on the leak detection?
Lane: No, I do not. She happened to be working with something that was needed; the secret needed to be guarded. In my case, I hardly was working with anyone directly. I did have me a little incident about working at the apartment that I lived in. Did I tell you that story?
Kelly: You should tell it to us.
Lane: Well, I lived in the nursing home like all of the nurses did when we first got there. Things continued to grow. And eventually we outgrew the nursing home. So Colonel [Dr. Charles] Rea added an apartment building. When I talk about apartment building it was just a unit that had four apartments: two for two people each and a center one for four people. And [he] arranged to rent this apartment building or get this apartment building right next to the hospital. I was one of the nurses offered an opportunity to get out of the nursing home and move to an apartment. I agreed to do that and my roommate was a dietitian of the hospital.
So we had our own apartment, which is a step up from having your own room, which was really very nice. It was right next to the hospital as well. Well, I was there for about a year I guess. Colonel Rea called me one day and said Rosemary I have to take your apartment away. And he said, “I hate to do it. You will have to move back to the nursing home. At least for the time being until we can find another opening."
They needed to use my apartment because it was an officer in the Navy I believe who was working out at X-10 or Y12 one of the centers had become mentally deranged and he was going to have to be hospitalized. And because he worked so directly with such important things they didn’t feel that it would be safe to move him to any hospital off the area because of what he knew. And he had so much valuable, secretive information that they decided he would have to stay on the premises.
So they fixed up my apartment, barred up the windows and had a guard and a full-time caretaker for him. Of course he was right next to the hospital. He was getting shock therapy treatments as well. He was being treated for his mental condition at the place. That is how I lost my apartment. Never did go back to that apartment. And he had to be kept there. It was determined he would have to stay in Oak Ridge until the war was over. He couldn’t ever be transferred to any other facility for treatment because it would not be safe.
Kelly: I think that you were asked by—let’s see there was someone else that—you were assisting Dr. Eric Clark?
Lane: I was. I assisted him doing shock therapy treatments on this patient.
Kelly: Why don’t you tell us who this person is? That he was a chief psychiatrist.
Lane: Eric Clark was the head of the whole psychiatrics department at the Oak Ridge hospital. We didn’t have a big psych unit for any other patients, but he was available for a lot of visits and he did have a few patients. But we weren’t set up to have a psychiatric unit at the hospital. He counseled a lot of groups and he had his own big clinic with a lot of helpers. I shouldn’t say a lot. I think there are really only two other psychiatrists that were there at the time. He was quite well known in his profession.
Kelly: Was he kind of an after thought? Did you come first and they built the hospital and then they said, “We need [a psychiatrist]”?
Kelly: Tell us that.
Lane: The original hospital staff did not include a psychiatrist. I can’t remember exactly at what point that was added, but it was quite a few months later. I wouldn’t say years, but quite a few months later. We just started with the basic people that are at an average hospital first. Psychiatry was not one of them.
The need soon developed that people there was very much of a need for psychiatric services. Not only for the workers there but for the families of workers. There was just a lot of pressure and tension for everyone, I think during the war. Everybody was away from home. Everyone was living under different circumstances. I personally didn’t have any contact with someone who needed to seek psychiatric services. Overall throughout the whole area I understand it became very necessary to have someone there in that department to take care of their needs.
Kelly: I have a note here, probably from Denise’s [Kiernan] book [The Girls of the Atomic City], that you had assisted him. That was Dr. Clark in electric shock treatment procedure for a man who wanted to go to Japan. Do you remember this?
Lane: That was the man I talked about—he is the one that was put into my apartment building. But I did not know the man other than just seeing him as a patient.
Kelly: Tell us what was his purpose? He wanted to go to Japan?
Lane: I don’t really know the details except that he had so much knowledge and his plan was to really do something destructive. And they felt it just not safe to consider having him treated anywhere away from Oak Ridge because of what he knew or what information he could convey that could affect the whole safety of the United States. He was one of the—
Kelly: Was it after the war or during the war [when] you were involved in the Ebb Cade situation? The African American who was in an automobile accident? I guess that was March of 45. Do you remember that?
Lane: March of ‘45 that was the year that the war ended—August of ‘45. This happened before that, right. I was not familiar with that case as it was developing in Oak Ridge at all. I only really found out about it after it was over. I know they did have him in the hospital in Oak Ridge. They did add a part to the hospital that was to do some experimental work with radiation. And Dr. Dwight Clark was very active in that department. He was one of the surgeons on the staff.
But that unit was added onto the hospital and the regular hospital staff were not the ones that supplied services for that. They had their own little section. You had a big metal door to go through to go onto the wing of that hospital. It was staffed by a different group who were just working with some of the research. Even those of us who work there were not aware that this is really–we knew that there was some experimental work going on, but did not know what it was. It was within that department and that man was treated of course, in that department who had those multiple fractures. But I did not know the man or was I aware of the problem when it was developing.
