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tv   Oral Histories  CSPAN  September 3, 2015 8:12pm-9:42pm EDT

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these interviews? had no idea? >> no, that was long before we got there. you have an online database. how do they search it? this hut, we had two resident >> it's very easy. first, you can get on by typing in manhattan project voices and huts where we lived, and a laboratory hut, which was then there'll be the website. conditioned. it was fancier than the living it'll have a search category. quarters. it had a darkroom, because it you can search by name. you can search by category. you can search across all of the was necessary to test the -- to interviews to find the person, use the street camera, which i the place, the subject matter should have mentioned, of course, was shipped over, too. you're most interested in. >> one last question for you. the camera that we used at los alamos was shipped over to test how should people approach these interviews? the switches, the real switches. they're part of the historical record of the atomic age. what should people keep in mind so i was in the hut when i was as they watch these recollect n recollections of that time? >> people should remember these told that we were going to get a are personal memories, and most of the people are talking about visit. i was dressed in my usual tinian events that happened 20 years or in some cases 60 or 70 years way. it's a very warm, humid climate. earlier and memories are i had my army shoes on, my fallible. you'll find a kaleidoscope of
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boots, and a share pair of shor voices, which makes this a very that's all. i didn't have a shirt. so they -- the people in charge rich tapestry. said, this will not do, because growing up in the same family we lemay is a big shot general. can experience an event a he wouldn't like to see a gi different way. >> cynthia kelly with the atomic heritage foundation, thank you dressed like you are. for joining us on american they said, what are we going to do? it was too late to bring me back history tv. >> thank you very much. to the -- to my barracks, to my hut. okay. so they shoved me into the why don't you tell us something darkroom, closed the door, about your background, where you were born, education? turned on the red light, which would inhibit him from coming >> my parents are russian-jewish in, and locked me in. i stayed there for half an hour. they finally knocked on my door immigrants who came to america and said, it's okay now. he's gone. i went out, and they were all just before world war i and one buzzing, saying what a funny just after world war i. visit it was. they kept telling him how they met at a night school. important the bomb was, and he very romantic setting. they met at night school. they lived on the lower east
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simply was very skeptical about side. they were very poor. my father worked as a restaurant the whole thing. he was sending missions over worker all of his life. tokyo, doing it day in and day out, for months. to think that one bomb, one i grew up mainly in the bronx and partly in brighton beach in plane, could do the work of his entire force was just too much for him to take. he just didn't believe it. brooklyn. and i would say one of the great later on, he realized how things about new york is the important it was. when he became the head of the fact that it had city college, and city college was, just as strategic air command, he even with many other people, was a didn't particular ly take that defining event in my life because it gave me a completely use of atom bombs off the table, free education in exactly the for the use in possible cold subject that i wanted, which was war. he was very much of a hook, all physics. so that's basically my early of his life. >> where were you, how did you learn about the dropping of the bomb? >> well, the night before, which background. we were raised -- not was august 5th, we knew the bomb was going to be dropped that insignificant. night. my parents were leftists as were that they were going to take off
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that evening. we -- now, i wasn't invited to most everybody i knew in the see the takeoff. i didn't ask to see the takeoff. bronx. we lived in sort of almost a communist neighborhood. i was brought up in my early i think by then, i was beginning to feel a little funny about it. days as a young pioneer of we stayed in our barracks, and america, which is a communist we talked. equivalent of the boy scouts. until i was in city college for navy photographers were there. a year or two, i would say that there were photographers who were told to take pictures of i was pretty radical. the takeoff. there was william lawrence. it slowly changed. he was the distinguished "new my radicalism slowly changed. i became much more interested in york times" science writer. science and physics. he was there. he was interviewing us about it. i lost complete interest in so we sort of -- we knew that being radical and ended up being hostile to the whole idea by the time i left city college, which secrecy was about to be lost, so we were a little more open than was fortunate because otherwise usual, talking -- hinting about i never would have lasted at los how important it was, but we couldn't, of course, say exactly what it was. alamos. after two and a half years at we talked sort of in circles a
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city college, i started to take little bit about what was going a job with the signal corps. to happen. i went to bed, must have been about 1:00, 12:00 or 1:00. i moved to philadelphia from where i was drafted in 1942. i wrote up the next morning, and for the next year and a half or we have a radio. so, i moved around. i turned op t eed on the radio, that's when i heard about the i had almost no basic training, bomb. it had already been dropped. was shipped immediately to radio announcers were already school to become a tail gunner and a b-17. announcing it, and los alamos was already being spoken about. that was the intent of my army the secret was out. everything was done. career. a tail gunner and b-17, not a nagasaki was devastated, very long life expectant job in destroyed. the world had changed while i the air force, but i also had to slept that night. become a radio operator. in hi hmy hut on tinian. i went to radio operator school the world was going to change, i knew, and sure enough, it changed. i forgot to mention that i kept in chicago. they kept me there as an instructor. a diary of all of it, most of from there, i went to a new army program called army specialized the time that i was there.
