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Clay Kemper Perkins’ Interview

Manhattan Project Locations:

Clay Kemper Perkins is a physicist, philanthropist, and collector of Manhattan Project artifacts and replicas. In this interview, he discusses his vast collection of weapons and how he became interested in nuclear weapons and Manhattan Project history. He describes some of the stand-out pieces in his collection, including the safety plug used in the Little Boy atomic bomb on the Hiroshima mission and a full-scale replica of Little Boy. He also explains the role of high-speed cameras in the Trinity Test and the “pin domes” that Manhattan Project scientists experimented with for the implosion bomb. Perkins also discusses his philanthropic contributions to the Los Alamos Historical Society, including his purchase and gift of the Hans Bethe House.

Date of Interview:
February 3, 2017
Location of the Interview:


Cindy Kelly: Today is February 3rd, 2017. I am Cindy Kelly, Atomic Heritage Foundation. I am in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with Clay K. Perkins. I would like him to first say his full name and spell it.

Clay Perkins: It’s Clay, middle initial K for Kemper, last name Perkins. C-L-A-Y K P-E-R-K-I-N-S.

Kelly: Tell us about who you are. Where are you from? When were you born, how you got interested in science?

Perkins: I was born in 1934, and was a child during World War II. I played games of shooting Nazis and Japs—that’s what we called them then, everybody, it was a perfectly normal word—with my toy guns. We would run out to the park and set up a fort and have a fight all day long. We were very interested in the war. At the end of the war, we heard about this new thing called the atomic bomb and how it ended the war. That got my focus on that particular part of science, then that spread to science in general.

Not long after the end of the war, maybe in ’45, probably, Life magazine, Look magazine, other popular type things, put out articles on how the atomic bomb worked. They weren’t too detailed, but they were still fascinating to this young kid, eleven or twelve years old. That got me to look forward to going into physics when I got to college, and I did. I learned how to design an atomic bomb, calculate criticality. Then this new thing came along called space exploration. Instead of going into nuclear science, I went into rocket science and did that for the first ten or so years of my professional life. 

After that, I changed over to being a private consultant for business, and subsequently went back into science for NASA and General Dynamics, where I had worked. After that, I went back into building shopping centers and making money, so that I could then end up as a collector of marvelous things.

Perkins: I have three areas of collecting. One is ancient science books, starting in the sixteenth century. Secondly, old world maps, starting in the fifteenth century. I have a copy of the oldest printed map of the world that exists.

As a child, my father was killed in an automobile accident when I was seven years old. He had been an ambulance driver in World War I. Pretty exotic thing, to drive a vehicle at that time. He brought back a German Luger, the popularly seen pistol of the evil Nazis and Germans in general. He died. I inherited the pistol at seven, and was very quickly taking it apart and using the barrel with my toy soldiers to set up a fight, a battle scene on the floor.

That got me interested in guns. I bought some cheap relic pistols at antique shops in my teenage years. I went through a period of thirty years of not paying much attention, because I had these few guns that I had collected as a teenager, and my father’s pistol. Then when I retired at age sixty-six from formally going to an office, I said, “Oh, I would like to look at guns again.” I kind of turned up my collar and went to the gun show, because I was afraid somebody would see me and think badly of me. I ended up buying a couple of new pistols, and there I was back into it. I have bought a few more since, and now I have about 700 firearms. Most are antiques, all are legal, but some are quite exotic.

That was the beginning of the weaponry. There are other weapons, for heaven’s sakes. There are clubs on one end, and atomic bombs on the other. Let’s get some clubs and atomic bombs. Now I’ve got four atomic bombs. Two of them are high quality, full-scale replicas, including a Little Boy. The other two actually were real atomic bombs, but of course, I only have the shell. 

Kelly: In recent years, or maybe it’s not so recent, you became very attached to reunions of the 509th Composite Group, and interested in the Manhattan Project. 