He had multiple fractures as a result of an accident. And it was some type of radiation procedure that this doctor felt would be helpful in healing these fractures. And so he was the one who was in charge of developing this program. I do not know what the real outcome was. He had to go back. He did have problems with—I guess they followed him for quite a long time after he got out of his acute situation at the hospital when they healed. And they kept following him. Then they lost track of him for a couple of years somehow or the other. I understand he did eventually live to be sixty something years old. He didn’t die early from radiation exposure, which was a consideration at the time when you exposed people to radiation. How satisfactory the experiment was, or if it worked, or if it was something that they ever used again—I do not know.
Kelly: Another patient that you ran across was General Groves.
Lane: Oh yes. Just for a very short time, but I did meet General [Leslie] Groves. I actually did physical therapy for him one day which was simple. Not the real physical therapy by using hands on him and massage. It was just apply some kind of a heat lamp—I’m trying to think if it has a specific name—because he had a bad shoulder. He had been traveling a lot.
This is like quarter to seven in the morning, or about quarter to eight I guess. The director of the hospital just came in my office and said Rosemary I would like you to do it. Certainly not anything I needed any specific knowledge to attach him to. I did visit with him for a short time. He was very pleasant man—just big and kind of gruff looking, but very pleasant for about a half hour. I stayed right there with him while he was getting this treatment, so was Colonel Rea. I wasn’t the only one in the room with him. So I did get to meet the General.
Kelly: You have the sense he was such a man with so much drive. Was he restless saying “Whoa, are you done yet?”
Lane: No. No, not at all. [He was] very gentle. I have to say very gentle. He certainly gave the appearance of being very big, gruff and big and I guess probably to some of the people he might have worked with, but he certainly wasn’t on a one to one basis. At least at the time I had the opportunity of meeting him. It was kind of not scary, but you think “Oh my gosh, I hope nothing goes wrong.” There wasn’t much chance that would happen. I guess he got better. His shoulder got better. He continued to run the show quite well for a lot of years.
Kelly: He did indeed. Alright. Now you talked about when you were growing up in Holy Cross, Iowa it was very homogenous society. So when you came to Oak Ridge, I guess you had been to Chicago, but do you have any memories or can you describe what it was like in Oak Ridge where they had sort of a southern culture and segregation was the mode I guess?
Lane: Yes, it was. Of course I got some of that in Chicago, but that is not like the South. I mean we had segregation to some degree in the schools and so forth like that. Of course in the South it was totally different—the black bathrooms and eating-places all so segregated. And they truly were. I remember being so impressed with—what was the name of the area in Oak Ridge?
Lane: Scarborough was the area where just black people lived. It bothers me in my own mind that I wasn’t more distressed by what I saw, not that I could have as an individual done anything about it. I just accepted along with all of these other people that it was okay for those people to live like that and they seemed happy—what I am referring to now are the workers. And these were not technical people. For the most part, all of the black people—I don’t know that I met anybody that was a technical person or highly educated person. They were there mostly to do the custodial services wherever they were needed. [They were] very pleasant; a lot of very nice people.
But they were segregated and lived in the area called Scarborough. They could not bring their children to live with them. Those people husband and wife could come and they could live together. They had units for them, but they had to leave their children in Alabama or Mississippi or somewhere else because there were no services for schools nor was there space. These people would go home weekends or whenever they were off—they worked seven and seven—and see their children. Seemed to be just it was okay. They had good jobs. They made lots of money. Much more than they ever made anyplace else. The black people themselves just seemed to be very content with life as it was; at least they didn’t convey any different feelings at any times when I was in their presence. Nor did I hear from anyone else who was also exposed to those people when we were living there.
Kelly: You mentioned no schools for young black children. How about the young white children?
Lane: Oh yeah. We had schools, wonderful schools—a wonderful school system. They developed schools just like in any other city. Very good school system. And in Knoxville, they had schools for black people, for black children in Knoxville, which is a pretty good-sized city. Clinton was about seven miles away and there was a school for black children in Clinton.
And some of the black people who worked there, as for some of the whites, not everybody lived in Oak Ridge, by far a majority did. But they lived in surrounding areas and commuted to work or to their jobs—I mean black people into the town or onto the sites where the labs were. But they didn’t all live in the town of Oak Ridge. [They lived in] Kingston and some communities even farther than that.
Kelly: Were there buses then that would go to out to pick these people up?
Lane: Lots of buses. I don’t think anybody drove from the town. There were no parking places; you got on the bus. You got a bus at a site in the town of Oak Ridge. It was about a ten mile drive I think to each of the plants. There were three different sites. I think each of them were about ten miles from the center of town and they used public transportation.