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training program. i took a course in electrical we all knew how important it was all along. engineering at ohio state >> do you have your diary? >> yes, it's right there. university. in late 1943 during the battle i bought this stenographic of the bulge and fighting was fierce in europe, the army notebook, and i started writing decided to give up an educating in it the day i took off from its draftees and shipping them los alamos. off to battle to combat. once again, by accident, there was an interviewing board, came let's see if i can find august to ohio state. my commanding officer told me it was for something called the 5th. i'll just read the first manhattan project and said -- knowing that i loved new york, paragraph of august 5th. i was sitting in my barracks said here's a good opportunity that evening. for you to get back to new york. i grabbed the opportunity, was i'll just read what i said here. interviewed. they asked my some strange there are 18 canvas cuts in our hut. two of them are being questions about science and my temporarily occupied by navy career. photographers who have just next thing i knew i was on a flown from guam to film our train going to knoxville, setup and the takeoff.
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the other 16 supply the sleeping tennessee, from which i shipped facilities for the entire nearby to a town called oak enlisted membership of the first ridge, tennessee, and that's how i got into the manhattan technical service attachment. that's what it's called. project. >> that's great. most of the fellows are gathered aren't you glad you weren't a in one corner of the hut, and tail gunner? >> yes, i was supposed to be a these -- and there's much tail gunner. my friends who went with me to radio school ended up as tail excited talk. the navy men are completely gunners. >> did they survive the war? >> some did and some didn't. confused by the hints and the >> what was the special engineer wildest speculations. so i go on and on and on about detachment? >> the special engineering detachme detachment, it was already clear that a major effort was going to that. let's see. be made to develop the atomic then -- see if i can find august bomb. they had by that time, 1942, 1943, already many famous 6th. scientists were being assembled then i spend a lot of time about that. i talk about my job, about my at los alamos and elsewhere. ignition expert, the x unit. lo and behold they discovered just like physics professors at i talk about the x unit. universities discover, you can't
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after i got back to los alamos, do anything without assistance, i re-read this and said, my god, so they realized that they what have i said? i realized that i might have needed an infrastructure of said something that really i machinists and engineers and shouldn't have said in my diary. young budding scientists to i was a smoker at the time. assist in the development of the i have a two pack a day smoker. bomb. and so they developed something isn't that amazing? what i did was, i destroyed the called a special engineering detachment, and they went around the country interviewing people who they thought might fit into evidence. the project. i -- just to make sure, the thing i said about the x unit, i sure enough at los alamos there were many, many hundreds, almost 1,000, seds who eventually ended destroyed. i tried to make it look like an up there. some of them, like me, you might accident, but i don't think it was. oh, wait a minute, yeah. call budding graduate students, even though i only had two and a half years of college at the time. also others who were machinists and engineers. the sed, among other things, so then my next entry was august became a breeding ground.
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10th. the things that followed, we historians of the war maybe don't understand as they should were so excited that i didn't that this was a breeding ground write. i don't think i wrote for three and a half days afterwards. i finally wrote and said, then for many phyicists. on august 10th, i said, today, there are farmers in wisconsin talking about atomic bombs over the dinner table. there must be countless street that was a really unintended corner arguments about atomic consequence of the manhattan project. i'm an example. bombs at every city in the of course, i wanted to be a country. people throughout the world must be feeling their soberist, physicist before i got into the manhattan project. matching their elation over this the experience i got at los new spectacular turn of the war alamos was invaluable in helping me build a career. >> that's great. with the temporary knowledge that this thing is bigger than it appears, and that though it will help end this war soon, it very good. i know people are going to want might well -- it might very well to know about your career. mean other and more important we'll go through your experience and then we can get to the things, too. career. okay. a few days ago, the best kept tell us about oak ridge.
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secret of the war is now being >> when i got to oak ridge, the talked about and written about more than even i thought it first thing i noticed was my would be. feet were almost ankle deep in it's funny that all along, i mud. knew what this weapon meant, it was a muddy place. that here is no overestimated -- mud had this characteristic there is no overestimating its orange-red color that you really importance, yet, i know that the knew you were somewhere in the news is out -- that the news is mountains in tennessee. out and i'm still amazed by the oak ridge, it was really treatment it's getting. thriving. there were construction machines though i know its destructive everywhere. there was activity everywhere. powers, i was still awe-stricken it was clearly something going by the after photographs of on. and as i say in my memoir, the hiroshima. i said nagasaki before. most interesting things that i i meant hiroshima. the first bomb. saw were these huge buildings it was not nagasaki. that was a mistake. is that enough? >> that's great. with towers that looked just >> you want more? like installation plants. with the gadget, there was no possibility of an anti-climax. and they were all over the we've argued about its effect place. and my first impression of them and importance, but the day
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after we dropped the first one, was that the distill iing sour i divided my prediction of the end of the war, which was one mash whiskey to drop on the germans and get them to disable them. year. i divided the quotient by two then i realized that couldn't possibly be true. it was only, of course, many, again, the next day when russia many months later that i found entered the war, and that may be out that the real purpose of the to some extent of the gadget, which is what we called the installation plants was to atomic bomb. now i say three months, and i'm a pessimist about these things. distill 235 from the principle we now are listening to the isotope of 238. we were housed in barracks like houring nehour i news broadcasts and separating the truth from the bunk. soldiers always are, but the barracks were cleaned by local there was a foul sub lpublicity young girls. again, it was very clear to me that this was something going on person said the bomb area should that was very unusual. be uninhabitable for 70 years. of course, we had no idea what that's untrue. it was. some of the buddies that i showed up with me, they were all okay. that's enough of it.
