Stephane Groueff: General James Marshall, New York, November 4, 1965.
Groueff: When and how and where did you first learn about the project and who assigned you and where and when? All the details of your assignment.
James Marshall: My journal, kept for many years, shows that on June 17, 1942 – which was a Wednesday – I received a teletype from the Office of the Chief of Engineers signed “Bessell,” who was then a colonel in charge of personnel and who recently retired as Brigadier General. [William Weston] Bessell was dean at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. It directed me to report to the Chief of Engineers the next morning. The teletype being rather cryptic, I immediately called Bessell and asked him what it meant. He told me he could not tell me.
Groueff: Where were you at that time?
Marshall: I was in Syracuse, New York. I was District Engineer in charge of all military construction in most of New York State and half of Pennsylvania and much civil work—flood control and other type of construction in those two states, handling at the moment a volume of about—
Groueff: You were a colonel?
Marshall: I was a colonel in the Corps of Engineers. Our volume of work was about $250,000,000 at that moment. When I called Bessell, he said he could not tell me and I asked, “Does this mean a change of station?”
He said, “I would think so.”
I said, “Who do I report to?”
He said, “Don’t come in this office. Go over and see General [Wilhelm D.] Styer,” who was then a Major General and deputy to General [Brehon B.] Somervell, who was head of the Army Service Forces. I had been scheduled for a meeting in New York City the following day in the Division of Engineers office, who was my boss. I took an airplane early on the morning of Friday the 19th of June, stopped off in the New York office to tell my boss I had received this teletype and that I was going to Washington, and as far as I could tell, this meant a new assignment for me.
On arrival in Washington, I went to General Styer’s office because I had been directed, and he told me he was rather busy and asked if I would wait until later on in the day. I recall that his secretary’s name was Mrs. Matheson. He asked her to get out the S-1 file, but not to give it to Colonel Marshall—
Groueff: S-1 is only your records?
Marshall: The S-1 file was the start of the Manhattan District. The S-1 committee file. He told Mrs. Matheson to get out the S-1 file, but don’t give it to Marshall until I talk to him about it. I waited outside General Styer’s office, and he came in and out, but nobody gave me the papers.
Groueff: Where was his office?
Marshall: It was in the Munitions building at that time, on Constitution Avenue in Washington. The Pentagon hadn’t been built. His office was next to General Somervell’s, and General [William S.] Knudsen’s office was right above it. I know because there were some peculiarities of the plumbing.
Groueff: Did you know Styer before?
Marshall: Yes, I had met him here and there. He was the first classman graduating from West Point in 1916, when I was a Plebe. I knew him for that year in a very unusual and formal status. After that, I knew him when we were both Captains at one time, and at other times in the Corps of Engineers, although I had never served under him or with him for any length of time.
Groueff: You had a friendly relationship?
Marshall: He knew who I was. We had been stationed at Ft. Belvoir at one time, probably when we both were going to school. We were not companions or friends. At that moment. He was the major general and I was a colonel.
Groueff: But he was a pleasant man? He wasn’t the kind of tough—
Marshall: Styer was a very handsome gentleman and well liked. The following year when he went up for his third star—Somervell had just gotten his fourth star—it tied in because the Congressional Committee had some gripe against Somervell, so they held up Styer’s promotion for about three months, and my name for promotion from colonel to brigadier general when I was out in the Pacific in MacArthur’s theatre was held up the same time as Styer’s. So he and I have been mixed up several times.
Groueff: But Styer had a reputation of being an excellent officer, no? Very capable man?
Marshall: Absolutely. This little tiff with Congress, they were not mad at Styer, they were mad at Somervell for being promoted too rapidly, as they told me. They decided to hold up Styer’s promotion from two stars to three stars as a way of showing their displeasure with Somervell.
Groueff: So Styer told you he would see you later?
Marshall: That’s right. About 5:30, he came out and said, “Okay Mrs. Matheson, let me have the S-1 file.”
He handed me, as I recall it, about five sheets of paper, maybe six, and I said, “Is this all there is?”
He said, “Yes, read this first letter.” There was a letter from Vannevar Bush to President Roosevelt dated a few days before. This was then June 18th, and I was in Washington. The letter might be classified still.
Groueff: No, the letter is in the book.
Marshall: The letter contained three or four pages and stated that the status of the art or science, whichever they wanted to call it, concerning atomic fission—a word which struck me just out of the blue. I had never heard of it before. I didn’t know what it meant. They said that atomic fission was about ready to happen and that the S-1 committee headed by Dr. Conant, which was a committee appointed by Vannevar Bush, who was head of the Office of Scientific Research and Development which was financed by the Carnegie Foundation, as I remember, but which was a part of the National Academy of Sciences, had come to the conclusion that there were four practical methods of accomplishing atomic fission and developing it into a weapon of considerable military importance—that a small amount of fissionable material was estimated to be equivalent to twenty or more thousand tons of TNT.
