The Manhattan Project

Pat Krikorian's Interview

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Pat Kikorian

Pat Krikorian arrived at Los Alamos in August of 1943, where she worked as a secretary for the Women’s Army Corps. Krikorian also worked with other WACs selling tickets and ushering patrons at Los Alamos’ movie theater. Krikorian describes some of the security measures at Los Alamos, including a run-in with a commanding officer who became suspicious about the content of letters she received from her brother who was serving overseas. Though Krikorian admits most WACs had no knowledge of what was going on at Los Alamos, she witnessed the flash from the Trinity Test and describes the celebrations after the Trinity test and after the first bomb was dropped on Japan.
Manhattan Project Location(s): 
Date of Interview: 
April 1, 2003
Location of the Interview: 
Los Alamos
Transcript: 

Pat Krikorian: I’m Katherine Patterson Krikorian, better known as “Pat” locally. I was born in Oxford, Mississippi in October 1921, and I joined the militarily primarily because we were a very patriotic family and I had three brothers and one sister who were involved at the time. Later on my mother thought she was losing out on things, so she went to work in an ammunition factory [laughter]. We laugh about that.

I came to Los Alamos in late August of 1943, and my first impression was it was a totally different world from what I’d grown up in, as far as flora and fauna were concerned.  However, I adjusted very well, but I did have high altitude sickness because I came from Florida. So, for about two weeks I was so sick with headaches and nausea and everything else, but things settled down and I took my assignment, which was with the fiscal section.

In the fiscal section, we were putting together the original purchase orders, the delivery reports—because we had a railway in Santa Fe where things were delivered to [inaudible], to their warehouse first. And then we got an invoice from the company we purchased it from and we had to make everything agree, which really was a little difficult because the delivery was not always what the purchase order said, nor was it like what the invoice said. Then we put a voucher on it, a government voucher, which is a standard Form 1034, and sent it to Oak Ridge for payment. We also handled the travel.

Along about January of ’44 we got a lot—our first group really of the SEDs [members of the Army’s Special Engineering Detachment] who came in. And among that group was a bunch of finance people, accountants and what have you. So there was a big shortage for stenographers and I was sent over to be secretary for the contracting officer over at the lab, which was Colonel Stanley Stewart. And we set up a little satellite office consisting of a procurement section: a young man who was a soldier who also ran the personnel aspects, and he handled all of the raises and personnel actions of University of California that came through, and then we had a file clerk, and we had me. We were sort of a busy office and Colonel Stewart came out of the University of California’s office, which was the primary office for the contracting officer at that stage, and we really did a little bit of everything. And I worked there until I was really discharged in December—well really in January, of 1946. I really don’t know how much more you want me to give you.  

Oh, you want to hear about my security problems. Well first let me take you back to my original basic training in Florida. I had been an instructor in the Army’s specialized training school and when this finished, they brought me in and asked me about going to OCS. And I said, “I really don’t want to go to OCS.” 

Well, this struck them as being very odd that I didn’t want to go. They said, “Well what do you want to do?”

And I said, “Well, I really would like to go overseas.” 

So they said, “Fine. Why do you want to go overseas and in which direction?”  

So, I said, “Well, it doesn’t matter.  I have a brother in the European theatre and one in the South Pacific, so I’d like to go either way.” 

Well we went through the basic overseas training, along with military personnel teaching us jujitsu, all sorts of things. Anyhow, I ended up living in a tent, and there were ten of us. And one night—very early, two in the morning—they came in and said, “Patterson, get your things together, you’re leaving.”  

I said, “How about everyone else?”  

So, I ended up going to the railroad station at two in the morning. We had a guy down there, and there were seven others I’d never seen before and did not know. 

But it was a real congenial group, and I said, “Where are we going?” 

Well, we had a master sergeant with us, this girl, and she said, “Well, we won’t know until we get on the train and get our—had our top secret orders.” We were not to open them ‘til we got on the train. 

So we had to go all these service commands at that time. There was one in Atlanta, and then there was one in Fort Sill [Oklahoma]. So when we got to Atlanta, we got to more MPs that escorted us across.  

But we had to stop in Memphis. So real quick like, I went to the ladies room and I called my mother who was living in Memphis at that time, and I said, “Hey! I’m going overseas.” 

And she said, “Oh, which way are you going?” 

And I said, “I don’t know where I’m going at this stage.” 