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science majors from various i spent a lot of time in my colleges all over the country, diary after that writing about so it had something to do with the consequence -- i don't think science. that was clear. you want to read about my pro but what it was, of course, i did not know. at oak ridge, we were given pontificating. tests. international control. i was thinking about how to i was there for about a week. control the bomb. they were trying to find out i thought about -- and i said, where i would fit in the there's no other way. it has to be international. manhattan project. some of the people, particularly because sooner or later, somebody else is going to get the chemists, stayed in oak the bomb. what are you going to do? then two countries will have the ridge. the physics types tended to go bomb, then four countries with to los alamos. the bomb. there's no end to it. what happened was i finally got how can you live with the world shipping orders to go to los filled with atomic weapons? alamos along with several of my it's got to be under international control. i said, that's the only way you friends who were also physics can have it. then at the end of my pontificating about this, i majors. we just traveled on civilian said, and then, i probabthey pr trains, which was the first time i had used a civilian train since i was in the army. all went. i was right. the bomb has proliferated and
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it's not under international ended up in lay mee, new mexico, control. who knows if it ever will be. which is a place where people go one doesn't know. it's still with us, and it's a to when they went to get to bigger threat than ever. santa fe. >> describe lay mee. when the -- it was august 10th >> lay mee was just a junction or 11th that the war ended? as far as i could tell. >> 13th. >> when the ait was announced? apparently, the train never gets to -- even today doesn't get to santa fe. it was simply a junction on the railroad line. >> the 14th. >> i was so excited. it was a one horse town. i had to tell somebody. of course, i was listening to that's it. the radio. i went over to the officer's now, i was met there by an army tent, which was exactly the same as ours. ed stevenson was asleep, and i sedan driven by a lady soldier, shook him and said, wake up, the who drove me to santa fe, drove war is over! the interesting part of is that me to the central square in that was an expression that we santa fe in the plaza and let me off in front of this famous used all the time, especially when we were playing handball or
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stick ball or whatever we were building, 109, where -- it was doing. somebody would be half asleep just a store front. and we'd go, wake up, the war is over. i said, in my life, i'm going to be able to use this expression i went in with my papers, and i once, and it will really mean handed it to a lady and i said, the war is over. here i am. i woke up ed stevenson and said, i guess that's the same as what wake up, the war is over. happened to everybody who came to los alamos. she looked at them. that was -- that was a culmination of a long dream of she said fine. she said sit here. mine. sit down. >> what was his reaction? we'll be with you in a little while. i waited for about a half an >> he was -- he was sort of hour, just sitting in the store drowsy. i think it took him a while to realize what had happened. then, of course, the aftermath. front. chatted with this lady. for many years at nyu, i taught turned out to be dorothy a course called physics and society. it was probably an outgrowth of mckenna. >> mckibbon. my experiences at los alamos and elsewhere. it addressed science-related >> yeah. the lady i spoke to was dorothy societal issues. of course, most important of the
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mckibbon. science-related societal issues was the atomic bomb. she was very nice and tried to make me feel comfortable. i would spend part of the course of course, i had no clue of what was going on and i had no clue talking about the atomic bomb. of where i was going to end up, the students would always raise but she just chatted and made me the question of, did truman make a mistake in dropping the atomic feel comfortable and finally bomb? many students then and now think introduced me to another lady that it was a mistake to drop the bomb. many people think it was a mistake to drop the bomb. i did not think it was a soldier. we got into a car. i believe that i was the only mistake. i look at the students, usually one in the car besides the i would look at the students in driver. the class, all young people, 19, this was another one of these olive drab army sedans. 20, 21 years old, and i said, you know, many of your parents so that was my experience in would have been killed if there santa fe. had been an invasion of japan. of course, later on i found out there would have been an invasion of japan if the that this was exactly the place where all of the famous japanese had not surrendered, and you would not be here. of course, there's no way of knowing that, but you have to realize that dropping the bomb saved lives. saved american lives. it killed a lot of people, and
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you can never -- never understand the horror of that. there's no doubt about it. but war is horrible, and the war was going on and people were getting killed all the time. the americans were getting killed. i guess the first thought was to phyisicts came. save american lives. it got pretty scary because it may have saved japanese after we drove for a while, we lives, too. who can tell how many japanese started driving up the side of a lives would have been lost had cliff. it was just a road with no guard there been an invasion of japan. probably a lot. rails. and we drove along this cliff up so i think that was an argument and up and up until finally we that was very telling. reached the plateau, which was the students, many of the students, understood that. the mesa in which los alamos was it was a tough decision, but truman made the right decision. planted, but it was pretty not many years after the atomic scary. but we finally got there and bomb was dropped and a few years passed a bunch of guards. and i reported to somebody. after there was a lot of testing i don't remember to whom i of atomic weapons. reported, but they shipped me -- the russians had succeeded in
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they sent me to a barracks, and developing an atomic bomb. the hydrogen bomb was i put my gear in the barracks. successfully developed. the hydrogen bomb has i believe i went to sleep. destructive power many, many times larger than the atomic >> tell us about your roommates, bomb. now, the world is filled with who else you recall living in the barracks with you. >> the barracks was very typical hydrogen bombs in a russian arsenal, the american arsenal, army barracks. i said in my memoir there were and who knows what other arsenals. the hydrogen bomb, if dropped in 50, 50 soldiers. i think val fitch said there was 60. i'm not sure who was right, but manhattan, would destroy the entire island. i do know there were three cold that means that two or three million people would have been stoves in it strategically killed. the entire culture of america would have been destroyed. placed in the barracks to keep it's unthinkable and, yet, it us from freezing. the beds were double bunks lined could happen. in a row, in two rows actually, i still think that what i wrote here is still true. the only way to solve this problem is to have international with the cold stoves in between,
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control of atomic weapons, and so there may have been 15 bunks then their destruction. someday, some point in the on each side. distant future, if we still exist, the world will come to and i took a bunk just at random its senses, will form a truly and stayed there for a couple of well-policed, organized days until finally somebody came up to me and introduced himself as a friend of a friend. organization, part of the united that was william spindel. nations, hopefully, and atomic weapons will be destroyed. i doubt if i'll live to see it, he was from brooklyn. but maybe people in the audience will live to see it. it's worth looking forward to. he had a similar background to mine and knew some people i if it happens, it will save -- knew, so we decided to become it won't happen for a long time, but it might happen. bunk mates. and so we shared a double bunk a couple of live events on for the entire time i was at los c-span2 to tell you about. alamos. almost two years. first, a discussion on how to bridge u.s. and russian policy on security and arms control,
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i don't know exactly why, but i with the goal of limiting got the bottom bunk. non-strategic nuclear weapons. i can't remember. from the cr that was considered to be quite a coup to get the bottom bunk. it was very enjoyable to have new yorkers next to us. one was a machinist. in fact, they were both machinists. they came from the lower eastside. it turned out later that one of them happened to be david. he was in a lower bunk too, so we were next to each other in this barracks in lower bunks. and then throughout the barracks were many of my friends. there was norman greenspan, who became a very good friend of
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mine. trained in mathematics at brooklyn college. unfortunately, he died recently. later there was richard bellman, who became a famous mathematician and system analyst working for the rand corporation. he's a legend there now. he also died some years ago. there was peter lex, who became a very highly distinguished mathematician working at the koran constitute in new york. there was mary pechkin. these were all my buddies in the army. some buddies. really strange set of buddies. i should mention one person in particular who i became very good friends with. that was richard davison.
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he was unique at los alamos. he became a legend when he ended up at the university of washington. he became famous at the end of the war at the university of washington because he never finished his ph.d. he happened to be the son of a scientist who won a nobel prize for discovering the wave like nature of the atom. we hated saluting. it didn't make any sense. here we were working on this fantastic project. we still had to salute. we still had to go in formation.
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we still had to undergo saturday morning inspection, things of that sort. his way of dealing with it was he made his bed and he never slept in it. he slept on top of his bed for the entire two years he was at los alamos. he was able to brag that he never made his bed in the army. dick davison also unfortunately passed away. was a brilliant, special guy, a friend of mine. of course, people like that i never would have met in the regular army, if i had ended up as a tail gunner. >> let's see. >> now, i haven't talked about my work yet.
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>> no. >> well, shortly after i arrived there, they assigned me to a project. the project was called jumbo. i found it was a huge container, steel container huge in size. i don't know 15 or 20 feet high, maybe 8 or 10 feet in diameter. seds always had senior scientists. the science seds was always assigned to some project and there were very senior physicists and chemists they work with. the person i was assigned to was phillip b. moon. he was british. he had apparently arrived at los
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alamos almost at the same time i did, so we came there together. his assignment, and therefore my assignment, was to study the ability of jumbo to contain an atomic bomb. if the atomic bomb did not actually work properly, the radioactive material would have spilled over the landscape. it would have been a disaster of enormous proportions, so the idea was to put the bomb inside this container. if it fizzled, then the container would hold it and keep it from spreading around and then destroying los alamos essentially. if it worked, it didn't matter because then it would vaporize the container. that was what was called jumbo. he had some experience. i should say a few words about
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the british. the british, of course, were also working on atomic bomb sometime in late 1942. their project, which was called a maude project, by arrangement through winston churchill decided to join forces with the americans. so the british were shipped to los alamos as a group. there were maybe six or eight scientists that were the most famous physicists in england at the time. i have a list here. just a minute. let me read them to you. george thompson, marcus, james
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chadwick, phillip moon, and p.b. blackett. now it turned out p.b moon, i was slightly mistaken in my memo memoir. he did his work at the cavendish lab. then ended up in birmingham with marcus, who was another nuclear physicist. he was part of this maude group, and he was assigned jumbo too, just like i was, but i worked for him. so i started my actual research. my research consisted of blowing
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up containers to see how strong they were. so i became an expert in explosives. for two reasons, we didn't do the work actually on the los alamos mesa. the first reason was they didn't want us blowing up anything at los alamos because it was pretty dangerous. the second reason was it was too disruptive. there were too many wires and pulses and electrical sparks all over the place, so we were really destroying some delicate work going on at los alamos. so they put us away on a two-mile mesa. so i worked at two-mile mesa with phillip moon and one or two
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other seds blowing up things. we used what are called strain gauges to study the actual distortion of the metal by the explosives. we would install small explosives inside small containers, put strain gauges on the outside of the containers, blow them up, and measure the distortion of the steel by the explosions. i didn't -- i wasn't given the job of actually deciding how strong these were. i assumed that phillip moon was doing that. i was giving him the data, so i was basically his hands along with another sed, who incidentally did have an accident right next to me. he blew up one of these
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explosive caps by accident, and he was badly injured by that, but he recovered. so we worked on that. now, i should have mentioned that i wasn't allowed to work in the main part of los alamos called a tech area because i hadn't been cleared yet, so i was given sort of a second-class clearance tentative badge called a blue badge that i didn't know at the time that they were investigating me back in new york. well, they went through this series of -- this clearance in new york city. apparently, i passed and was given a white badge, which was an entree into the actual technical area at los alamos