It listed the four methods as the reactor method, the gaseous diffusion method, the electromagnetic method, and the centrifuge or centrifugal method. Having just been working for some weeks on a TNT plant in White Deer Creek Valley in Northern Pennsylvania near Williamsport for which Stone & Webster had the engineering design contract and when we had increased from, I believe, 12 lines to 18 lines thereby doubling the capacity, we increased the cost of this one TNT plant from the neighborhood of $78,000,000 to $128,000,000.
I cite that because in this letter, signed by Dr. Bush to the FDR, it said that “Of these four methods, we feel that we can go directly from the test tube stage, skipping the pilot plant stage to full production stage, and we can develop all four methods at an estimated cost in the neighborhood of $90,000,000.”
Having just been in charge, Colonel Nicholas incidentally was the Area Engineer on that plant down in White Deer Creek Valley Pennsylvania. I knew about how much cubage and how much mechanical equipment you could buy for $90,000,000, and even though this sounded rather farfetched, these four methods of accomplishing atomic fission and creating what sounded like some sort of a bomb was so fantastic to me—a civil engineer and not a physicist or scientist—I immediately began to ask questions. I said, “How in the hell can they build one of these for $90,000,000 if it is going to be as good as it is?”
Styer said, “Oh, that’s your problem.”
I said, “What do we use for money?”
He says, “The White House has a fund of $200,000,000 to be spent at the discretion of the president.” He said, “It’s kind of late tonight. Tomorrow you go over and tell [Eugene] Reybold, the Chief of Engineers, that you’ve got a new job and that you need some money.”
First he said, “Go to the White House. You’ll get this money you need.”
He said, “Vannevar Bush’s outfit over there at OSRD is running both. All of their contracts with the universities, laboratories and others around the country—financed by whom, I don’t know, OSRD or somebody—are about to run out. They will run out June 30th. They must have money”
I said, “So I’m supposed to go get the money for them?” I said, “Is that why they came to the Army? Because they needed money?”
He said, “Well, figure it out yourself. Anyhow, they need money, and you have to get at least $15,000,000 before you leave Washington.”
I said, “Okay, I’ll go to the White House. If I can’t get the money there, what do I do?”
He said, “Well, come back here.” I made him inquires without every going to the White House. I didn’t think they had any money. I was told that they had no money available for any project like this. I identified myself and I mentioned—
Groueff: But Styer told you that day that you would be the boss of this?
Marshall: Yes. He said they were going to form a new engineer district. I said, “Why don’t they give this to the Ordnance Department or the Chemical Warfare Service?”
He said, “Well, General Marshall, Chief of Staff, figures that it could be kept secret more readily if the Corps of Engineers handled it rather than Ordnance or Chemical Warfare that people would normally think would be up to something like this.”
Anyhow, after an hour or two of this and being told what my mission was for the next day, he handed me the papers. They were marked “Secret.” I said, “Well, these look pretty hot to me. What am I supposed to do with it?”
He said, “Keep them in your possession.”
I said, “Is this all I get?”
He said, “Yes, I will tell Reybold to issue orders forming a new district, making you District Engineer, and to report direct to him—but don’t worry about him. You report direct to this office. Talk to Somervell, Clay or me.”
He said, “We are about the only ones that know of this outside of General Marshall, Henry Wallace, Secretary Stimson, President Roosevelt, and a Navy officer Paul Watson in the White House, I believe, and one or two others.”
I said, “This looks like quite a job.”
He said, “You will find it most interesting.”
I remember taking it with me to the Shoreham Hotel, and I read this again and I could see that it was—I won’t say dynamite, but it was rather an interesting—
Groueff: How did that impress you, the figure of 20,000 tons?
Marshall: It rather frightened me. I knew that the biggest explosion ever recorded in the world, I thought I was pretty sure, was in Halifax Harbor when a ship of 8,000 or 9,000 tons of some explosive similar to TNT had gone off unexpectedly and practically destroyed Halifax, Nova Scotia. That seemed to stick in my mind, that it was 7,000 or 8,000 tons, and that was the biggest explosion that had ever happened in the world—man-made or man-created or whatever you call it.
I got to thinking about this and I remember I had a room in the-so called new Willard Hotel on 14th Street, and I was at the end towards the F Street; I wasn’t at the Pennsylvania end. I remembered because across the street, there was some government agency moving to Baltimore. They were moving metal filing cases out of that building into moving vans all night long. I read this stuff, and there were one or two other pieces of paper talking about Dr. Conant heading what was called an “S-1 Committee,” and I saw three or four Nobel Prize winners on there that I recognized, as they were fairly important people. I was a colonel in the Army, and I said, “How am I mixed up with this,” I said to myself. I didn’t dare take the papers and put them in the hotel safe. What to do with them?
Groueff: You said it was Willard? You said first Shoreham.
Marshall: I’m sorry. It was the Willard on Pennsylvania Avenue and 14th Street. I was wondering what to do with the papers. I was told not to let them get out of my possession, so I borrowed a trick I had seen General Groves do years before when he was driving. He always took his pocket book and put it in the pillow slip under his head, so I put the papers under my head, which didn’t particularly make me very sleepy. Then, these metal filing cabinets were rattling all night, so I slept practically not at all that night.