I used to on a occasion babysit for Dr. Rea’s children. He had two little girls, seven and nine. I enjoyed them. They were so wonderful to me. I spent the first Christmas, I think, with them. Anyway, on occasion I would babysit. And I was babysitting at their house one night and they got home about 11:00. I can’t remember the time. He was called home because there was this train wreck in Jellico. And it was this troop train that had derailed in Jellico, which I think was probably within twenty miles of Oak Ridge. I don’t remember the exact distance, but Oak Ridge was the nearest hospital.
So they brought many injured and some dead soldiers to Oak Ridge Hospital. And Colonel Rea came back to the house and said, “Rosemary you need to go back to work because everybody who can possibly come to the hospital.” Nurses [were needed] especially because all of these people were being brought in by ambulances—any other way, trucks or whatever—into the hospital.
So I went in. It was a very busy place. We had cots lined up in all of the hallways of the hospital because the injuries were, I think, in the hundreds. I am just sure they had people—I don’t know, but there was a lot of them. A lot of excitement and it was very sad, but it did happen. It just derailed. I don’t know that it was anybody’s fault; it was just an accident. I know there was question at the time was it something intentional, but that never did develop into anything but just an accident.
That was an exciting couple of days. Within days those who needed continued hospitalization were taken to Knoxville and I think Kingston had a small hospital. I don’t remember, but they couldn’t accommodate everybody. For the emergency treatment, their first go around was at the Oak Ridge hospital. I think it happened in the middle of the night so it was early in the morning.
The day the bomb was dropped was the day that we found out what actually was going on. But prior to that everyone knew we were doing some secret project but nobody knew. Like Denise mentions in the book, a lot people were all so concerned because they saw all of these trains coming in all the time bringing, I guess uranium ore and so forth to process it, but nothing was ever going out. There were no big machines. No nothing. We were supposed to be developing something special. Nobody could ever really figure it out.
Well, the morning the day after the bomb was dropped, Colonel Rea came by my office and all of the other doctors who were in their offices and said, “Come to my office by 10:00 in the morning. There is going to be a very special, important announcement.” I think 10:00 was the time, it might have been 11:00.
So we all did. And it was President Truman when he announced that the bomb had been dropped the day before. They actually didn’t tell people until the next day or hours after it happened. And here we were.
I still remember such a shock to think it was something so—they talked about this big mushroom cloud and that there were a lot of casualties. Nobody really knew the total for days later of how awful the destruction was. But that was how I found out, as did everybody else in that room. He said, “Now you know what you have been doing here.” He just made that statement: “This is what has been going on here for these last couple of years and the processing for the bomb that was used and was dropped was done in Oak Ridge. The uranium ore that was used in that bomb was processed at one of the plants there.”
It was a feeling of relief in many ways. The war was over. I had a brother who was in the service, lots of people and we all knew how hard it was to have the war continue to go on and on and on with so many people dying. But it was relief in the way. And of course you couldn’t help but feel sadness and all the people especially when women and children were involved you felt, was it really necessary?
In my own mind I never felt that it was not justified. I felt that we did what had to be done at the time, meaning that Japan had been warned and continued [the war] before we actually dropped it. It was sad and you hated to see it have to be necessary. I never questioned the fact that it should not have been used. We had already lost so many, many people and would have lost many, many more had something not been done. I know that has been a controversial topic for a lot of people for years later. Were we justified in doing something so drastic?
Kelly: It will be seventy years next summer since that bomb was dropped and you first heard it. Have you been pretty consistent then for the last seventy years even though it has come up time to time as you say a controversial issue?
Lane: In changing my mind about it? Not for me. It just never was. From what I know about it, we had warned them that this was going to be devastating. It wasn’t that I guess that is how I justified. Especially the women and children part, but I felt like we had lost so many lives and it was so terrible and I knew so many people. I mean my brother came back safe and sound. He had a terrible experience. I mean he had a lot of unfortunate experiences, but he came back and he was relatively healthy and lived a normal life.
So many many didn’t. I knew a lot of those people—friends and relatives—that were part of a family that lost members of their family. I just felt it was okay. Actually, I think that was pretty much the general opinion of all the people that I worked with. The immediate reaction: it was going to end the war. End the war. Which had been so bad for so many years on two fronts.
I will back up a little bit. I graduated in June of ‘42 and then I took a night job because I did some graduate work at Loyola University. I took this job in a plant in the Chicago area, the west side, which used to make kitchen hardware—kitchen pots and pans and things like that. That factory was converted to a factory that made 20 and 40-millimeter shells for the war effort. So they quit making all of this kitchen equipment as Detroit quit making cars and made trucks and jeeps. Heavy stuff. That is what a lot of the factories did there. They were doing that.
