The Manhattan Project

Oral Histories

Ray Gallagher and Fred Olivi's Interview

Ray Gallagher and Fred Olivi were both members of the missions responsible for dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Gallagher flew on both missions, first on the Great Artiste, which was an observer plane, and then on Bockscar, which dropped Fat Man. Fred Olivi was Bockscar’s co-pilot. They are joined by historian and Truman specialist Robert Messer. In this interview, the veterans discuss how they were recruited to and trained for the 509th Composite Group. They talk about what it was like to drop the bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, witnessing the mushroom cloud, and their feelings and reflections in the aftermath. Messer weighs in on the moral and practical decision to drop the bomb.

Nuclear War Radio Series

Ross Simpson presents a series of promos for his Nuclear War Radio Series around the 40th anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Japan. The series is presented in five parts. The first part is a series of interviews with members of NORAD about nuclear threats today. The second part is a series of interviews with the members of the Enola Gay crew that flew on the Hiroshima mission, discussing whether they have any regrets for their role in the bombing. The third part is a pair of interviews with a Hiroshima survivor and a member of an American team that explored the rubble after the impact of the bombing on Japan. The fourth part discusses nuclear proliferation and its dangers. The subject of the fifth part is the Nagasaki bombing and the enduring effects of the last nuclear bomb dropped “in anger.”

Michele Gerber's Interview

In this interview, historian Michele Gerber discusses the significance of the Manhattan Project in the twenty-first century, focusing on the Hanford site and its legacy. Gerber talks about why Hanford and DuPont were selected for the Manhattan Project, as well as setbacks from material shortages. She discusses the atmosphere of safety, how most Hanford workers had no idea what they were working on, and the environmental legacy of the Manhattan Project and the Cold War. She also explains the role of women at Hanford, the demographics, and why the area around Hanford suffered from termination winds.

Dorothy Wilkinson's Interview

Dorothy worked at Oak Ridge during the Manhattan Project as a “calutron girl.” After her brother was killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor, she was eager to join the war effort. Dorothy discusses how she went directly from high school to Oak Ridge, and was at first intimidated by the mud and the “Wild West” atmosphere. She talks about meeting her husband, Paul, who was her supervisor at Y-12, having children, and how pleasant her life has been at the site.

Paul Wilkinson's Interview

Paul Wilkinson got a job at the Y-12 Plant Oak Ridge after graduating college. He supervised calutron work and some of the “calutron girls,” including his future wife, Dorothy. Wilkinson discusses the engineering behind the calutrons and some of the technical challenges they encountered and had to overcome. He also touches upon living conditions in Oak Ridge. He talks about the high level of security, the dormitories and his first house, and the dining facilities accessible to workers. He recalls meeting Frank Oppenheimer and Ernest O. Lawrence, and remembers a few funny stories, including the time a man drove his motorcycle through the dorm hallway.

Sheila Rowan and Jo-Ellen Iacovino's Interview

In this interview, Sheila Rowan and Jo-Ellen Iacovino recall what life in Happy Valley was like for children, and how they felt seeing their mother go to work for the first time. They remember going to school for the first time, the difficulty of finding spaces to play in the muddy area, and the constant turnover of the site. Rowan and Iacovino also discuss adjusting to the post-war period.

J. Carson Mark's Interview

Dr. J. Carson Mark joined the Manhattan Project in May 1945 with a delegation of British scientists. He worked in the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, and in 1947, went on to head its Theoretical Division. Mark stayed on after the end of the Second World War as part of the project aimed at developing the hydrogen bomb. In this interview, Mark addresses the challenges involved in making a hydrogen bomb, including the design process and the conflicts between other scientists in the laboratory. He also discusses the Soviet hydrogen bomb, and the problems their project faced, despite Soviet espionage in the United States.

Bob Caron's Interview

Bob Caron served as the tail gunner on the Enola Gay under the command of Colonel Paul Tibbets. He witnessed the bombing of Hiroshima, capturing photographs of the destruction. In this interview with radio host Ross Simpson, he describes the immensity of the weapon and his memories of the flight over Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945. Caron recounts a conversation with Colonel Tibbets in which Caron deduced that the crew intended to drop an atomic weapon, before any official announcement was made. He also discusses the aftermath of the bomb and the responses he has received from both service members and civilians.

Louis Rosen's Interview

Louis Rosen, a native New Yorker and the son of Polish immigrants, was personally selected to work on the Manhattan project in Los Alamos while a graduate student in physics. Once in Los Alamos, Rosen was assigned to Edwin McMillan’s group, where he worked on implosion technology. Rosen remained in Los Alamos after the war ended and was considered the father of the Los Alamos Meson Physics Facility. Rosen describes some of the struggles he faced in his early life and explains how he and his brother were able to save up enough money to attend college, the first members of their family to do so. Rosen recalls his encounter with Dorothy McKibbin when he first arrived in Santa Fe and describes the housing that was available to scientists who worked at Los Alamos. Finally, Rosen explains some of the scientific discoveries made after the Manhattan Project and offers valuable insight on the nature of science during the height of the Cold War.

Robert Serber's Interview

Robert Serber was an American physicist. In 1941, Serber was recruited by J. Robert Oppenheimer to work on the Manhattan Project. Serber was tasked with explaining the basic principles and goals of the project to all incoming scientific staff. Moving to Los Alamos in 1943, he gave lecturers to members of the Manhattan Project about the design and construction of atomic bombs. His lectures were known as the “Los Alamos Primer." In this interview with Richard Rhodes, he discusses the decision to develop a hydrogen bomb. Serber also recalls Oppenheimer’s security hearing, the Chevalier conversation, and how the hearing changed Oppenheimer. Serber also explains why his loyalty was questioned by the government, and why the government was suspicious of his wife.