Atom Bomb Project Scientists Return To Oak Ridge
May. 12, 1988
OAK RIDGE, Tenn. (AP) _ Scientists who were once smuggled into this town from all over the country as part of the Manhattan Project's secret attempt to build an atomic bomb in the 1940s returned openly for a reunion this week.
''We were put on trains with the shades pulled down. ... We arrived in Oak Ridge at 5 a.m.,'' recalled Jeptha A. Wade Jr., a mechanical engineer who was one of about 60 members of the Special Engineer Detachment at the reunion.
''It was raining, everything was muddy. We were told, 'This is going to be your new home.' It was a couple of days before we knew we were in Tennessee,'' said a chuckling Wade, who returned for the first time in 42 years Sunday from Hillsborough, Calif.
Glynn Clark met his future wife, Evelyn, shortly after arriving at what became known as the ''Atomic City'' in January 1944.
''We were all working with a dedication. ... There was no night or day,'' said Clark, a chemical engineer.
The work went on around the clock. After a night shift, Clark said, some might go to a midnight dance, others to a 2 a.m. movie.
''I have a great affection for the town - it was a pioneer effort,'' Clark said.
The effort was an arm of the Manhattan Project, the code name for America's effort to build atomic weapons before Nazi Germany did during World War II. Its members came from all over, and most did not know where they were going or why.
''It wasn't scary, it was secret. They put the fear of God in us about telling anyone what we were doing,'' said Wade, who was assigned to work on the electromagnetic separation project enriching uranium.
The project, based in Oak Ridge and Hanford, Wash., eventually yielded the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945.
Oak Ridge was chosen because the government could get land for a reasonable price, there was a good labor supply, the climate allowed year- round construction and the inland location made the project safe from foreign attack.
Gordon Lindner and Mary Jane, his wife, were married in May 1944 and got to Oak Ridge that August. He said recreation consisted largely of playing pool, listening to the radio and telling stories at the PX.
''We had fun. ... We were all relieved we helped bring World War II to an end, and we were all ready to go home,'' he said.
Lindner, a mechanical engineer, said he and his wife went back to Montana after the war, only to return to Oak Ridge two years later to live.
''It's exciting to reminisce and see everyone again,'' he said.
Howard Hite, who was a design engineer, said he didn't recognize anything when he returned to Oak Ridge for the first time in 1975.
''I thought it would all shut down when the war was over,'' he said. ''We don't need to make war anymore.''