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where all of the important work was going on, so at that point that was two or three months after i started on jumbo. i got the white badge. just at that time, they decided to forget about jumbo because by that time their confidence was such they were pretty sure the bomb would work. they decided that jumbo was a waste of time. perhaps you know cindy kelly right here. jumbo is still there somewhere, isn't it? it's still there, right? >> it's at the trinity site. >> it's at trinity. it's right at trinity. are they going to keep it there? >> yes. >> yeah. >> you can walk inside it. >> have you been inside? >> yeah. >> yes? that's wonderful. i never actually saw it there. i saw pictures of it. all i know is i was blowing up little muddles of it this big,
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so that's the end of my jumbo adventure. >> that's interesting because we found out -- we found little tiny jumbos. we wondered what they were. >> that was me. >> now we know. that's great. >> yeah, yeah. >> maybe we can have an art fact in the museum. >> yeah. >> good. >> both moon and i were reassigned. although i must say, however, we remained good friends. i loved phil moon. he was an enormously entertaining person. very highly cultured. very british. had a very british wife. the two of them were just like out of the arthur rank movies
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that i used to watch all the time. i really loved them very much. we remained in touch for a number of years after the war. >> let's see. so after work with him -- maybe you can tell us about the mushroom society. >> oh, that was a little later. >> okay. so what was next? >> what was next was i got a new assignment. the new assignment, i met my boss, my new boss, donald hornig, h-o-r-n-i-g. he's a famous professor. i think he's still alive. he's hitting almost 100. he was maybe two years older than me, so he's still in his mid 90s. he's in his 90s now.
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he was a professor chemistry at princeton university. long after the war, he became the science adviser to lyndon b. johnson. when i knew him, his assignment at los alamos was to design the ignition ñ:jçóswitches, which operated the explosive, which in turn operated the explosive lenses, which caused an implosion. you have switches and you have the igniters on top of the coneó of the explosive lenses then you have the implosion. so our job was at the beginning to get switches. now, the important thing to note
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is the bomb consisted -- it was spherical. the whole purpose of the implosion was to compress the plutonium, plutonium metal, so that its density causes it to become critical and to cause nuclear chain reaction. in order to cause this explosion to cause an implosion, you need to have the entire sphere compress at the same time. if like, say, the left side explodes before the right side, then you'll get a jet in the stream and it will abort, so you need to know that these lenses ignited at precisely the same time. there were 32 such lenses around the sphere.
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each of these 32 lenses had an explosive igniter on the top, and then there were 32 switches somewhere else. the 32 switches, that was what hornig and i did. that was what i was supposed to help him with. to get these 32 switches to ignite at precisely the same time, well, that's not a trivial thing to do. the timing -- the requirements on timing were microseconds. these switches needed to close within a few microseconds of each other. in 1944, when i was doing this, a microsecond was a very short time. it's not a short time anymore. everybody that uses computers, they work on much shorter times these days.
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but in those days a microsec was a very short time, so we had to develop the switches and then we had to test them to make sure that they were igniting within a few microseconds of each other. so that's what we did. we had a laboratory. we had -- we didn't have the switches because the switches hadn't been designed yet, but we had a device, the testing system, so we could test the switches when they were designed. hornig, what he did was he figured out how to test these switches to within a microsecond of each other. now, i'm not sure that i got this exactly right, but i think what he did was he remembered
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that michaelson at cal tech had a streak camera to measure the speed of light. and that was a pretty good way to start because we know the speed of light is very high and therefore, if you're making measurements, the measurements of the speed of light have to be precise within a very short time. so he got that -- he actually got that camera or something like that camera. i think it was the same camera. he got it and brought it to los alamos, and he gave it to me. he said, here's your camera. go do it. so the camera, it was conceptually very simple. it was a rotating six-sided mirror, which was rotated by a stream of air going under with
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propellers. went very fast. light would come in on the mirrors and the light would be scattered by the mirrors along an arc like this, and then there would be a film that was maybe five feet in length that would be stretched along this circle. then the signal from the light would hit somewhere -- you wouldn't know where, but one of the sides of the mirror would surely hit the film somewhere along the five feet of length. so what we would do is we would line up. i'll tell you about the switches in a minute. we'd line up eight switches. we would ignite them. the light from the sparks would hit a bunch of lenses, would go to the camera, the spinning wheel would scatter the light around the film, and then i would take the film, go to the
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darkroom, develop it, and look and see how simultaneous the eight sparks were of these switches. the sparks, that was sparks tha by -- i forget whom. it was me, margaret ramsey, my coworker at the laboratory back in the back. it was simply two pins. two regular, ordinary pins, like this. the spark would go between the pins. that's all. it was just a mockup for the real switches that were to occur later. so that was my job. my job was to put in all the wiring and to get the -- expose the film, then run to the darkroom and develop in the darkroom. then i would show the final result to donald, and he would decide how good these switches
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were. how good the switches would be and then make recommendations from that. that was my job. it was an interesting job. it involved a lot of physics. for a two and a half -- kid with only two and a half years of college, i was really thrilled with the idea of working in a laboratory, doing real science. it was a wonderful experience. >> interesting. wow. can you talk about, since there aren't that many women scientists, can you give us an introduction to margaret? >> margaret ramsey was a chemist. she had her degree. she was -- she had a bachelor's degree in chemistry from boston. i forget which college, but she's from boston. we worked together as a team. we wired these little pins, and
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we soldered them with plastics. we made little forms to press them together. so we worked together very happily for, might have been -- i forget. it must have been four or five months. margaret was a really fine scientist, and she was the first person i ever worked with as a colleague. she ended up marrying james keck, another set. they lived -- they still live up in the boston area. jim keck, he was another fine fellow. the two of them have married and been married ever since. >> okay. that was great.