Perkins: My most significant collecting item is a safety device that was on the Little Boy bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. It had three identical internal circuits for arming and firing the bomb. Each one had an electrical plug that could be removed and exchanged for an arming plug. The safety plug was green, implying something nice, and the arming plug was red and danger. That plug had been owned by Dick Jeppson who was the bomb test officer, I believe he was called, on the Enola Gay.

When he got back from the mission to Hiroshima, he met with his boss, who was a civilian Ph.D. named Ed Doll. He said, “I have got these three green plugs, and I also got three red plugs that I had that were extra.” Why did he take extras? Because if he had dropped one of the arming plugs behind the bomb on the bottom of the bomb bay of the B-29, he couldn’t have gotten it. So he was carrying extras, and he came back with extras. They decided these were historical devices and important, and would label them very carefully. They gave one set to Deak Parsons, who was one of the assistant directors under Oppenheimer. One was kept by Dr. Doll, and one was taken by Dick Jeppson. 

Dick kept his in a safe deposit until about 2002, and he decided it was time to see if he could raise some money for his grandchildren’s college. He put these up for auction in the auction house where I had bought a number of weapons, a number of pistols and rifles.

When I saw it, I went crazy. “Oh, this is the grandest thing possible.” That was subsequently supported by a survey that was done in the year 2000, asking people, “What was the most significant event of the twentieth century?” By quite a margin, the most significant event was the use of the atomic bombs. I have a device that is inherently, critically, historically significant to world history, and that pleases me no end.

As a result, I got interested—in fact, I talked to Dick Jeppson even before buying it. Subsequently, I then went to a reunion of the 509th Composite Group, which is the atomic bombers of World War II under Paul Tibbets. I got to like these guys, and I had some ability to know what they were doing and what have you. They ended up making me an honorary member. 

I have followed the nuclear stuff ever since I was eleven years old and read it in the magazines, up to joining the men who really did it.

Kelly: Can you describe how innovative the use of these safety plugs was? 

Perkins: It was certainly not exotically new, but it was a practical way to control what they wanted to do. 

The more exotic thing was the fact that the bomb—and this was true of Fat Man also—was ultimately fired by radar looking at the ground, because the bombs had to explode high in the air to get the most blast effect.

Perkins: The radar that fired the bombs were four devices looking forward. They were actually tail radar detectors for fighter planes that were concerned about enemies coming up behind them. They were converted and used for the bombs.

The basic science that was new and important was the nuclear activity itself. That started with Marie Curie and others early in the twentieth century. 

I saw a magazine article in the Saturday Evening Post, another popular magazine of the time, in the 1930s—maybe ’37, ’38—describing how to make an atomic bomb. This was understood. Physicists knew that you could do it. They did not know how to do it, and it became an engineering problem. That is where the innovation was, detailed engineering things. 

Now, the broader sense of innovation was that we have nuclear power as one of our major sources of electricity today, something that is considered risky. But in fact, if you look at the data and if you understand what goes on, it’s the safest energy source we have, other than standing in the sun to get warm. 

When the bomb is released, there are a series of steps that go through what you would call a computer, but it was an analog type of computer rather than a modern digital computer. Initially, the bomb would fall away from the airplane, and mechanical wires were pulled out of small mechanical clocks. These clocks would run for about ten or twelve seconds to allow the bomb to stop bouncing around getting out of the airplane. They would then turn on aneroid pressure devices, that were basically altitude readers. The altitude would be tracked as the bomb is falling, comes out this way, noses over, and goes down. 

When it gets down in the 10,000-foot altitude region, the radars would be turned on. They were not turned on earlier, because of the fear of its being detected by the Japanese. The Japanese in principle might be able to send back a counter signal that would explode the bomb too soon. They didn’t want the Japanese knowing this existed, even. 

Then they get down to maybe 10,000 feet, all four radars would be turned on. They are looking down in front of them, getting nearly down, and falling at very nearly the speed of sound, maybe 1,000 feet per second. After they are turned on, there are only a few seconds before they are going to say, “Oh, I’m now at 1,800 feet,” by looking at the bounced radar signal. And 1,800 feet is where we want to blow up the bomb.

