Wendover Air Field was chosen as the rear training base for the 509th Composite Group because of its isolation. It is located in the salt flats located 125 miles west of Salt Lake City. Colonel Paul Tibbets, head of the 509th, remarked upon seeing Wendover for himself: "The end of the world, perfect." Life at Wendover was primitive: the drinking water was bad, infrastructure was limited, rats invaded barracks, and there was sand in everything.
Life in the Secret Cities
Michel: My name was Mary Lowe, L-O-W-E, and I married John Michel, M-I-C-H-E-L.
Kelly: Great. Is it possible that you can look toward me? So tell me, how and when did you come to Oak Ridge?
Michel: I came in November of 1944.
Kelly: And what had—where had you come from? What brought you here?
Robert Ellingson: My name is Robert Ellingson, and it’s spelled E-L-L-I-N-G-S-O-N.
Kelly: Great. Now if you could just tell us where you’re from, and how you happened to end up in the Manhattan Project.
Ellingson: I am from a little town in Idaho, and Idaho is west of Wyoming if you’re not familiar with the geography of the country. Most people look quizzical and say, “Iowa, that’s north of here, isn’t it?” But this is the one in the West.
Evelyn Ellingson: My name is Evelyn Ellingson, E-L-L-I-N-G-S-O-N.
Cynthia Kelly: And can you tell me where you’re from and how you happened to arrive in Oak Ridge during the Manhattan Project?
Hanford, Washington, on the beautiful Columbia River, was the site selected for the full-scale plutonium production plant, the B Reactor. Today a popular tourist desination, the Hanford Site proved crucial to the success of the Manhattan Project.
Los Alamos, New Mexico, was the site of Project Y, or the top-secret atomic weapons laboratory directed by J. Robert Oppenheimer. The site was so secret that one mailbox, PO Box 1663, served as the mailing address for the entire town. The mountains allowed the scientists ample opportunity to relax, by skiing, swimming, and hiking. But they spent most of their time in laboratories, overcoming challenge after challenge to develop the Littly Boy (gun-type) and Fat Man (implosion) atomic bombs.
Stirling Auchincloss Colgate: I’m Stirling Auchincloss Colgate. And the first name is spelled with an extra “I,” S-T-I-R-L-I-N-G. My middle name is Auchincloss, A-U-C-H-I-N-C-L-O-S-S. And that last name is Colgate, and when I was around ten or eleven years old or somewheres like that, I changed my name and chose that myself, so I’m happy about that name. I like it.
In 1942, General Leslie Groves approved Oak Ridge, Tennessee, as the site for the pilot plutonium plant and the uranium enrichment plant. Manhattan Project engineers had to quickly build a town to accommodate 30,000 workers--as well as build the enormously complex plants.