I started out on finding the money the next day, which would be the 19th of June, and my diary merely shows Washington D.C., new district. First, I tried to find out if the White House had money; they had none. Styer says, “Go to Reybold and tell him you need $15,000,000, and he is not to ask you any questions.” So I go into General Reybold, a three star general at the moment, and he had known me for a good many years one way or another.
I said, “General, I am over here with orders from General Styer to get a sum of money, and you are not to ask any questions.”
He said, “How much do you want?”
I said, “I want $15,000,000.”
He immediately reached for the telephone, said, “Get me Styer on the phone—no, get me Somervell.”
“Bill, This is Reybold.” He said, “I’ve got a crazy man here sitting at my desk who says he wants me to give him a check for $15,000,000, and he won’t tell me what it’s for. What should I do?”
I heard Somervell say, “Give him the money and quit asking questions.”
Groueff: So Reybold didn’t know?
Marshall: So, I was sent then to Colonel [Earl] Gesler, a classmate of General Eisenhower’s incidentally, who was head of the Finance Division of the Chief’s Office. I said, “Give me a check for $15,000,000 coming out of—”
Marshall: Colonel Earl Gesler, G-E-S-L-E-R, who was a classmate of Eisenhower’s. He was head of finance in the Office of Chief of Engineers in the Munitions building. He came in, and Reybold said, “Give Marshall a check for $15,000,000,” and they all thought I was crazy, of course.
So, I go back with Gesler and he said, “What is this all about?”
I said, “I don’t know.”
I said, “I have to have the money.”
He called in his chief finance man, we kicked it around a while, and no one in the Chief of Engineer’s office, regardless of his rank—civilian or military man—could sign a check in excess of $5,000,000. So we had to get a first lieutenant from the Finance Department to come over and sign a check for $15,000,000.
Groueff: It was really like a check?
Marshall: It was a Treasury check for $15,000,000.
Groueff: Signed to your name, or the district?
Marshall: I forget. This goes way back. I forget whether it was made out to me or whether it was made out to Vannevar Bush.
Groueff: But it was a check, like the checks I know?
Marshall: A check like you get every month.
Groueff: For $15,000,000?
Marshall: For $15,000,000, and it had to be a First Lieutenant in the Finance Department sign it, because nobody in the Chief Engineer’s Office could sign one for more than $5,000,000.
I said, “Well, give me three $5,000,000 checks.”
They said, “No,” and got this fellow in. I then walked over to 15th, somewhere up there where OSRD was at the time—the Carnegie Foundation. I think it was Dr. [Irvin] Stewart who was some kind of executive officer and Bush’s right hand man.
I said, “I was sent over here by General Styer.”
He said, “I hope you have some money. You are supposed to be the man.”
They had been told who I was and so forth. This was about lunchtime on the day after I got the word about the S-1 project—a little different from the accounting there.
He said, “Yes, we need $15,000,000 in order to preserve the continuity of our contracts with University of Chicago, University of California, Berkeley, and so forth and so on.”
So, I handed him the check for $15,000,000, and I said, “There it is. What do I do now?”
He said, “Well, I’ll go talk to Mr. Bush.” He took the check.
Bush, as I recall—I had not met him, I had not met anybody over there—he called up Styer and he said, “Is this all on the level? A man comes in here with a check.” I was in uniform of course. Then some time that day, I believe, Styer took me over and introduced me formally to Bush and Conant and whoever else was around.
Groueff: Where? In his office? In Styer’s?
Marshall: No, over in the Carnegie Foundation, about 15th and O or 15th and P, it was the Office of National Research and Development [NDRC].
Groueff: So there were Bush and Conant and probably people like Lawrence and—
Marshall: I don’t remember who was in that day, but on the committee, as I remember, Bush of course was head of the OSRD, Office of Scientific Research and Development, and Conant was chairman of this S-1 committee.
On this S-1 committee, as I remember it, was Dr. Lyman Briggs, Head of the Bureau of Standards; Professor Ernest Lawrence, a Nobel Prize winner; Professor Harold Urey, a Nobel man. I never saw Karl Compton, this was Arthur Holly Compton, out in Chicago. Within a few days, I sat down, in addition to those people, with [Enrico] Fermi, another Nobel Prize winner. Of course, they were all PhDs and people of some note. Dr. Conant was head of Harvard at the moment. If I ever had an inferiority complex, I had a pretty good time.
Groueff: You were the only one without the PhD there?
Marshall: The first thing I thought of was [Kenneth D.] Nichols, who was already my assistant up at this big TNT project. He started the Rome Air Depot.
Groueff: You hired Nichols?
Marshall: I got him transferred to me. He was going to Plattsburg, New York. He was a captain. He was finishing four years at West Point, and I went over to see him. I said, “Would you mind coming with me in the Binghamton District?” It was then, before we moved to Syracuse.
He said, “What for?”
I said, “I want you to take charge of a $15,000,000 job up here in Rome, New York.”
He said, “Fine.”
