Nancy K. Nelson is the widow of Richard H. Nelson, who was the VHF radio operator when on the Enola Gay on the Hiroshima atomic bombing mission. In this interview, Nelson discusses how she met her husband after the war. She describes his experience training to be radar operator and in the 509th Composite Group. She recalls how he and other members of the missions felt about the atomic bombings.
[Thanks to David Schiferl and Willie Atencio for recording this interview and providing a copy to the Atomic Heritage Foundation.]
Willie Atencio: Mr. Zamora, when was the first time you heard about Los Alamos? You were a very young boy when Los Alamos started.
Cindy Kelly: I’m Cindy Kelly, Atomic Heritage Foundation, and we are in Los Alamos, New Mexico. It’s February 2, 2017. I have with me W. Stanley Hall.
Hall: I was born in 1924 on Broadway in Manhattan. I was there until the third grade. In the fourth grade, I went to the Bronx and was there one year, and then went to Princeton, New Jersey, and stayed there until graduation from Princeton High School. Actually, we lived in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. Across the street was Princeton, but I went to Princeton High School.
Alexandra Levy: We are here on December 27th, 2016, in Florida, with Russell Gackenbach. My first question for you is to please say your name and spell it.
Russell Gackenbach: My name is Russell E. Gackenbach. G-A-C-K-E-N-B-A-C-H.
Levy: Please tell us your place and date of birth.
Gackenbach: I was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, March 1923, on March 23.
Russell E. Gackenbach was a navigator in the 393rd Bombardment Squadron and 509th composite group. He flew on both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki missions. His crew flew aboard the Necessary Evil, which was the camera plane for the Hiroshima mission. Gackenbach photographed the mushroom cloud over Hiroshima. His crew flew again during the Nagasaki mission as the weather reconnaissance plane for the city of Kokura.
Cindy Kelly: Okay. I’m Cindy Kelly. I’m in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It’s Wednesday, October 12, 2016. I have with me Ruth Howes. I’m going to ask her to please say and spell her name.
Ruth Howes: I am Ruth Howes, and that’s R-u-t-h H-o-w-e-s.
Kelly: Ruth is a very distinguished historian of the Manhattan Project with a particular focus on women, women scientists. I’m going to ask her to talk about this and what she’s learned.
Martin Sherwin: Was there a lot of effort to trying to figure out the psychology that the people who were sitting in judgement [at J. Robert Oppenheimer’s security hearing] would have? That “They will probably be thinking this, so therefore we should do that?” Do you recall any of that?
Verna Hobson: No. I remember that after the first—they came back, I suppose, the weekend in the middle of the hearings. I think they had a few days, and then they came back, and then they went to Washington again for the rest of it.
Martin Sherwin: You mentioned a point that others have mentioned that intrigue me: [J. Robert] Oppenheimer’s summer in Corsica. You said that Oppenheimer had once told you that reading [Marcel] Proust’s Memory of Things Past was one of the great experiences of his life.
Haakon Chevalier: Yes.
Sherwin: I have two questions about that. One, could you elaborate on that? Anything that you recall he said and why. The second has to do with whether you know anything else about that summer in Corsica.
Martin Sherwin: How much were the dues [to the Communist Party]?
David Hawkins: God, I don’t remember. Not very much, or I wouldn’t have been able to afford them.
Sherwin: Two bucks, five bucks?
Hawkins: Yeah, something like that.
Sherwin: A month?