Well, the first one does that, nothing happens. It just says, “Get ready.” The second one that detects it says, “I see it, too.” Then the bomb is triggered, and blows up at that time.

Kelly: The third and fourth are the backup?

Perkins: It was strictly backup.

Perkins: High-speed cameras. There were commercially available cameras that would run up to maybe 10,000 frames per second. That’s 10,000 individual pictures in one second. That’s very fast. They are called the fast-tacks. They wanted to see many of the development steps of the bombs, and of course, then the actual explosion of the bomb that was tested at the Trinity site in New Mexico, in more detail how things developed.

They found that there was a camera in England called the Marley camera—based on the name of the man who invented it and assembled it, used it for other things—and brought the Marley camera over here to take pictures of the Trinity test. It turned out there actually were two cameras. Everyone thinks there was only one camera, but I did some research in a British library and found that there were two cameras here. There was a hint that there actually was a third. I couldn’t establish that.

These things worked with a spinning wheel of little slots in front of a mass of individual cameras, so to speak. One piece of film, but with multiple lenses. The geometry of that allowed pictures to be taken up to 100,000 frames in one second, which of course, is getting pretty interesting. You got a bomb that probably all the reaction occurs in less than a second. Now you can cover the whole thing pretty well.

That camera was going to go down to the Trinity site and be a very important piece. Other people had been working on high-speed cameras, too. Sometimes much the same system, other systems. By the time of the Trinity test, the Marley was out of date, and it was not used. It was used for other operations in the developmental process, but it wasn’t used for the famous first explosion.

There is a place in Los Alamos, now long closed, called the Black Hole. The proprietor [Ed Grothus] had worked at Los Alamos, and bought things from the scrapyard when they would be released, and developed a “Black Hole” in which you could reach and pull out almost anything. He had more junk and more interesting things than you could imagine. He died, and subsequently a sort of selected part of his huge—this thing was so big, he had it set up in a closed supermarket, and then had to use trailers outside of that to store things.

At any rate, this batch of things that were particularly interesting were sold in bulk. I indirectly ended up with that. In it was not only a couple of fast-tacks that I mentioned earlier, but also the Marley camera, which we thought was the only one until I discovered there had been a second one. I was very delighted with that. That was a big-name thing that shows how science and engineering worked. You’re going do this, and then something better comes along and you don’t do it, you do the other thing.

Kelly: At the Trinity site, they had something like thirty-seven cameras going at—

Perkins: There were a lot of cameras.

Kelly: Yeah. 

Perkins: For some general area coverage, they would use a little Kodak—I can recall Cinemax or Cine-something or other—little cameras that were 8-millimeter and were built and sold primarily for people to take pictures of their children or something of the sort. They had set them up in a block at different focal length, different angles and things like that. 

Then the second batch was the fast-tacks, which were these big professional cameras carrying a lot of film that could run at low speeds, maybe 400 frames per second, or high speed at 10,000. They were scattered around the site. I don’t know the number of cameras, but it was a lot. They were set up in bunkers behind thick windows to protect the camera, and they were close. Of course, it was the close cameras that were the most important. 

I’ve always been surprised that color film wasn’t being used. I think it indicates the science was, “We want to see what happens,” not, “We want a pretty picture.” 

Now, color makes things more readable. I have a personal experience in an experiment I did related to weightlessness in space, where I had liquids in short-term weightlessness, a drop test. We had used black and white film at first, and were having difficulty seeing what we wanted to see. I decided to try color film. It made all the difference in the world. Now, we were still looking at liquid, sometimes water, sometimes liquid hydrogen in a container. What was the color? But it did show better, because there are details in light that are recorded in color that don’t show in black and white. Very interesting.

So, they didn’t think about that, and in fact, maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference in that particular use.

