If you’ve wondered about the connection between my mother and Oak Ridge, TN mentioned in Part 1 ( and I hope you did 🙂 ) here is Part 2…
I’m embarrassed to admit, I didn’t know that the U.S. Government (USG) founded Oak Ridge as a Manhattan Project site to enrich uranium for the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. I knew about the Manhattan Project of course, but always associated it with New York City, Washington(state), and New Mexico. Yup, Oak Ridge lived up to its Secret City code name! 😊 In case I’m not alone, here’s a brief summary of the Secret City:
- 1939 U.S. learned Germany might be developing a new “extremely powerful bomb” AND President Roosevelt set the Advisory Committee on Uranium in motion
June 1940 Hitler invaded Paris AND the United States National Defense Research Committee (NDRC) formed
July 1941, Hitler invaded the Soviet Union AND the NDRC, became the Office of Scientific Research &Development (OSRD) & began studying uranium enrichment with Columbia University.
December 1941, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, U.S. formally entered WWII, & President Roosevelt authorized OSRD for atomic weapon production.
The USG wanted inexpensive land tucked away in a relatively unpopulated, unknown area to build their 2 million square foot facility (known as K-25). The small Wheat Community (pop. 1,000) fit the bill with its 60,000 acres of farmland nestled in a valley surrounded by mountains. USG hired employees, built dormitories for the workers, and eventually brought in prefab homes for them. Many of the initial workers were women (most men away fighting in WWII) who operated calutrons (device enriching uranium by separating isotopes). It wasn’t called Secret City just for the location. People who worked and lived in this gated community were explicitly told not to discuss their occupation and they only knew information pertaining to their specific job. No one (except some of the scientists) knew the final product/purpose of the facility. Sadly, many of the workers also died as a result of radiation they were exposed to at K-25*.
Okay, so once I knew all that, I can honestly admit that I initially had a pit in my stomach. Would they accept me or my mother’s story? How would I feel being there? But the more I thought about it, my message has always been not only to show why nuclear weapons should never be used again, but to also tell the human side of the story. I do not discuss TLCB and my mother’s experience for the sake of blaming anyone. My mother said that “war is hellish for both sides”. My hope is that readers/students will see the connection we have with other human beings, that leaders and the fanatics of other countries do not define all the citizens of that country. In addition to writing about my mother surviving the atomic bombing, I wanted to make an emotional connection while correcting some misinformation about Japanese citizens during WWII. That’s why I wrote about the culture, family life, and mindset during WWII through my mother’s 12-year-old eyes.
I have great respect for the people who did their patriotic duty by working at K-25 and Hanford. Telling my mother’s story about her family (and mine) in Hiroshima, does not in any way vilify the K-25 or Hanford workers nor does it diminish the important work they did for the U.S. war effort. Both stories can co-exist without dishonoring the other and each deserves to be heard.
The kindness and compassion from the Oak Ridge/Knoxville students, teachers, and the librarians I met touched my heart. Find out how a song of peace connects Oak Ridge, TN to Japan in my 3rd and final blog post of this series tomorrow….
*Again, this is only a very brief summary. Please visit http://k-25virtualmuseum.org/index.html for more details about the Secret City.
Also sharing this post at Welcome Heart, Let’s Have Coffee