Well a day or so later we went on to Fort Sill, Oklahoma and we stayed in Fort Sill for about two or three weeks, and it was really odd; we were just sitting there doing nothing but playing. We climbed Gunner’s Hill, we went to the movies, we went swimming—we did it all. And finally they ended up putting us on a train—a troop train—and we came across Oklahoma and ended up in Belén. 

Well, en route we had stopped in Clovis, New Mexico. The train did not have a diner in it so we stopped and ate in a gymnasium down there. So we got back on the train and they took us off in Belén and we were met by two MPs. Well it took a little while, we were sitting around. I had never been west, I had no idea, but it was the most gorgeous sunset.  

And leaning against the wall were these funny looking people—to me they were. It was either Indians or some of the local natives, and they had these big hats on. We don’t see it now, but we did at that time—it was a lot of souvenir type of things, book ends and things like that, that showed these Spanish people or Indians with these big hats and their heads all tilted over.

Well, the train came for us and these two MPs got off. And the train had one little car; the engine was an old-fashioned cattle catcher car engine. So there was an old Indian there who had long pigtails hanging down his back, grey-haired, and he asked if he could ride the train. Well, this was quite a discussion, so finally the MPs and the engineers decided that he could. He wanted to go to the Isleta, which was between Belén and Albuquerque. 

So he got on the train with us and the train did not stop for him. They told him they would not stop, they would just slow down. So I kept wondering, “How’s this old man going to just jump off this train? He’ll get killed.” But he did, and I mean, he apparently was quite used to catching the train in between Belén and the Isleta.

We got into Albuquerque and we were marched off to this hotel to spend the night. By this time, it’s really very late and we were in two rooms. And we looked out and there was a restaurant down there. And since we hadn’t had anything to eat since lunchtime—it was eight, nine maybe in the evening—we decided we’d go get some hamburgers and something to drink. So I being one of the younger ones was nominated to go get all this along with somebody else. 

So we went down to do this, and as we opened the door the MPs—they were guarding us—said, “Where do you think you’re going?”

And we said, “Well we really haven’t had anything to eat and we were all so hungry.”  

They had a little conference, and he said, “Well, you may go but one of us will have to go with you.” And the other one was going to stand guard over the rest of the crowd. So we went down and got the hamburgers and the drinks and came back. 

So they told us that we had to get up the next morning at six o’clock, there was going to be a call for us, and we would be given breakfast and then we were to go somewhere else.

Well, we wondered all night where we were going, but we got up the next morning, had breakfast, had two more new MPs, and we were marched down to the bus station. And we got on this bus—just the WACs and two MPs. And when we left Albuquerque I thought, “Oh we’re leaving civilization for sure.” When we got on out—this was back in the days when you went through Bernalillo, and it was sort of a two-lane road through there—but when we came over those hills in those funny-looking scrubby cedars, which I had never seen, they looked like dots on the mountainsides, I thought the Lord sent us away for forty days or more, maybe forty years for all I knew. 

But when we got into Santa Fe, it was very hot. We were met by the captain and two cars. Well, I was assigned to come up in the old 1936 station wagon that the school had had, and with us was Sarah Hiren, who was an engineer. Sarah was a red-headed gal who stood about six feet tall—an engineer from way back—but scared of heights. She was just scared to death coming up the hill. And she and I were on the back seat and she kept throwing her hands over her head every time she looked over the canyon. “Oh Lord!” she’d say and she would be over on my side. Then we’d go somewhere else and she’d look around another curve, “Oh Lord!” she’d say, and she’d jump back in my lap every time it was on her side.  

Well, we got to Los Alamos and we were met by the security crowd—an officer—and we were booked into what is now the—Oakland House? Not the bigger house, the other house that used to be the Liaison’s house—the people who own the downstairs. And we were there for about a week. But that’s where I was so sick—well two weeks—with altitude sickness. We stayed in that until the dormitory was built, which was down in what is now Trinity Drive. We ate our meals at the Fuller Lodge. 

And then of course we had gotten our assignments. My assignment was with the fiscal section, at that time. And we just maneuvered around, doing our thing. And when we finally got into the barracks, though, we still had to come to the hill to eat because we didn’t have a mess hall. Finally, when we did get the SEDs in, in January, they built a mess hall for us. But we used to come up and down the hill from about where the dental office is now, McClendon’s. We used to do that about six times every day: we would come up in the morning to eat at Fuller, back down to do our duties—scrub the latrines or whatever we were supposed to be doing—and then back to work, back down after lunch. See, it was just a constant run up and down the hill. 

But there was a big shortage for people to do work in the PXs, the movies and everything. So a lot of us went to work in the movies. There were about six or eight of us that went to work in the movies. I mean, we were ushering and doing tickets, and this that and the other at the movie, and then of course we went back down the hill at night.  