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that gets us through -- oh, when did you work with george? >> so then -- well, i was still on jumbo. i couldn't -- they didn't let me know anything, but i got my white badge. shortly thereafter, couldn't have been more than a week or two, i was told that we were going to have a little meeting with the head of what was called the explosive division, of which i was now part of. donald worked for him, who was the head of the division. so i heard that there was a meeting. i was invited to the meeting. there were like, maybe, half a dozen seds. couple of civilians. he came to the office, and since
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i had my white badge, i was cleared. it was perfectly legitimate to get the information. he simply told us what we were doing. that was probably three months after i got to los alamos. two or three months after. he told us, and that was a memorable moment of my life, of course. because he laid out the whole history of the atomic bomb -- of nuclear fission. the entire history of the manhattan project and of the entire goal of los alamos. he told it to us. you have to understand, i know people have mixed feelings about the use of the atomic bomb. many people do good about the use of the atomic bomb. you have to understand when and where this was and where i came from. i came from a jewish family. my jewish relatives in russia were being killed left and
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right. i knew about that already. the world in 1944 was a horrible place. there were thousands of americans being killed every day. the only thing we could think of was the war and to end the war as soon as possible, to end the killing, in both europe and the far east. when i heard that we were working on something to end the war, i couldn't have -- it couldn't -- it was really hard to describe how i felt. happy and thrilled and honored i was to be working on something that would end the war. i knew it would end the war. we all knew it would end the war, if it worked. the way history works, history never follows your script. sure enough, the war in europe ended before the atomic bomb was
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actually implemented, but it was not -- it did play a war in the ending of the war in japan. >> can you give the name -- start with george and describe him and what he was like. >> george came in. you have to understand, i have a russian background. here this guy comes, i think he was bald. he started speaking with a heavy russian accent. i thought, my god, what is he doing here? little did i know he was a professor of chemistry at harvard university. he was so honored and so give ing that it's hard to describe. he simply laid it on. i don't know whether he was authorized to do all that. i mean, we hear all these stories about need to know and about everything at los alamos
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which was compartmentalized. that was nonsense. within three months of my getting -- my clearance as a pfc at the time, i believe, in the army, a private in the army, i was told this immense secret without any hesitation by profeprthe professor. of course, i could never forget the feeling, but he was a very interesting guy. he certainly put it across through -- to these low-level individuals that he spoke to. >> how did -- let's see, i guess you can -- why don't you talk about being invited to attend the tuesday -- >> yes. so once i got into the tech area, you have to show your
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white badge to get in, by today's criteria, it wasn't very much. it was just a white badge. anybody could have made it. anybody could have made it. in fact, anyway, i guess people didn't think of those subtleties those days. i got into the tech area guarded by mps. i immediately found out that there were these tuesday evening seminars that met in the hole within the tech area. of course i went to them. why wouldn't i go? the first one i went to, there was this physicist who gave a talk. i listened to this talk, and here, i was just thinking about the atomic bomb. believe it or not, he didn't
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talk about the atomic bomb. he talked about the hydrogen bomb. it was really mind boggling. here we were. it must have been in the spring of 1944. yes, 1944. and here he was, talking about a bomb whose predecessor had not yet been built. but the idea of nuclear fusion was on his mind, and he was thinking ahead. he had already realized that the atomic -- that nuclear fission was going to work and it would somehow or other produce an atomic weapon. then he realized that using the fission bombs, you can actually create a temperature high enough to cause nuclear fusion, forming helium, the way the sun does it.
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he was thinking about a means of producing a controll eled and uncontrolled reaction with a fusion reaction of deuterium and helium. this was, really, 1944. he was very interest -- also a very interesting guy. he had an italian accent this time, not russian. not a british accent, italian. shows you the international nature of this. the good fortunate of america n getting these notable scientists away from hitler and getting them into the united states. we got firmy. hitler couldn't have been dumber, than to let people like firmy go. not that he would have worked for hitler. he hated hitler anyway.