Well, I had some trouble signing him because he was due for troop duty and in the old days you had to have troop duty one year out of five. He had just had four years at West Point as an instructor. He having been a Cadet when I was an instructor, I knew him and thought greatly of him. He said, “I would be glad to come if you could get me transferred.” Then I started working on the Chief’s Office and getting Nichols.
So, I had Nichols with me, and I had gotten him promoted to Lieutenant Colonel by that time. I remember that he was a PhD, even though in was in hydraulics. He had gotten most of the work in Germany under Riemann Scholarship. He wound up at the University of Iowa, I believe. I thought I needed somebody who at least had a degree beyond B.S. and made a mental note right then—I’m going to remove Nichols from Williamsport, Pennsylvania and make him my right hand man on this.
I went over to Reybold, and I said, “I’m supposed to form a new district.”
He said, “Well, let’s have your office right here in this building.”
I said, “No, I don’t want to be in Washington if I can avoid it.” He was then in the building that is now the old State Department Building at 21st and Virginia and Constitution. He insisted that I have an office there. Maybe that wasn’t that day, but within the next two or three days I made several trips back and forth. By that time I had decided that Nichols, if he wished to, would come with me. I asked him and my secretary, Virginia [J.] Olsson—
Groueff: She was with you already?
Marshall: In Syracuse. [Capt. Robert C.] Blair had been head of my administrating section. I had loaned him to Nichols over at Rome, New York and down to Williamsport, Pennsylvania. So he was Nichols’ administrative man at that time. Blair was my Chief Engineer. As soon as I got back to Syracuse, I asked first Virginia Olsson, my secretary, whom I knew I could trust, then Nichols to be my deputy, then Blair to be chief engineer, then [Charles] Vanden Bulck to be head of administration and whatnot. I had those five or six willing to come with me on sight unseen. They didn’t know where they were going or what they were up to.
Groueff: You didn’t tell them?
Marshall: I didn’t tell any of them for a few days until I had gone back to Washington, and Reybold by that time had issued orders forming a district, which they said, “What shall we call this?”
I said, “What is this S-1 committee for?”
They said, “It’s for the development of substitute materials.”
I said, “Well, let’s call it the DSM District, and that means Distinguished Service Medal.”
Somebody said, “Do you think you would ever get one?”
I said, “No, but what do you want to call it?” I said, “Well, it’s the DSM Project,” so we started out that way.
Then I had an argument with Reybold. He insisted I open up a District Headquarters right upstairs over him in the Chief’s Office, which at that time was over in the new State Department Building, which is now the old State Department Building.
I objected and I said, “I’ll have Nichols down here in Washington. I want to go to New York where I can get office space. You can’t get office space here. If you’re trying to hide something, you can hide it in New York City a lot easier than you can hide it in Washington.”
He said, “Well where will you get space?”
I said, “I’ll go to Colonel [Carroll H.] Dunn down at 225 Broadway, my boss in the North Atlantic Division, and he will give me—I know he has space there.”
It turned out he gave me two floors at 225 Broadway. Then I put Vanden Bulck to work, and we took over about eight floors.
Groueff: 225 Broadway?
Marshall: Yes. Then I put Vanden Bulck to work and he leased floor-by-floor eight or nine floors in 261 5th Avenue down here at 29th Street. Wait a minute 90 Church Street is where Dunn was at the time, not 225 Broadway. It was the Federal Building, 90 Church Street. He had part of his office there and part at either 270 Broadway—I was in 225 Broadway later on after I retired from the Army. Anyhow, I had some temporary space in Colonel Dunn’s office.
The next man I picked was a man named [Paul E.] O’Meara, who was a Portland cement salesman who had been in the National Guard as a sergeant and wanted to get in the Army and wondered if I could get him commissioned. I thought he would make an ideal Mayor of this town that we were going to form somewhere, so I got O’Meara commissioned a First Lieutenant overnight, and I sent him up here to a tailor in New York to get some uniforms and then he and Vanden Bulck worked on getting a space in New York. I stalled off having very many people in Washington. Colonel Nichols had four or five rooms very close to General Reybold’s office, and [Allan C.] Al Johnson—we had gotten him somewhere. I think Groves had gotten into the project by that time, in a way.
We began to form the nucleus of it. They said, “What are you going to call this district? The DSM District?”
I said, “Well, that’s kind of stupid. Why not call it the Manhattan District? I’m in Manhattan.” So that was the Manhattan District.
One day O’Meara came in and he said, “If we’re going to open up a town down there, I’ve got to have a name for it.” He said, “Stone & Webster is in Knoxville—” (chronologically I’m getting a little ahead of myself).
He said, “We’re going out there on the Clinch River, we’ve got to have a name for that town.” Well, we called it the Clinton Engineer Works to disguise it like the “Such and Such Ordnance Works”—Badger Ordnance Works and Twin Cities Ordnance Works and things like that. So we called it the Clinton Engineer Works.
O’Meara came back and said, “The Post Office won’t stand for that many words in the name.”