The thing that always fascinated me was how much colder it was there. And of course I had never seen snow, being from Mississippi, so the first big snowstorm we had was one in September after I came. I mean, it was a big snow storm. One night we were walking across the pond after we got through working at the movie, and the ice was so thick we could just walk across it of course, but here the old ducks had frozen in the ice. So we went back to the firehouse, which was where the little community building is now, and we got some of the guys to go with us. And we took an axe and chopped these old ducks out and took them back and put them under potbelly stoves until they thawed out, which I thought was really a fascinating thing, because I just had never seen this much snow or all this cold.

I was discharged in January of 1946 and as a final fling, there were a group of us that decided we’d go to California to the Rose Bowl game—well, at least to the parade. Well that’s a little story within itself. We ended up going up a street, and it turned out to be one of the vice-presidents of the University of California. And he invited us to come and sit in his box for the football game—but we did not do this. We were really on a short schedule, so after the parade we left California and went on down to Fort Sam Houston, where we were all being discharged.

But about the security: I had a brother who was in the Counter Intelligence Corps. And Jack was—his partner was a young boy who apparently had grown up in Los Alamos, but I did not know this that at that time. Anyway, he wrote this letter and he said that he knew exactly where I was: you’d come out to Camel Rock and that’s where the pavement ends and the gravel road begins; and you come up to Pojoaque, and you turn left and you go through the village of—some little village, he gave it a name, I think it’s lost now what the name of it was, it might have been “Jacona” or something like that; anyway through the San Ildefonso Pueblo and up out of Otowi Canyon and blah, blah, blah into Los Alamos.

Well I’m reading this letter and I get this call from Major Discelle. And he says, “Sergeant, I wonder if you’d come to my office right now.”

Well I thought, “Look what did I do?”

So I go in and he said, “Sergeant, who is this Lieutenant J. W. Patterson that you got a letter from today?” 

And I said, “Oh that’s my brother.” 

And he said, “What does he do?”  

I said, “I don’t know what he does. I just know he’s on Eisenhower’s staff. He’s in Europe, but that’s all I know.” 

“Well,” he said, “You write your brother and ask him where he got all this information, since you said you did not mail anything off the hill and didn’t have anybody mail anything off the hill.”  

So I sat down and wrote Jack and said, “Hey, where did you get all of this information?”  

Well the next letter I get said, “All these things I gather by gazing into my crystal ball.”

He said, “Go by the PX and see if [Bences] Gonzalez has shot his armadillo yet. Be careful and don’t ride that black stallion named Chile from the corral under the hill,” and all these little things.

Well I’m sitting here reading this letter, and lo and behold Major Discelle calls me in. So I didn’t know whether to start packing my things and cleaning out my desk then and begin getting ready to go to South Pacific or whether to go to the brig. Anyhow. I go down and Major Discelle reads me the riot act once more. And he says, “Sergeant, you will not hear from this brother for the duration of the war. And, you may not write him because he will not get it.”

So I thought, “Whoops, I’m in trouble.” 

But they didn’t ship me out anywhere, although I did have a few scary moments about it—I thought I might end up having to go. 

But years later all we all got back home safely, Jack said to me, “I have something for you.” He said, “I started to mail it but I decided not to,” and here was a hand drawn map of the Los Alamos Boys Ranch School. 

So I said, “Jack, where did you get this?”

And he said, “My partner all during the war was a young man named Herman Russo, who was the son of the treasurer of the Los Alamos Boys School Foundation and he had grown up in Los Alamos.” 

Well, there’s a little bit more to this story, because when I went back south after I was discharged and went to work on my old job, I got a call one day from Hazel Greenbacher, who said, “Would you like to come back to Los Alamos?” She was pregnant and was going to have twins.

So I said, “Well, let me think about it a couple of weeks.”  

So I did, but in the meantime, when I came in it was Labor Day weekend, and Mr. Aker, who was managing the lodge , said to me, “Pat, I’ve put you in with the school teacher.”

I said, “Okay, that’s all right.”  

He said, “You can’t get housing until Monday.” And this was Saturday

So I’m unpacking a few things, and this young girl comes in and I said, “Hey! I’m Pat Patterson.” 

And she said, “Hey! I’m Joan Rousseau.”

And I said, “Do you have a brother named Herman?”

And she said, “Yes, I do.”  

“Do you have a brother named Jack?”

And I said “Yes, I do.” [Chuckle].

