The Manhattan Project

Oral Histories

William Lowe's Interview

William Lowe was studying chemical and metallurgical engineering when World War II began. He was appointed to the Special Engineering Detachment and arrived in Los Alamos and began assisting physicist Arthur Wahl. Lowe recalls working with Wahl on the process for purifying the plutonium for the Gadget and the bombs and talks about the safety procedures they used to minimize risk of radiation exposure. Lowe later worked on building new reactors, laboratories, and other support facilities at Hanford. He worked in the nuclear power industry for many years and shares his experience of being in the control room during the Three Mile Island Incident.

Russell Jim's Interview

Russell Jim is a member of the Yakama Nation near the Hanford site and serves as the head of the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Indian Nation’s Environmental Restoration and Waste Management Program. Jim discusses the impact of the Manhattan Project on the Yakama Nation people and the environmental impact of the radioisotopes that were released into the areas surrounding the B Reactor and the Columbia River. Jim explains the history and importance of the land and natural resources to the Yakama people. He expresses concern for the health of future generations and advocates the need for a cooperative effort between the United States government and the Yakama Nation to study the impact of radiation and nuclear waste on the environment.

K. W. Greager's Interview

Wally Greager began working at Hanford in late 1951 after graduating from college. He talks about the different projects he worked on at Hanford, and describes the process of irradiating the fuel in the tubes in the B Reactor.

Robert Holmberg's Interview

Robert Holmberg began working on the Manhattan Project at the Chicago Met Lab and at Ames Laboratory in Iowa. He was then drafted into the Special Engineer Detachment and sent to Oak Ridge. He describes his life at Oak Ridge, where he met his wife and settled down, and recalls what he and his colleagues thought of General Leslie Groves at the time.

Hank Kosmata's Interview

Hank Kosmata arrived in Hanford in January 1954 after graduating from the University of Utah with a degree in chemical engineering. After helping with the construction of K Reactor, Kosmata worked with “Reactor Design Analysis,” a team of physicists, mathematicians, and mechanical engineers that were tasked with designing a new, re-circulating reactor. After a year of planning, Kosmata and his team finalized the basis of what would become the “New Production Reactor,” or N Reactor. Kosmata discusses some of the similarities and differences of the design of N Reactor with that of B Reactor. He also explains that the development of N Reactor could not have been possible without the information and experience of those who worked on the B Reactor during the Manhattan Project. He talks about the role of nuclear power in the world today.

Haskell Sheinberg's Interview

Haskell Sheinberg arrived at Los Alamos in late 1944 as part of the Special Engineer Detachment. Sheinberg’s first assignment was to purify plutonium under the direction of Arthur Wahl, one of the co-discoverers of plutonium. Sheinberg discusses the safety procedures the laboratory had in place to protect its workers from the harmful effects of radiation and also recalls attending several of Oppenheimer’s colloquiums regarding the overall progress of the Manhattan Project. He remembers meeting his wife, who worked in the Women’s Auxiliary Corps and received a commendation from Oppenheimer for her technical work, at one of the dances at the Los Alamos recreation hall. Sheinberg had a long and storied career at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Darrell Dvorak's Interview

Darrell Dvorak’s father-in-law, Colonel Clifford John Heflin, worked for the Manhattan Project. Dvorak became interested in Heflin’s life following his passing and has published several papers on Heflin’s war work. Col. Heflin organized the top-secret unit known as the “Carpetbaggers,” commanding their missions dropping supplies, arms to the resistance movement, landing behind enemy lines. Based on the strength of his work with the Carpetbaggers, Col. Heflin was selected as the Commanding Officer of Wendover Air Base, overseeing the management of the base as well as the ordnance and ballistics work. Dvorak discusses the relationship between Col. Heflin and Col. Tibbets and the military hierarchy at Wendover, explaining that Tibbets and Heflin represented two separate chains of command, and talks about why Heflin’s important role in the Manhattan Project has been overlooked for so long.

Catherine Dvorak's Interview

Cathy Dvorak’s father, Colonel Clifford Heflin, was selected as the Commanding Officer of Wendover Air Base, overseeing the management of the base as well as the ordnance and ballistics work. Dvorak first learned of her father’s involvement with the Manhattan Project when she was a teenager. Dvorak states that Col. Heflin gave only one interview concerning his work with the Manhattan Project, after his retirement from the Air Force. Dvorak shares stories about Col. Heflin as a family man.

Robert Kupp's Interview

Robert Kupp received mysterious orders to report to Knoxville, Tennessee just before he was shipped out to the Pacific Theater, and joined the Manhattan Project at Oak Ridge. He was assigned to work as a supervisor in the Line Recorder Department at the K-25 Plant. He discusses life at Oak Ridge and the security and secrecy involved in working on the project. Kupp went on to a prestigious career as a nuclear engineer.

Kenneth Pumphrey's Interview

Ken Pumphrey worked as a security guard for the Special Engineer Detachment in Los Alamos from 1946-1948. Pumphrey recalls his part in securing the secret city and rotating around Los Alamos on guard duty. He was one of the last 12 military personnel to leave Los Alamos before the area was turned over to civilian administration. Pumphrey talks about getting treated at the hospital, the military hierarchy, and his family’s suspicion over his odd PO Box mailing address.

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