I said, “Well, we can’t call it Clinton, because there is a town Clinton.” We thought of several names, and I remember sitting in the office down here with Virginia Olsson. She sat in the same office I did, Nichols was here and Blair was here in separate rooms.
They were out at the moment, and O’Meara said, “I’ve got to have a name for this town down there for this place.”
I asked Ms. Olsson to bring me a map here, and let’s see what it looks like. So, she had a map of this area which we were about to acquire, and there were ridges and valleys which, it seemed to me since the scientists at that time wanted all four plants placed there at Oak Ridge and they told me they had to be approximately four miles apart—later I found out somebody forgot to multiply by two and they told me it had to be nine miles apart. DuPont never did want to put the X-10 reactor there—they refused absolutely. Talk about dragging out the negotiations to acquire Oak Ridge.
At the time when somebody went down there before I got in the picture, [Arthur] Holly or somebody went down and said, “Oh, it’s beautiful. Let’s buy it right now, and later on we’re going to put four plants there.” And critical mass and critical distance and everything else got in the picture.
We looked for an area, and this map I remember having seen before that had these foothills and cumberlands, and it had these valleys. I figured if you’re going to have a high explosive plant in these valleys, they would be separated from each other and in the case of an explosion they would naturally go up rather than spreading out.
So I got out this map there and I saw the principal ridge there was marked Black Oak Ridge. We had a contest in the District there and offered a $25 bond to anybody that would name the place down there. We got 94%, I think, of the several hundred replies to the contest were all Shangri-La, so I vetoed that.
O’Meara said, “I’ve got to have a name for this place today, because we can’t send mail to Knoxville anymore. We’ve got to have it separate.”
I said, “Okay, call it Black Oak Ridge.”
And he rubbed his hands, and he said, “I told you, we could not have three names in the town like that. The Post Office Department doesn’t like it.”
I said, “Well, call it Oak Ridge and get the hell out of here!” And so it was named.
Groueff: Now, as to how you got this new mission, this assignment. What was your reaction? Were you pleased, excited, delighted or disappointed?
Marshall: I was disappointed in one way, because it didn’t look like it meant any promotion. Not that it was terribly important, but it looked certainly definite that I would never get overseas. I had missed two or three chances to go with the Amphibious Engineers and really see some action, and I was a little disgusted with the idea of having to work with a bunch of long-haired scientists on something that I didn’t think would work.
They didn’t know it would work and when they said they could build four plants for $90,000,000, I knew they were crazy. I said immediately it would cost a lot more than that. Well, even before I left, we had encumbered two billion dollars in the fourteen months that I was with it, so my guess wasn’t too far wrong at the start. It was one of those things. I had orders, and I decided to make the best of it. I would get my top assistants from the Syracuse District. I was given carte blanche by Styer and General Reybold that I could have anybody I wanted anywhere in the country in the Army.
Groueff: What did you say before? That even Ms. Olsson knew something—
Marshall: I would dictate. I started a secret journal then and the only ones that had access to that time, in the first month or so, was Colonel Blair, the Chief Engineer, and Nichols, who was my Deputy District Engineer of the Syracuse District, and my secretary, Ms. Olsson.
Blair, Nichols and I decided since this was rather hot that the three of us would never appear in one place together, except in our own office. We never traveled in the same airplane or we never traveled on the same train, because only three people knew what we were up against there as far as the Corps of Engineers and this new district was concerned. I started keeping a secret journal, of which there was one copy made. Blair was to keep one, Nichols was to keep one, all using Ms. Olsson as the secretary, because their girls were perfectly alright, but they hadn’t been cleared by me.
Groueff: Ms. Olsson was completely reliable?
Marshall: I felt so, although we had no clearance in those days as we had later on. I would dictate my notes for the journal and certain letters, and wherever it came to mentioning atomic fission or where it came to mentioning uranium or U-235 or 20,000 tons of TNT, I would dictate a blank and later fill it in with pen and ink until I was reasonably sure that she wouldn’t be frightened of the thing, or she wouldn’t think that I had completely gone crazy. It didn’t take many days until I realized that she knew the score, that she could be trusted.
In practically no time, not only Ms. Olsson, but the girl that worked for Nichols who is still down in the Atomic Energy Commission—her name is Ms. Phillips—and the girl that worked for Blair, she is no longer working for the government.
But then we had another girl, Mrs. Brackett, who then got in on the section we call raw materials—finding uranium and where it all was and so forth and so on. I found a fellow by the name of [Capt. Phillip L.] Dr. Merritt, who was a geologist who had lived in Africa and was a metallurgist of sorts who was then working for [inaudible]. I got him commissioned as captain of the Corps of Engineers and sent him to Africa to open up the mines down there, sent him up the Great Bear Lake country and the Great Slave Lake country in civilian clothes. Although later on, he was a major and we had big problems getting him to Egypt and other places where he had to wear a uniform.