The fellow that decided to take his own picture was Jack Aeby, and he was the only one that took a color picture. It turned out to be a very flashy, red picture with interesting shape, and it was an art piece as well as a bit of science.

Perkins: The pin dome is an interesting thing. Starting a little bit ahead of that, it was pretty well understood in the beginning of the bomb work that you could take two pieces of highly-enriched uranium and put them together and they would blow up. But getting the highly-enriched uranium was very difficult.

It was discovered that they could convert uranium into plutonium, a second higher atomic number. It would also blow up, and they could take two pieces and put it together and it would blow up. The only problem was, the system of making the plutonium up in Washington State created some extra isotopes of plutonium that were not the kind that would blow up. They could not be separated, for practical purposes, from the kind that they wanted and the kind they expected. Take two pieces, put them together, and they would start melting on the way together and make an ugly mess of radioactive metal, and no explosion. A very dangerous circumstance. 

What are we going to do? We are going to bring them together faster. You could shoot them together in a gun, which is the way Little Boy did with uranium. That’s slow by nuclear speeds, and they have time to start doing this meltdown confusion stuff. How can we do it faster? Let’s push it together with an explosion, a chemical explosion of the material, wrap it around.

There were several steps in doing it. They didn’t jump immediately to that. But as soon as they got to the point of where, “We think we know how we can control the chemical explosive to make it compress, now we got to run a test and find out, does it do that?” Because some of the earlier tests that were done showed that you might try to squeeze a sphere into a smaller sphere, but you would end up squirting out two sides. The engineering wasn’t right. The handling of these explosions was very critical. We were talking about microseconds, less than a microsecond.

How are we going to test it? There were several ways. There was a RaLa [Radioactive Lanthanum] test, which I won’t get into, that supplanted the pin domes. The pin dome was such a neat thing. Imagine your grandmother’s red dome with pins and needles sticking out of it. That was the pin dome. These wires that were coming out were very small. They were maybe two or three-thousandths of an inch in diameter, coming out just like grandmother’s pin dome, all the same length so it made a sphere. Each wire was electrically connected to an oscilloscope, and you could then tell when the explosion hit it.

The explosion is conducted. When you have a fire or an explosion, you have ions that are electrically conducted as part of the explosion. If you keep an electrical contact to the outside of the explosion, this is an implosion. You are coming together like this, well, you can keep an electrical connection to the explosion itself. When it comes in and this wire, you know, all these wires, this wire is hit by this electrically conductive face of the explosion, it will send a signal, and that signal can be recorded on an oscilloscope.

You have a whole bank of oscilloscopes, because you maybe have several hundred wires and you can record several on each oscilloscope, still you are going to have a lot of oscilloscopes. Then you would find out, “This wire fired at 1.2 microseconds, and this one didn’t fire until 1.3 microseconds, and this one over here fired at .5 microseconds.” That’s going to be very unbalanced, so you had to keep working. 

Now, I ended up getting off the Internet a pack of three or four pin domes from Los Alamos. I saw it being advertised. It was unclear what it was. I did a little studying, and, “Oh, yeah, that’s pretty neat.” I bought them. 

I was at this party at what was then the National Atomic Museum, the same place that we are here. I was talking to a nuclear scientist from Kirtland. I said, “I have this picture here. I got this pin dome.” 


I said, “What can you tell me about it?”

“I can’t talk about it.”

“Why not?”

“It’s still a secret, and you shouldn’t have that.”  

I said, “Well, I got this off the Internet.”

Like so many things about the early atomic bombs, there is a lot of stuff that has no reason to still be classified. It is, but the rabbit’s out of the hat, and everybody knows about it. But this guy didn’t know that it was gone, because he was working where they had guards and people checking on him. All of us guys outside didn’t worry about that.  

That was the first activity of the museum that I attended, and I would guess it was roughly 2006, something like that. I don’t know.

The pin dome was a really neat idea, and they’re awfully cute. As I said, they look like grandmother’s— 

Kelly: Pin cushion.

Perkins: —pin cushion, that’s the right word, pin cushion.

Kelly: Right. We used to have one, red, of course.

Perkins: Pin dome or a pin cushion? 

Kelly: A pin cushion. Oh, right. Now, the other things you wanted to talk about in your collection are the Little Boy.

Perkins: I already talked a lot about Little Boy, when we were talking about the radar and the sequence for firing. But at 9/11, some Congress people, I think mostly Senators, decided that the real Little Boys that were on display—there were six or seven of them around the U.S., and one in England—were a serious security risk, because terrorists could come and steal the bomb and blow us up some way or other.

These were not technical people, and did not understand that it would not do them any good at all. Even dissecting it and turning all the dimensions, etc., wasn’t going to make any real difference to the ability of terrorists to develop a bomb. But they put pressure on the Department of Energy, and the Department of Energy said, “All those have to be taken off of display.” 

I was at Los Alamos at the Bradbury Museum when they got a replica that was made by a fellow in East Texas, a very good replica, very well made. I was there because I had the safety plug from Little Boy, and we were showing them together, and I was part of the proceedings. I got to know him and I thought, “Gee, I would like to do that, but what do you charge?” I don’t know that he gave me an exact number, but it tens of thousands of dollars to make this model, a replica, full-sized, very accurate.

I didn’t know about that, so I kept thinking about it. As I got older, I realized that I had fewer years than I did money, and that I can afford to have one, because I would really like it. I contracted with him and I paid him somewhere between $20-25,000 for the thing.

It’s like having a handmade automobile. The exterior is done perfectly in terms of dimensions, etc. The bomb replica is just that, a replica except for the electrical hookups for the monitoring system that allowed Dick Jeppson inside the airplane to check to see if electrical things were working properly. They actually came out of leftover inventory from the Manhattan Project. So part of it is real, part of it is replica. Most of it is replica.

Kelly: That’s great. Two things we want to talk about are your involvement with Los Alamos and the Bethe House, and your friendship with Harold Agnew. Maybe as a prelude to that, you could talk in general why you think preserving the history of the Manhattan Project and its legacy is important. 

Perkins: It’s a significant part of history. I think everybody acknowledges that, even those that are unreasonably concerned about things nuclear. It is important, in general, we save important things when we can, because we learn from the past. And they are interesting. So there are two reasons. 

As a result, I have collected a number of interesting things, some extremely special like the arming plug and safety plug. Others less so, but still interesting. It led me to make friends with people in Los Alamos. There is a very fine, probably the best one in the world, a local history society [the Los Alamos Historical Society] preserving everything that’s gone on in their town. Of course, most people there have Ph.D. grandparents. These are very smart people in general.  

I got involved, and my initial interest was to try to put forward the plan to make a part of the Los Alamos labs area where the Little Boy was developed, a spot called Gun Site—that was developing the internal gun in the bomb—could be opened to the public. I worked off and on for several years with people there, some through the Bradbury [Science Museum] and some employees of the labs. It went along and it went along, and it didn’t really get very far. I had offered to make a very large donation to get the work done. 

That never came about, because not only I wasn’t ready to do it, because they weren’t really ready to get it done, they discovered they weren’t allowed to take my contribution. They still haven’t gotten the Gun Site prepared to be used, but maybe with the new national park connection, that can yet be done.

I looked for something else, and discovered that the local history society was looking for some support. [Laughs] I discovered, they came to me and beat me over the head. To understand what I am going to say, you have to remember that there was a series of small houses used for the teachers, called “Masters,” at the Los Alamos School for boys. They were in a row. There were—it depends on how you count them—five, six or seven of these buildings, cottages. They were kind of complete houses. They had bedrooms and bathrooms, and the bathrooms had bathtubs.

When the Army took over Los Alamos, those buildings could be used. They started building buildings for all the scientists, engineers, and support people coming into the city, to the secret city hidden on the Hill. They weren’t too interested in good quality housing, they just needed housing quick, so none of housing had bathtubs. The only bathtubs in Los Alamos during the war were these six buildings, six cottages. They were known as Bathtub Row. 

