Reflecting on the Bomb
Leona Woods Marshall explains how the Manhattan Project scientists feared that Nazi Germany might develop the bomb first.
Narrator: By the time that the Manhattan Project was underway in 1942, many people believed that Hitler’s scientists were two years ahead in the race to create an atomic bomb. Leona Woods Marshall recalls what a frightening time that was.
Leona Woods Marshall: I think everyone was terrified that we were wrong [in our way of developing the bomb] and that the Germans were ahead of us. That was a persistent and ever-present fear, fed, of course, by the fact that our leaders knew those people in Germany. They led the civilized world of physics at the time the war set in, at every major university. So they were terrified. If they had gotten it before we did, I don’t know what would have happened to the world, but something different. Very frightening time.
Herb Depke’s father was training for the invasion of Japan when the atomic bombs were dropped.
Narrator: Every American stood ready to make a sacrifice for the war effort. But as Herb Depke recounts, sometimes those requests hit awfully close to home.
Herb Depke: One day Mother and I took the bus “downtown” to pick up the mail. On the way back home on the bus, Mother was looking at the mail. One of the pieces of mail was from the Navy Department. She opened it, and Dad got his Navy commission. I can remember she cried, because, you know, “Dad is going to war.” Almost immediately after that we left Richland. Dad went into naval officer’s training. It happened to be on Tucson, Arizona.
The important thing to me to recognize is that Dad went into the Navy and trained for the invasion of Japan. My dad trained as a port director. A port director is a fancy name for the guy that goes on the beach and directs the invasion. He would not have lasted long in that war. The atomic bomb saved his life. That is the irony of the story.
Leona Woods Marshall had no regrets about her participation in the Manhattan Project.
Narrator: Leona Woods Marshall remembers well the mixed emotions that flooded every Manhattan Project participant when the bomb was finally used.
Leona Woods Marshall: My brother-in-law was captain of the first minesweeper scheduled into Sasebo Harbor. My brother was a Marine, with a flamethrower, on Okinawa. I’m sure these people would not have lasted. It is pretty clear we would have had half a million of our fighting men dead, not to say whom we would have killed of the Japanese. You know and I know that LeMay firebombed Tokyo, and nobody even mentions the slaughter that happened then. They think that Nagasaki and Hiroshima were something compared to firebombing Tokyo.
It was a desperate time. I have no regrets. In wartime, I don’t think you stand around saying, “Is it right?” I think we did right, and we couldn’t have done it differently.