We gradually moved out, and when we went to this raw materials section, that was the hottest because we had to talk about uranium. We called it all sorts of things but ‘uranium.’ We called it Tuballoy at one time in there, what was supposed to be an alloy for gun tubes. I remember Tuballoy was one word we used. We had different names for even the basic chemical elements. When we were in Chicago, we would call certain things one thing, when we were in Boston we’d call them something else, when we were in Berkeley we’d call them something else. I forget whether this was Groves’ idea or whose it was.
Anyhow, certain places we could only go in civilian clothes, and certain places we had to wear a uniform. Groves and I used to change sometimes on the train, sometimes on a plane. We met people who knew us very well, fellow officers seeing us in civilian clothes. Nobody was supposed to wear civilian clothes. After [Hymer L.] Dr. Friedell and two or three others got picked up by MPs on trains, you had to show either a draft card or officer’s ID card, and if they were an officer in civilian clothes, they could be arrested by the MPs. We finally gave them a letter—
Groueff: Some people were arrested? Some officers?
Marshall: Oh, some people were stopped on trains.
Groueff: Friedell, who was he?
Marshall: Dr. Friedell was a major at that time. He was an MD and a physicist. He was a PhD.
Groueff: In your district?
Marshall: We got him as a major in the Manhattan District. We commissioned a lot of people.
Groueff: And the MPs picked him up?
Marshall: They picked him up, and I got picked up in Jacksonville, Florida. I went down to Ocala to see how they built houses. Somervell had built houses there for that Florida Ship Canal, and I was in civilian clothes. I was stopped by an MP in the railroad station in Jacksonville, as I remember it, and I was flattered when he asked me for my draft card.
I said, “I’m too old for a draft card, but here is my ID card,” I said I was a colonel in the Army. I got a big growl out of him and he wanted to take me in, but I talked him out of it. So we had problems that way.
Very few people—Vanden Bulck, for a year or more, had no idea what we were up to. Whenever we would see playful little cartoons on the bulletin boards down at 261 5th Avenue about what is the Manhattan District working on and so forth and so on, we had to censor those. I had an old Army Sergeant by the name of Dempsey that I put in charge of our security force. He went around to every desk at night, and if it wasn’t locked, he called up the person belonging to that desk. If they were home, he made them come down and lock it. If there were any papers on the desk, he would confiscate them and turn them in the next day.
Groueff: That was when you worked here already?
Marshall: Right here. We didn’t trust the FBI or anybody else. We formed our own security force and had our own guards. We found our own way of clearing. I had a young man within two-three years of West Point who resigned up there or something, so I got him commissioned. I had known him as a civilian employee. We developed our own internal security. We just didn’t rely on the FBI or anybody else. The questions of reading people’s mail and listening in on their telephone conversations and monitoring this, that and the other. Long story on what we did in Santa Fe to take care of the assignments out there in Los Alamos. It all developed. To get back to how Groves got in the picture—
Groueff: I wanted to ask you one question before. Did you learn later why you were picked up and who chose you? Was it Somervell and Styer that selected you?
Marshall: It was one or the other who apparently wanted an officer of the Corps of Engineers who had been or was a District Engineer, who had charge of sizable construction projects in the field. At that moment, I was building a hospital, medical depot, two holding and re-consignment points about $15,000,000 each.
Groueff: So you were used to big money and spending and labor force?
Marshall: Yes, we did all of our work—
Groueff: Because an Army officer wouldn’t have experience in spending money?
Marshall: Well, some Corps of Engineer offices would by that time.
Groueff: I mean outside of the Corps of Engineers.
Marshall: Some Ordnance and some Signal Corps and some Chemical Warfare people had.
Groueff: But not the regular—
Marshall: But the Corps of Engineers, by that time, had taken over all military construction activities from the Quartermaster Corps. We were ordered to do that two or three weeks before Pearl Harbor on December 7, ’41, and December 15th, which happened to be after Pearl Harbor, was the deadline. I took over many millions of dollars’ worth of projects upstate being constructed for other branches of the service.
Groueff: So they wanted a man with experience in construction and also a reliable officer, Corps of Engineers. Did they know you personally, Somervell and Styer?
Marshall: Somervell knew me because he had asked for me to go to Ocala, Florida with that Florida Ship Canal when General [Philip B.] Fleming—they were all lieutenant colonels or majors at the time—Fleming took the Passamaquoddy Canal, Somervell took the Florida Ship Canal, Larkin, who retired as a three-star general, took the Fort Peck Dam.
I was in charge of research and development for the Corps of Engineers at Fort Belvoir. I remember at a cocktail party back in 1935, the WPA [Works Progress Administration] days before Somervell ever came to New York to head up WPA here, at a cocktail party I happened to mention to somebody, “I hear that so and so Somervell has asked for me to go to Ocala.”
Somebody said, “Yes, he is taking—” and listed a lot of my contemporaries, who were pretty well known, and either Passamaquoddy, Florida Ship Canal, Fort Peck, and one or two others—they were the main three that were going to be the big jobs to lick the Depression.
I said, “Well, I would starve to death before I worked for that SOB,” and he was about three feet away from me. My wife poked me, and I said, “Uh oh, well that’s that.”
The next morning, I was told from my chief, I was called up and he said, “What did you do to Somervell?”
