The Manhattan Project

Oral Histories

The Hiroshima Mission

This broadcast is a dramatic retelling of the Hiroshima mission and the trials the 509th Composite Group faced in the lead up to that mission. The broadcast includes a speech by Colonel Paul Tibbets and a reading of a letter written by Enola Gay co-pilot, Robert Lewis.

Jacob Beser's Lecture

In this lecture at Johns Hopkins University, Jacob Beser talks about his early career in the Air Corps in World War II, as well as how he was recruited to the 509th Composite Air Group. He discusses his personal feelings on the morality of the bombs, as well as the situation that lead President Truman to decide to use the atomic bombs. Beser also answers questions on Los Alamos, the targets for the atomic bombings and the idea of dropping a bomb as a warning to the Japanese government. He discusses the Hiroshima and Nagasaki missions and his feelings after the fact. Beser also touches on the Japanese-American internment during World War II, which he considers to be one of the largest blots on American democracy.

The Atomic Bombers

In this 1962 radio interview, Robert Lewis, Richard Nelson, Charles Sweeny, and Abe Spitzer discuss their experience as members of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombing missions. Lewis was a captain in the 509th Composite Group and was the co-pilot of the Enola Gay on the day of the Hiroshima mission. Nelson was the radio operator of the Enola Gay on the day of the Hiroshima mission. Charles Sweeney was the pilot of the Great Artiste on the Hiroshima mission and the pilot of the Bockscar on the Nagasaki mission. Abe Spitzer was the radar operator on the Great Artiste on the Hiroshima mission and the radar operator on the Bockscar on the Nagasaki mission. All four men describe their feelings after the bomb was dropped and address whether or not those feelings have changed.

Raemer Shreiber's Interview (1965)

Raemer Schreiber joined the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos in November 1943, where he worked on the Water Boiler, an aqueous homogeneous reactor used to test critical mass. In 1945, Schreiber was transferred to the Gadget Division and was a member of the pit assembly team for the Trinity Test, watching the explosion from base camp. In this interview, Schreiber describes his time working on the water boiler reactor and in proving that the reaction of uranium could become self-sustaining. Schreiber also discusses the Trinity test and his role in escorting the second plutonium bomb core to Tinian.

Fred Hunt's Interview

Fred Hunt, a mechanical engineer who worked in the power department for DuPont during the late 1930s, arrived in Hanford in 1943. Hunt describes his interaction with Enrico Fermi, who occasionally visited the facilities to monitor their progress. He describes the ease at which he was able to procure materials and ordnance and offers his opinion on the use of the atomic bomb.

Bob Caron's Tape to Joe Papalia

Bob Caron was the tail gunner on the Enola Gay on the mission that dropped the Little Boy bomb on Hiroshima. When Caron agreed to join Col. Paul Tibbets on this secret mission, he did not know until the Enola Gay was in the air that the mission was to drop the world’s first atomic bomb. In this recorded message to his friend, Joseph Papalia, Bob Caron discusses the personalities of Enola Gay pilots Tibbets and Lewis. He explains the friction that has developed between some of the crew members, their response to the publicity of the flight, and their involvement in docudramas and books about the mission. Finally, Caron remembers one small contribution he made to the mechanics of the B-29s, and why the 509th Composite Group spent so much time testing B-29 planes.

Dr. Richard Foster's Interview

Dr. Foster was the fish laboratory supervisor at Hanford. He talks about inspection of organic matter in the Columbia River prior to and after the construction of reactors at the Hanford site. Foster describes DuPont’s central role in taking necessary precautions, highlighting their professionalism and efficiency. He discusses how any leaks were primarily into the atmosphere rather than into the water. Also, he brings up research done at the University of Washington regarding X-ray radiation and its effect on fish. The extent to which safety and environmental harms were taken into consideration, according to Foster, was advanced for its time. The state of Washington, and the country as a whole, had very little awareness regarding the concept of ecology or water pollution control.

John W. Healy's Interview

John Healy was in charge of environmental monitoring and later worked on special studies regarding environmental impact of reactor operations at the Hanford site. He discusses the consequences of dumping materials into the river and air pollution from iodine volatilization. Healy touches upon DuPont’s role, mentioning that the corporation was very safety-conscious in terms of reactor operations.

Charles Oppenheimer and Dorothy Vanderford's Interview

Charles Oppenheimer and Dorothy Vanderford are the grandchildren of J. Robert Oppenheimer. In this interview with historian Kai Bird, author of American Prometheus, a biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer, they discuss what it was like growing up with the Oppenheimer family legacy. They talk about growing up on the Oppenheimer family ranch in New Mexico, Perro Caliente, and how they and their father, Peter Oppenheimer, have dealt with being an Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer and Vanderford also reflect on how the memory of J. Robert Oppenheimer has been treated, the family’s position on the security trial, and their father’s involvement in anti-nuclear marches. They recall meeting some of Robert and Peter’s friends and family, including the Hempelmanns and Frank Oppenheimer, and discuss whether the historical treatment of Kitty is a fair one.

Richard Baker's Interview

Dr. Richard Baker worked at the Ames Laboratory before transferring to Los Alamos. In this interview, Baker discusses the science and safety concerns involved in the early work with plutonium and uranium. Baker describes the numerous difficulties in achieving the purity required in producing uranium. He also highlights how interesting and thrilling it was to be conducting scientific research that, at the time, was completely new and unknown. He also discusses his move to Los Alamos, and how Oppenheimer persuaded him to pursue the move.