Oppenheimer and other top people were assigned to those buildings. There was a certain amount of jealousy, because some people really liked baths. People, friends of those living there would sometimes say, “Could I come over and take a bath?” They did get some baths that way. It was known as Bathtub Row. The City of Los Alamos changed the name of the street that was put in later, which I think was a numbered street, finally changed it officially to Bathtub Row.

Back to the story about what I was doing. There was Oppenheimer’s house, that was designated “Number One” by the school, originally. Next to it was Number Two, which was occupied both by Ed McMillan during the war and at the end of the war by Hans Bethe. Both of these men won Nobel Prizes for their work. It became known as the Bethe House for the second of the two. Hans Bethe was a very personable fellow. He was a German. 

Perkins: We have Hans Bethe as the second one that lived in the house during the Manhattan Project. He was in charge of the theory group, and he was also a very congenial fellow who everybody liked. He was a jolly fellow and quite marvelous guy, who won the Nobel Prize in 1967 for interpreting how our sun works. Why did we have this hot thing up in the sky, which we have to have or we would die? He interpreted the hydrogen fusion process that is involved in the sun. It was really quite a remarkable event. 

The history society or historical society owned some buildings along this group [on Bathtub Row], and the owner of the Oppenheimer House—I should say that these houses were originally just rented at a cheap price to the occupant. But at the end of the war, they were put up for sale and they were bought. The owner for a long time   

Perkins: Made a contribution, with holding a life interest, to the historical society, and Mrs. Suydam is still living there and doing well in her nineties. The historical society looks forward to getting that house.

They would kind of like to have the Bethe House that is next door, and they were looking for funding for that. My wife Dorothy and I contributed the money necessary to buy the house and to repair a great deal of damage that existed and put it into shape, and a little bit of extra money to help establish the museum.

The plan, which appealed to me greatly, was to make it the Harold Agnew Cold War Gallery as a part of the museum. Because it had become a substantial area of it, and little was available about what was going on in Los Alamos during the Cold War. Of course, a lot was going on at the labs.

Harold Agnew was a late-in-life friend of mine. I met him, I believe, in about 2002, and he died two years ago, 2014 or ’15. He lived only about a ten-minute drive away from me. We got together, and found we had shared interests. Harold’s background is fantastic. You can look it up on this website, elsewhere, but to summarize it, he had a physics degree at the time of the beginning of the work for the bomb.  

Harold Agnew, with his degree in physics, worked for Enrico Fermi, who is the Italian Nobel winner, who set up and operated and proved the nuclear possibilities by developing what was called the Chicago Pile, and really Chicago Pile-1, because they had some others after that. This was an assembly of graphite and uranium, and they actually got it to start building up runaway power until they shut it down. 

Harold, I believe, and his wife lived for a short time, a few months, with the Fermis, which must have been a marvelous thing for a young physics student. He then came to Los Alamos. He worked on the system to measure the implosion size of the bombs, a device that was dropped from a plane that accompanied the bomber, and would measure the impact of the shock wave. He then later went back and got a Ph.D. at the University of Chicago, and went back to Los Alamos and worked there. I believe at that point, he became the third director of the project after Oppenheimer and [Norris] Bradbury. 

Then at some point in there, he was the American science specialist to NATO. I think that was before he was the director. I may have those backwards. He retired in the ‘70s as director after, I think, seven years. When asked later in life, “What did you contribute? What did you do in your life?” He said, “To sum it all up, I oversaw the development of three-fourths of the American nuclear weapons.” That was really what he did. He was a brilliant guy.

I knew him very well, and he lived a long and happy life until his wife died when he was eighty-nine or eighty, or something like that, late eighties. After that, he was not, you know—he had married her as a teenager and they had been together for seventy years or something of the sort.

