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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

Gale Kenney’s Interview

Gale Kenney was a member of the Special Engineering Detachment at Oak Ridge, where he worked inside the K-25 Gaseous Diffusion plant. With his engineering background, Kenney led a predominantly female team to test the miles of piping used in the gaseous diffusion process. In this interview, Kenney discusses his experience at K-25, the social life in Oak Ridge, and the workers’ reaction to the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

Lawrence S. O’Rourke’s Interview

Lawrence S. O’Rourke began working on the Manhattan Project at Columbia University after he was called up from the Army Reserves in 1943. O’Rourke was among the first group of SEDs who worked at Columbia, where he helped research and develop the gaseous diffusion process for the separation of uranium. After nine months, O’Rourke’s group moved from the Pupin Physics Lab to the Nash Garage Building, where they helped develop the barrier material that would be used at the K-25 plant in Oak Ridge. In 1945, O’Rourke was transferred to Oak Ridge and continued to work on research and development of a barrier material at K-25. O’Rourke also spent time at the Houdaille-Hershey Plant in Decatur, IL where he helped install and train people on how to test the barrier material that was being developed.

Pat Krikorian’s Interview

Pat Krikorian arrived at Los Alamos in August of 1943, where she worked as a secretary for the Women’s Army Corps. Krikorian also worked with other WACs selling tickets and ushering patrons at Los Alamos’ movie theater. Krikorian describes some of the security measures at Los Alamos, including a run-in with a commanding officer who became suspicious about the content of letters she received from her brother who was serving overseas. Though Krikorian admits most WACs had no knowledge of what was going on at Los Alamos, she witnessed the flash from the Trinity Test and describes the celebrations after the Trinity test and after the first bomb was dropped on Japan.

Harris Harold Levee’s Interview

Harris Harold Levee served in the Special Engineering Detachment at the Metallurgical Laboratory at the University of Chicago on the Manhattan Project. At the Met Lab, he worked with Enrico Fermi and Leo Szilard, who he describes as “not two peas in a pod, one was a pea and one was a string bean.” Levee’s assignments included following up on patents and ensuring strict secrecy was maintained at the laboratory. Levee later worked on construction of nuclear submarines.

Benjamin Bederson’s Interview

Benjamin Bederson, a New York native, was selected to serve in the Special Engineering Detachment during the Manhattan Project. A physicist, he was first sent to Oak Ridge, and then to Los Alamos, where he worked for Donald Hornig on designing the ignition switches for the implosion bomb. At Los Alamos, he knew Ted Hall and David Greenglass, who were secretly sending atomic bomb secrets to the USSR. Bederson instructed the 509th Composite Group at Wendover and was sent to Tinian to help wire the switches for the bomb. He recalls the feeling of expectation just before the bombing of Hiroshima and his jubilation at Japan’s surrender.