That was my first introduction on how the war was changing people’s lives and lots of women came to work at night at that factory helping make 20 and 40mm shells. The factory used to just operate five days a week nine to five. And of course when we were involved with the war they stayed open. As did many factories did similar things. Everyone was very tired of war by the time we had it. [We] lost a lot of people, rationing, and things like that, which didn’t affect me very much directly.
People I think were so patriotic. I just feel that nobody wanted to go to war; no one ever protested or felt like we shouldn’t be there or we shouldn’t be doing that. There was just the feeling it was a job that had to be done. I think it was a nice feeling in a way to see people so connected and all really fighting for the same cause. And I don’t know what would happen in this day and age if we ever got involved again. I hope it would never, ever, ever happen again.
Kelly: How did this whole experience change you? As you are thinking about your life, how would your life have been different? Would it have been the same had it not been for the war intervening just at that time you were coming of age?
Lane: Well, I probably wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t have these children because I met and married my husband in Oak Ridge. I met him there, so who knows how that would have changed. As far as my career, nursing is what I wanted to do and I did pursue it for the rest of that time. It was interesting. My husband had been in the service for four years in the Navy. He had been at school at Creighton University. Then when he was going to be drafted he opted to join the Navy because that was his preference in the service. This is after serving he came back and he was looking for a job. He was also going to go back to school because he didn’t finish his school. He came to visit a friend in Oak Ridge who was stationed there in the military. He said they are hiring—his major was biology and chemistry. He said, “The lab is looking for some people to work maybe you can get a job down here.”
He had gotten out of the service in November I think. This was in January. He interviewed for the job and he got a job there. He got a job in Oak Ridge and I happened to meet him in Oak Ridge because he was in the same building that the medical department was. I was in nursing and he was in the research part of it and he needed to borrow some material one day for some suturing he was doing on animals they were exposing to radiation and so forth. He came to the health department and I of course let him have some suture material.
He just asked me where I was from and I said I was from a little town in Iowa near Dubuque.
And he said, “Well, where is it? Tell me the name of it.”
I said, “Well you have never heard of it. It is Holy Cross.”
He said, “Well I used to play baseball in Holy Cross.”
He was from Cascade, Iowa, fifteen miles away. And we had grown up the same age group all of those years and never had met and we met down there. You see after you meet the person you are going to spend the rest of your life with. He just passed away a couple of months ago. Who knows what my life would have been like? I would have never been in Oak Ridge and never met him and probably would have stayed in the Chicago area. That is probably what I would have done. For a lot of people, it changed a lot of people’s lives.
Kelly: You also remarked about how many women were employed both in the factory in Chicago getting ready for the war effort and of course in Oak Ridge a lot of women were working there. Have you kept up with any of them? Have you seen how it changed their lives?
Lane: Yeah. Oh well, see nurses would be working anywhere. But a lot of these other girls got jobs that they never dreamed they would work and do things like the girls in Oak Ridge did or like in the factories did where women were never involved. So you can see where it would have made for my particular life—I probably would have always been a nurse in a hospital somewhere. But for many people it brought women out who had never worked before, who had never earned money before on their own. Most of my associates worked with nurses. When you work with nurses most of your friends are in kind of the same category. I met many wonderful friends still in Oak Ridge who came there from other parts of the country just to get a job with the government, and who had never worked before in any government installation and probably never would have. It was a great experience.
Kelly: And those friends who stayed on in Oak Ridge kept working?
Lane: Most of them married. You know most of us were very young. I told you what the average age was. There were lots of couples, very good friends of ours, who met in Oak Ridge and married in Oak Ridge. And some of them are still in Oak Ridge. They never left. An awful lot of them didn’t move out and come back.
When my husband was transferred back up here the whole unit that was with the Atomic Energy Commission was all sent up here to Washington. It just became a smaller place, but it always has remained very vital and very nice. And those people that still live there love it. And one of the hardest things I ever had to do in my life was move from Oak Ridge because we had four young children and lots of good friends. We loved it and we have been very happy up here. I have met a lot of other really nice people. Life goes on.
Bowling was a big thing. That was one of our recreations. Had a lot of bowling alleys. Bowling was a popular sport at the time. There were a lot of leagues. So that was our recreation. I did happen to be pretty good at bowling.
Kelly: That is terrific.
Lane: And at one time [I] rolled 269 and this is in a 10-pin setting. That was the highest score ever bowled by a woman in the state of Tennessee at the time. That is my claim to fame. Yeah there was a lot of bowling and a lot of bowling leagues. That was a big form of recreation down there. A lot of softball teams. I never played softball but women and men’s teams. And baseball teams. They were all young people. I mean the parents as well as the kids. I mean there just never were any old people in Oak Ridge for a lot of years after we got there. They didn’t even have a funeral home for many, many years. People just didn’t die. They were in their 20’s amd 30’s and had young families. Took a few years to develop into I guess a city that would have normal age range of people from oldsters to youngsters.