I said, “I don’t know. Tell me what happened.”
He said, “Well, he came in here and said, ‘Scratch that guy Marshall’s name off the list to go to Ocala. I don’t want him.’”
Groueff: He heard you?
Marshall: Yes, that was 1935. It happened that I then went to Albany, New York and had charge of a $27,000,000 for deepening the New York State Barge Canal from Troy to Oswego, some 185 miles. The Passamaquoddy project folded up after spending about $9,000,000, the Florida Ship Canal folded up after spending over $5,000,000. The Fort Peck Dam was completed.
But the job I happened to draw—I was only a Captain in New York—was completed. Although I hated to leave the research and development work—we were on some top secret, infrared airplane detection at the time. Groves and I were working on that in ’35, and a secret project in those days was unusual. Of course, infrared detection of aircraft pooped out when we found out that they went a little faster than 100 MPH. In those days, we could catch the slow ones. Then we heard about radar, and so we dropped the whole thing. Groves and I had worked on that and we worked on the metal mirrors for searchlights to replace glass mirrors, rhodium plated things—
Groueff: He told me that is how he knew about Bart’s people.
Marshall: Blasius Bart, yeah, Groves and I spent a good many hours over here in Newark with him. I don’t know whether Somervell remembered any of that or not, but maybe they were hard up for people, and I did have a district—
Groueff: He was a tough man with a reputation of sort of a doer, a very dynamic man?
Marshall: That’s right, but Somervell didn’t hold any grudges. For instance, after I retired in 1951, I got a telephone call in Syracuse one day. My girl says, “This is somebody from Pittsburgh. He says his name is Somervell.”
Well, Somervell always answered the phone himself and picked it up, and I got on the phone and said, “Who is this?”
“This is Bill Somervell, what’s the matter with you?”
I said, “What’s the matter with you? What do you want?”
He said, “I’ve got a job for you.”
I said, “I don’t need a job.”
He said, “This is something special.” He was then President of Koppers Company – this was 1951.
I said, “What is it?”
He said, “Do you know where Joe Mahaffey is?”
I said, “Yes, General Mahaffey. He is in some godforsaken place in Turkey,” and he has been there two years.
He said, “Well, I want you to go over.”
I said, “Well, I thought that was a four year job. What happened to Mahaffey?”
He said, “He got fed up with the damned place.”
I said, “So I should go?”
Well, we talked about it, and he said, “Come on to Pittsburgh tomorrow. This is a good idea and you’ll like it.” I got in the plane or train or something and I went to Pittsburgh, and he said that Mahaffey at that moment was sixty-two years old and a bachelor, and at that moment I was about fifty-one, I guess, and married with children, grown and married.
I said, “How in the world did you happen to pick me to go to Turkey to relieve Mahaffey?”
He said, “Well, I’ll tell you what I did. I got out the list of retired officers of the Corps of Engineers and was looking for somebody in there that I knew.”
I said, “You went all the way down to “M” before you found anybody you knew?”
He said, “Well, anyhow, I want you to go.”
I said, “I’ll think about it.” I went downstairs and sent a cablegram to Mahaffey, and I said, “Please airmail soon all reasons, repeat all, why I should not, repeat not, relieve you in Turkey.” I told Somervell I would let him know as soon as I heard from Mahaffey. Well, Mahaffey had seven people with him—one Englishman and the rest American.
Groueff: It’s alright. At the time of the project, you knew him only—
Marshall: I had met him. I was in the Chief of Engineers office. I succeeded General [Lucius D.] Clay there when we were captains. It was a rather interesting job in the office of the Chief of Engineers in what we called the River and Harbor Section. I had been pulled off the barge canal job by that time, and Somervell had been taken off the Florida job to come up here and relieve Hugh Johnson in New York. That is when Somervell got in a big row with [Robert] Moses and the others. Somervell was in and out of the chief’s office when he was lieutenant colonel and I was Captain.
Groueff: He was quite a controversial figure during the New York—
Marshall: For instance, they had a sit down strike up here at 70 Columbus Avenue in a building that the government had rented. It lasted one day, because Somervell put padlocks on all the toilets and that was end of the strike. That is the kind of fellow he was. I didn’t know him, but he and Styer, and one or the other men, maybe Clay. Clay was a classmate of mine, and we had known each other. I had relieved him in Washington, he had relieved me in Panama, I had relieve him as instructor at West Point.
Groueff: That was General Lucius Clay?
Marshall: Lucius Clay. Our trails had crossed a lot and we were good friends.
Groueff: Probably he suggested also.
Marshall: Either Clay or Styer. Clay knew me better than any of them. Styer didn’t know me hardly at all. Somervell knew me from his contacts when he was here in New York and he needed money, and officers from the Corps of Engineers—he had to more or less deal with me when he couldn’t find of the two Generals there. But Somervell knew me even though—
Groueff: He didn’t keep a grudge for what you said at the cocktail party?