I took him out to lunch once a month, perhaps, and had him to our house in the evenings occasionally, which he particular enjoyed because my wife Dorothy is a fine cook, and he really liked her cooking.

I finally saw him on a Tuesday. I looked in my calendar recently to check that it was on a Tuesday. I took him to lunch. He enjoyed it. I got word then the following Sunday, he died. His grandson came to see him, perhaps because he couldn’t answer the phone, went in and Harold was sitting in an easy chair in front of a TV watching the football game, and had died.

I want to tell you about something that is speculative that I am working on right now. When the critically important test, would the bomb actually blow up—which was not a test of the physics, but it was a test of the engineering—took place in southern New Mexico at what’s called the Trinity site now, the explosion wasn’t a bomb. It couldn’t be dropped out of an airplane. But it was basically the same internal parts that formed Fat Man. 

They couldn’t just set it on the ground and blow it up, because half of the surrounding area was solid earth, and that’s not like a bomb explodes in the air. So they put it on top of a tower that was 100 feet tall. That tower evaporated. It was steel, but the tower evaporated in the power and temperature of the heat of the explosion of the test. Nothing is left but a little bit of one or two of the footings for the tower.

It suddenly occurred to me that we really ought to put back a tower there. That would explain to the people a lot about what was going on. I contacted the people that run the White Sands Missile Range, oversee this site, and suggested that I would support doing that and pay for it. They took a little while to go through the bureaucracy, and ended up with somebody in the National Parks system, whose name I will not use. But he announced that, “Oh, no, we can’t do that,” and he gave me reasons that I thought were absurd that I won’t go into here.

Because it’s the idea that I want to push, and that is that I now am thinking about doing it at the National Atomic Museum, which is now called the National Nuclear Museum, I guess. Is that right, Cindy? 

Kelly: For Science and History.

Perkins: Yeah. At any rate, I like the old name. The director of the museum, Jim Walther, and I have been talking about putting up one as part of the museum. We are waiting now to see if we can get clearance from the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration], because after all, we’re fairly close to an airport, and this is 100 feet tall. Luckily, he’s already got a seventy-foot tall Redstone [ballistic missile] sticking up in the air, so we’re not trying to go too much taller, and maybe we will get it approved. Maybe we will be able to do this as the next project. I keep trying to do these things.

Kelly: Great. So your interest continues.

Perkins: Yes. 

All this work I have done on nuclear history and the history of the Manhattan Project has been a wonderful activity. I have thoroughly enjoyed it. It started after I had retired from full-time activities in business. I paid a large sum for the safety plug. It was well worth it, because I have received its value back many times over in contacts I have had with people. For example, I got to know very well the three last surviving members of the Enola Gay crew: Paul Tibbets; Dutch Van Kirk, the navigator; and Dick Jeppson, the bomb test officer. 

Then outside of that, people that have collected around the veterans and have for various reasons been elected to be honorary members have been wonderful. Bob Krauss is a leader in many respects for contacts with the veterans, and organizing the annual reunion of the 509th. Joe Papalia has been a supplier of a great many paper parts of collections. Jim Petersen operates the Wendover Airfield. and works very hard at reproducing the old buildings there. Glenn McDuff is a retired nuclear bomb Ph.D. in Los Alamos, and he and I have done a lot of nice things together.

Robert Norris, who was the author of Racing for the Bomb, I believe it’s subtitled The Indispensable Man, speaking of General [Leslie] Groves. It’s a very detail-heavy, long book, and there really isn’t any history about Groves other than what he wrote. John Coster-Mullen, who has written the most detailed book about Little Boy and Fat Man, called Atomic Bombs: Little Boy and Fat Man, and then some other words. It’s a rather long title. These people have all been good friends of mine, and made my life a lot more fun. I enjoy the history, they enjoy the history, and we enjoy it together.

Copyright 2017 The Atomic Heritage Foundation. This transcript may not be quoted, reproduced, or redistributed in whole or in part by any means except with the written permission of the Atomic Heritage Foundation.