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he came here with this italian accent. the italians i knew, and i knew plenty of italians from the bronx, they all have the same accent but they weren't physicists. they were storekeepers. here he was, this famous physicist giving this lecture. it was quite an experience. then later on, i heard many of the other notables give lectures there, too, includining niles borg. >> it's been fun. >> to tell you the truth, i had mixed feelings. it was fun. that part was good. the army part, i didn't like. i have to admit it. i never could -- i didn't like sleeping in the same room with 50 or 60 men all snoring. having a single bathroom with no
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roof. just a lineup of toilets. it was undignified. >> let's see, i was going to ask you something about -- oh, i mean, everybody is interested, one of the things you note in your moemoirs is that -- >> david gringglass was very political. here he was, talking about russia and how wonderf fuful ru was and all that. it was really -- he really was a communist. quite interesting. it even crossed my mind, i have to be honest -- to honestly say this, it crossed my mind that there was something wrong with a communist being at this project.
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russia was an ally. the russian -- war in russia was going on very heavily. but it didn't seem right, but i certainly never did anything about it. it crossed my mind, but i didn't do anything. it was so bad that, eventually, bill spindel and i got permission to move out. gringglass and his bunk mates stayed where they were, but we remained friendly. he was a communist. i don't even think he would deny it, if you were to have asked him. >> so he felt comfortable talking about his views with you? >> felt what? >> comfortable talking about his views with you. >> yes. there was never any constraints about that. we never talked about work,
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except, although, i noticed that i did read the testimony during a trial, during the gringglass trial. i read the testimony, and he did mention my name in the trial. he said that he once asked me, innocently, what -- he was machining the parts for the bomb. he was machining lens for molds. he asked me, he says he asked me what they were for. he said i said something about a bomb, but i don't think -- i don't remember that. he did get me into a heap of trouble, because he said that i -- i was a friend of his. they called me -- the fbi called me in, and we had a couple of sessions and it all worked out
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fine. the fbi, despite what you may hear about it, they were very fair. they listened. they asked hard questions. it turned out that i was an innocent victim, just as many other people were, of his friendship. >> let's see, tell me about ted hall. >> ted hall was another one, another sed. he was a very young one. 19? for some reason or other, i met him and he was interested in me because of my friend, normy greenspan and i loved -- i just heard the philharmonic last week play the second symphony.
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gringglass, an electronics expert, had constructed an amplifier using -- forgive me -- parts from the electronic storeroom at los alamos. he built an amplifier, and it was a really good amplifier. we had a speaker somewhere, and we put -- we placed it in richard bellman's office. he had an office. of course, he was a theorist. experimentists didn't have offices, but he was a theorist, so he had an office. we had the amplifier, the loud speaker and the record player set up in richard bellman's office. norman greenspan and i decided to form a society, where we could listen to classical music. we called it the mushroom society because it could only
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meet at night when there was nobody there. we would play music very loud. beethoven, all of the classics. very late at night and really enjoying it. ted hall heard about it, i guess. he invited himself to become a member. so we were glad to have him as a member, and he would come to hear the class cam muical music. he became a member of the mushroom society. that's how i knew ted hall. i didn't know him outside of the mushroom society. we didn't talk much, because he was a veperson that never spoke much. we invited phil moon and his wife to our concerts. it was interesting. the room couldn't have been more than seven feet square, and the three of us plus the --
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professor and mrs. moon listening to -- i forget what we were listening to. it was an experience. little embarrassing but, nevertheless, it was great. >> that's great. did you know claude? >> i did not know claude. no, no. >> that we know. >> that's enough, yeah. >> that's a lot. okay. i actually -- one thing i thought was very charming was when you forget to remove the shutter. >> yes. we had the final test, when these markup switches were going to be -- oh, no, no. i'm sorry. they were not the mockups.
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they were the real switches. the real switches had arrived, and they were kind of bulky. they were nothing like the little pins we were using. they were professionally manufactured, and we had them lined up. donald hornick was there, because it was a very important test. we lined them up, and it took me probably five hours to wire everything up properly. it was probably 3:00 in the morning when the thing went off. the switch, the thing went off. don hornick said to me, wouldn't it be funny if you forget to remove the shutter? very much like any camera, it had a shutter in front of the film, though it was five feet along and you had to pull it all the way out. he said, wouldn't it be funny if
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you forgot to remove the shutter? at that point, i realized i had forgotten to remove the shutter. so i almost -- almost crawled away, and i told him i forgot to remove the shutter. he laughed, because i'm sure it happens to everybody. he was very reassuring and said, well, we'll do it over again. so we did it again the next night. i'll always have a very soft spot in my heart for him, for not having killed me for ruining the first experiment. it turned out okay, only a day later. >> now, let's go to wendoval. tell us about the role of the 509 and what it was like when you went there. >> yeah. wendoval, of course, was the
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staging airfield for tof the 50 bombardment squadron that was to drop the bomb. a few of the people from los alamos were told to work with the bomb crews to show them how to throw the switches and how to, in general, prepare to drop -- to trigger the bomb. you can be sure the bomb was not armed while it was -- while they were not over a target. they had to arm it. i was one of the people who was chosen to instruct them on how to throw the switches and arm it. they were all captains, lieutenants and majors. i was supposed to instruct them. now, you know the army is a very
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hierarchical organization. you cannot have a pfc or corporal instructing a captain on how to do anything. they realized that would never do, so some genius decided to make me a civilian artificially. they gave me $200. that was an experience in itself. they said, go to santa fe and buy civilian clothes. i went to santa fe and, sure enough, i bought civilian clothes. i put on a sharp jacket, pants and a shirt, tie. reported back to the barracks. i wore them, and everybody was really thrilled to watch me. everybody was making enormous jokes. but i could not buy shoes because shoes were rationed. i only had army shoes, which are inside out. you see the rough parts of the
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shoe, and they go up to the ankle. so i needed a shoe ration certificate. i had to go to the security officer and explain to him -- and i had to get a note from my commanding officer who, by the way, my commander officer didn't know anything about the atomic bomb. they were all -- there was always a certain tension among the seds. because we knew. our bosses didn't know what we were doing. we felt very important, and we were probably pretty smarky about it. they didn't care for our attitude too much, i'm sure. anyway, i got written permission, which i have in my records here. i do have some records. i got written permission to --
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probably the only secret document in the army which permits a person to buy a pair of shoes. i got permission, and i bought a pair of civilian shoes. then i masqueraded as a civilian in my periodic dr iic trips to a wendover. we'd go to albuquerque, fly over the desert and i'd stay as a civilian in a hotel. it was a luxury. private room. i would work with them during the day time, and at night, it was right near nevada, i would gamble at night in the gambling casinos, having a ball playing
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blackjack. then fly back. change out of my civilian into a lowly gi, and then i was a gi for a while. the next time i would go as a civilian. it was really a skichizophrenic life i was leading for a while there. >> can you describe your civilian jacket? it was something -- >> well, it was a very sharp jacket. i thought about that for a long time, and i said, this is my only chance i'm ever going to have to have a sharp -- i'm not going to buy a conservatory jacket. i bought a -- i can't remember to this day whether it was blue or green. i think it was green, but it may have been -- red or green. i think it was green. it may have been red, but it was a very sharp jacket. that's what caused hilarity in the barracks. i realized there was no reason why i couldn't do it. nobody could stop me.
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that was my way of showing my independence from the army. >> that's great. okay. let's see, so then, should we go to taking the green hornet? >> yeah. it was clear that -- i forget, that must have been probably june. you probably know better than i do. may -- late may or early june, before trinity. that was in july, right? july 12th, if i'm not mistaken. 13? >> 16th. >> 16th, oh. so i was given orders to go for the -- to go to the assembly place, where the bomb was being
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assembled, for the very reason that i knew how to wire the switches. so i, along with a few dozen others, altogether, probably 40 or 50, took this military plane. it was a -- not a comfortable plane. very much like most military passenger planes. it was called the greenhorn ho. the green hornet flew me and another civilian, and stevenson, a universiprofessor at the univf virginia, and a few woothers. we flew to l.a. and then to
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hawa hawaii. we stayed in hawaii overnight, and then flew to johnson island. finally to guam. then, finally, from guam to tinian. they're a part of the marietta group, which were actually japanese protectorates and captured by the americans a few months earlier. it was convert sboed into an airfield which, for a while, was the largest airfield in the world. b-29s shuttling back and forth to japan from there. that's where we set up shop. we set up shop. we had a living hut and a laboratory -- working hut. civilians had another one. the thing i loved about being
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overseas was once you got away from the u.s., the -- this artificial barrier between officers and enlisted men and civilians was completely gone. civilians and officers were living exactly the way we were. that made me feel much better. i never really liked the idea that officers had better quarters than i did. >> let's see, okay. i'm interested in the books that you -- >> you know, i forgot -- >> you can get up. >> i'll get up. >> there is a loose leaf notebook there on my desk. >> blue one? >> it says army on it.
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this is my various materials, which we might want to look at later. here is my pocketbook of verse. can you see that? this is the cover from the pocketbook of verse, which i carried with me everywhere. i was spending online much of my daylight hours, as everybody else did, and i would read poems for months at a time. i learned to love some of these poems. this is the cover. it broke up the cover -- the original cover broke up early on, and i made an artificial cover. it says, the pocketbook of verse, or wily away the idle hours on tinian. general grove decembs decided i time to meet some of the gis.
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in his autobiography, he never mentioned the seds. we were invisible to some -- to many of these big brass. but anyway, he decided that it was time that he met some. he called a few of us together. it was probably early december of 1945 -- 1944. he said -- he gave us a lecture, but the lecture had nothing to do with the atomic bomb. it was a lecture telling us to write home to our parents on christmas because they needed -- they need to hear from us, because they're very worried about it. so please write home to your parents. interestingly enough, looking at some of the information that i saw on cindy kelly's website, the american -- the atomic
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heritage foundation, i saw some sort of a note from somebody at oak ridge. he said he talked about having met general groves. he mentioned that general groves told him to be sure to write home to his parents. i realized that general groves was going around to all of the manhattan project sites, telling all of the seds to write home to their parents. that was my inter action with general groves. since i was a good boy, i wrote home to my parents anyway. i didn't need him to tell me that. one of these true ironies of history, who could have ever imagined this, that the island of tinian was laid out something like the island of manhattan? the soldiers who -- the cvs,
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whoever made the airfield, it was a flat island, roughly looking something like manhattan. they laid it out with the streets -- with these streets and avenues lake 46th street, 5th avenue, broadway, 9th avenue. tinian was laid out like manhattan. to think of this as the culmination of the manhattan project was something that nobody could have ever invented. it happened by pure chance. who would believe it? unless there is some guiding light up there, and it really is telling us what to do. it makes you think about that. >> the people you laid it out
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