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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

Alfred Zeltmann’s Interview

Al Zeltmann grew up in Brooklyn, New York. After being drafted into the Army during World War II, he was assigned to the Special Engineer Detachment and arrived at Los Alamos in 1944. After the war, he stayed at Los Alamos, and worked as a physical chemist at the Los Alamos laboratory for nearly 40 years. In this interview, he recalls his Manhattan Project work, including on the “RaLa” experiments with Gerhart Friedlander, and describes the relationship between the military and civilians on “The Hill.” He also remembers receiving some unusual instructions from a mail censor after his wife complained he “wasn’t very warm” in his letters.

Bill Hudgins’s Interview

William G. (“Bill”) Hudgins spent most of his childhood years in New Mexico. He first heard about a secret wartime laboratory at Los Alamos in 1943, when he was a student at the University of New Mexico. Hudgins joined the Manhattan Project after writing a letter to Dorothy McKibbin. After briefly being called away for Army training, he returned to Los Alamos as a member of the Special Engineer Detachment. In this interview, he recalls interviewing for a job with McKibbin (who asked, “Where did you hear about me?”) and shares his memories of other Manhattan Project figures, including scientist Rebecca Bradford Diven and project historian David Hawkins. He also describes growing up in Santa Fe, and details the geologic and Native American history of the region.

John Mench’s Interview

John Mench was assigned to the Special Engineer Detachment at Los Alamos where he worked as a pattern maker, creating wooden casts for metal work at the site’s foundry. Mench describes what it was like to live in the barracks at Los Alamos and discusses everything from housing and recreation to security and secrecy, including his daughter’s birth certificate, which was marked P.O. Box 1663. Mench also discusses the founding of the Los Alamos Little Theater, where he directed numerous plays that were attended by some of the most famous scientists on the site. He jokingly recounts a date with one of the young WACs, who never invited him to dinner again because he spent the entire date talking about his wife and child. On a more serious note, Mench offers his opinion on the use of the atomic bomb against Japan and the importance of the Manhattan Project in ending the war.

Fred Vaslow’s Interview

Fred Vaslow, a physical chemist, began working on the Manhattan Project while a graduate student at the University of Chicago. During his time working on the project, Vaslow worked in several of the secret cities, including Los Alamos alongside J. Robert Oppenheimer. Vaslow shares many insights including the general opinion about the bomb among scientists who had contributed to its creation as well as the spreading denigration of Oppenheimer’s character after the bombs were dropped.

Evelyne Litz’s Interview

Evelyne Litz worked in health physics and as a librarian during the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos. She was the second person, after her husband Lawrence Litz, to see metallic plutonium. She recalls the captivating beauty of Los Alamos; having and raising a daughter in the secret city; and the somber mood of the scientists of Los Alamos after the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan.