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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Manhattan Project Veterans to be Reunited at 70th Anniversary Event


The Carnegie Institute of Science in Washington D.C. holds a special place in Manhattan Project history. During World War II, the Carnegie housed the offices where Vannevar Bush oversaw the Manhattan Project for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. On June 2 and 3, 2015, the Atomic Heritage Foundation is inviting Manhattan Project participants and the public to come to the Carnegie to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the Manhattan Project with a reunion and day-long symposium.

On Tuesday, June 2 Manhattan Project veterans and their families will gather for a reunion at 2:30 PM. This will be an opportunity for veterans to share their memories and to catch up with old friends over a reception. Two such friends first met in Manhattan.

Lawrence O’Rourke was nineteen years old when he was selected to join the Army Corps of Engineers’ Special Engineer Detachment in 1943. He reported to Columbia University’s Pupin Physics lab, where Manhattan Project scientists were hard at work trying to develop a special barrier that could be used to separate uranium isotopes for the atomic bomb.

When the project expanded, O’Rourke was relocated to the Nash Garage building, an old automobile dealership on the upper west side of Manhattan that was converted into an industrial laboratory. There he may have met James Forde who at seventeen years old was paying his way through Brooklyn College working in the top-secret laboratory. Forde was the lone African-American in the midst of PhD scientists and SED recruits.

O’Rourke also shared the basement laboratory with William Tewes, a New Jersey native who was studying chemistry and physics at Uppsala College before being selected for the Special Engineer Detachment. They couldn’t discuss what they were working on. “We were good friends,” says Larry, “but we never asked each other, ‘What are you doing over there?’”

In April 1945, Tewes and O’Rourke were transferred to Oak Ridge, Tennessee to work at the K-25 Gaseous Diffusion Plant, where scientists were trying to enrich uranium on an industrial scale. Remarkably, the two friends were assigned to the same room. “We had a corner room with two windows and two cots with a table in between,” remembers Larry. “We became very, very close and he turned out to be a lifelong friend.”

On Tuesday, June 2, O’Rourke, Forde and Tewes will be reunited once again.

The 70th Anniversary celebrations will continue on Wednesday, June 3 with a symposium that will feature a discussion of the new Manhattan Project National Historical Park. Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico and officials from the Departments of Energy and Interior will share their thoughts on the new park and what visitors might expect to see when the park opens.

The symposium will also feature sessions with veterans and experts who will reflect on the Manhattan Project and its legacy for today. Pulitzer-Prize winner Richard Rhodes (The Making of the Atomic Bomb), Denise Kiernan (The Girls of Atomic City), Robert S. Norris (Racing for the Bomb), and Martin J. Sherwin (American Prometheus: The Trial and Triumph of J. Robert Oppenheimer) will discuss topics ranging from innovation to women to atomic spies. For a full agenda, please click here.

Both events will be open to the public and the press and will be held at the Carnegie Institution for Science, 1530 P Street, Northwest, Washington, DC.