But that’s pretty much the end of my security story.

Cindy Kelly: Let’s see. In your group—the Women’s Army Corps—did most of the people who entered with you that day in ’43 stay until ’46?

Krikorian: Yes. All of them did. All of that group stayed—the group that I came in with—all stayed in Los Alamos until ’46. No one stayed after ’46, though. I mean, we were all discharged, and everybody went home, and some did come back after that but not out of my group.

Kelly: And is your reflection that people enjoyed their time at Los Alamos?

Krikorian: Oh I think everybody enjoyed their time. We were just sort of worked into the melting pot, so to speak, of people. I mean there was no real distinction between any scientist and his secretary or anybody else—or the janitor even, say. It was a fascinating assignment. I don’t think under the circumstances I could have had a better assignment then I had. We used to ride horseback, and we ice skated, and we could check out a car and go over the hill to Bandelier area if we wanted to. We could picnic, we could go by and pick up whatever we wanted to eat at the mess halls, and we had a lot of dances. Of course down in the MP area, where they had a recreation area—a recreation room—is where we had a lot of the dances. And then we had some in Fuller Lodge with the civilians.

Kelly: Do you have any sort of recollections about Robert Oppenheimer?

Krikorian: The only time I ever really had any connections with him was on Easter of 1944. 

Kelly: Can you just say “connections with Robert Oppenheimer,” because we are going to cut the questions out?

Krikorian: We were working up in Oppenheimer’s office and we were filling out papers for draft deferment for all the scientists, and he came in that evening to sort of greet us, I guess. There was a whole bunch of us; there were about ten of us working on this.

Kelly: What about General Groves? Did you ever see him?

Krikorian: Yup. We ran into General Groves quite frequently. I mean, and that was pretty common.

Kelly: What was he like?  How did he come across?

Krikorian: Well I can’t really say. You know everybody thought he was so gruff and this that and the other, but I don’t think he was ever gruff with us. 

And on V-E Day, when we had a lot of people in here, there was really quite a celebration for everybody in front of Fuller Lodge. We did not have a lot of things like you had on a regular base. All we had was the movie and our dances and our basketball and softball and things like that. We didn’t have what everybody else had—I mean on big bases. We just had each other [laughter]—one big family.

Kelly:  Let’s see—

Cameraman: How much knowledge—you were a secretary; how much knowledge did you have of work that was going on?

Krikorian: Well our office was through—we had to walk through the shops, the V-shop, and it was up above that. And I remember that we were standing there one day and we looked out the window and they were making this—I suppose it was something to carry a “Gadget” [atomic bomb] in. And I said, “What are they doing out there?” But as far as actually knowing what really took place, what really was going on, we did not [know].  

However, we had a lot of friends that went to Trinity Site and we knew that something was going on there, and there was a bunch just that they let go out. I think we went on the Dome Hill or Road or something. At that time, I did not know what some of these hills were called [chuckle], but a bunch of us did go out that night. 

Kelly: And you saw the explosion?

Krikorian: And they let us see the flash and then that was it.

Kelly: So you just went outside, out the door and—

Krikorian: No, no. We went up in the Jemez, but I don’t really know where we went, is the thing. I’ve had several people call and say, “We were on the ski run? We were, you know, at the old ski run? Where were we?” But I think that we were out on the Dome Road somewhere there.

Cameraman: Did you know what was going on?

Krikorian: No, we really didn’t know exactly what was going on.

Kelly: Afterwards, did anybody talk about it?

Krikorian: Oh yeah. Well afterwards we had quite a little celebration. 

Kelly: After the end of the war or after Trinity?

Krikorian: Well, after Trinity they had a little bit of a celebration. And then after the war—this was really something. We came uptown from down in the barracks and we went over to the old big theatre, and here were people in their pajamas and their nightgowns and their hair curlers, and everybody was just whooping it up like it was nothing.  I guess it was the first bomb that a bunch came down, what we call Trinity, and they had garbage can lids banging them together, and you know all this that and the other. This was quite a thing for the first shot, and the second one of course brought on the end of the war. It was the end of the war, you know, that was the real celebration, so to speak. 

Kelly: And how did you react to the when you learned how powerful a weapon it was?

Krikorian: I don’t recall how it felt. I mean, I just sort of thought, “This thing is over and we’re all going to get to go home.” But however, we had to hang in, you know, for another six months or so after the end of the war really. And I was probably one of the first groups that went out because we’d been here longer than anybody else. But I guess they were waiting on some replacements. I never really knew. 

[End.]