Marshall: Well he took me off the Ocala list the very next morning. Then he hired me to go to Turkey many years later. I think Clay may have suggested my name, Styer said, “Well, I know the guy” and took it to Somervell for approval. Here is a guy that is available, and Somervell made the decision, I am sure, to take me away from Syracuse and bring me to Washington.
Groueff: And Groves, you knew him well? Now, from what I understand from Groves and from the book, all those months until September, he was not part of the project but he was asked to help without being told too much?
Marshall: It’s a long story, but I’ll try to be brief. He got in on it very soon. The first three, four, five days, or a week, Groves was a Colonel in the chief’s office, had been recommended for promotion to brigadier general. He was at loose ends because Colonel Farrell—later General Thomas Farrell—was brought in to be assistant to General [Thomas M.] Robbins, who was in charge of construction under Reybold.
Styer was Major General, I was Colonel, and they formed what they called the Coordinating Committee within a very few—first Styer said to me, “Groves hasn’t got much to do now. He is going to handle some of this liaison. You go ahead up to New York, form the district up there and leave Nichols down here, and we’ll use Groves here as liaison between Bush and OSRD and Somervell and Mr. Stimson and Mr. Wallace and whoever else is necessary.”
I said, “How much am I allowed to tell Reybold, the Chief of Engineers?”
They said, “Tell him nothing. Just get the money from him.”
I got all that money from his fund. He had about an eight billion dollar construction fund, and in those days it was not line item. It was lump sum that the Chief of Engineers spent for military construction. He had to account for it later on as to where it went. He was told to give me any amount—hundreds of millions—and eventually he transferred out of that construction fund, in a period of about fourteen months, almost two billion dollars to obligate to DuPont for the plant out in Washington and the gaseous diffusion plant.
For instance, we could not use TVA power—that’s another long story—because it was unreliable. We transferred $185,000,000 for a plant that was ready to be built in Chicago down there and used it there. The TVA power could be interrupted by lightening or for various other reasons, and they said more than a few seconds it would ruin the whole gaseous diffusion plant and so forth.
It was decided that we could keep it by using variable frequency. In other words, instead of sixty cycles, vary it down to fifteen cycles, and you could keep all these pumps turning so the barriers wouldn’t fluctuate. We built an entire new plant on Clinch River.
Groueff: We’ll come to the Oak Ridge, but I need you to continue now on the beginning.
Marshall: You can see I get ahead of myself.
Groueff: Oh, but it’s terribly interesting, and I need all the detail. We started about in the beginning how Groves got involved.
Marshall: In a matter of days—maybe a week or two—I was told by Styer that Groves would handle the end down here and do whatever is necessary. He was a colonel. I was colonel, and I knew he was going to be a Brigadier General pretty soon. He was the liaison. There were no written orders. I had written orders designating me District Engineer of the Manhattan District to report directly to the chief of engineers. That was the written orders, and the secret orders or verbal orders was to do whatever this S-1 committee—get the money for them, and see where we are going to build these plants and so forth.
They decided to have a policy committee or coordinating committee, I forget which, and Dr. Conant was to be on it and Dr. Briggs was to be on it, there was an Admiral in the Navy—
Groueff: [William R.] Purnell?
Marshall: That sounds familiar. They had Styer on it and maybe one or two others, but there were only six or seven on that policy committee or coordinating committee. Styer said, “Well, I can’t serve on this. I have too many other things to do.” He was a two-star general, and he had a two-star admiral on.
Vannevar Bush told me, “You’ve got enough to do up in New York. I’ve got to get somebody to serve on this policy committee, and he has to be a general also.”
I more or less said, “You can always make me a BG or something, and I’d be glad to serve on it.”
Later on, Groves got Nichols jumped from colonel to major general to take over the special weapons project so it could be done, but it was more or less a facetious remark there. A day or so later Groves was made a BG, and Styer thought this was a grand chance for him to get off of that policy committee and move to other things.
Groueff: That was in September?
Marshall: Maybe it was September.
Groueff: I think it was September, but at the beginning, after you were assigned in June, July and August, what did you tell Groves? Not very much?
Marshall: It wasn’t but a matter of days until I was told by Styer or Somervell, I forget which, that Groves is going to be in on this from this end down here. “We’re going to give him an office over there next to Reybold in the Chief of Engineers’ and he will be your Washington contact.”
I said, “Is Groves my boss?”
They said, “No, you’re District Engineer. You are running the job.”
I said, “Okay, I get along with Groves alright. I just want to know what the status is. Are there any written orders to this effect?”
They said, “No.” It was a matter of maybe a week. It might be less or might be two weeks, until I was told to make Groves aware of all that I knew about this but not to tell Reybold, the chief of engineers, nor Robins, the deputy chief.
Immediately, I got Nichols, because he had a PhD and because he is a very personable chap, to accompany me practically every time I went over to these S-1 committees or went over to deal with Bush.
I told him right way, “You can’t build four plants for $90,000,000. I don’t care what they are. This is big money, billions or more.”
He said, “The money is your problem. We’ll have the scientific knowhow.”
I said, “These damned things won’t work. You can’t take that little cyclotron there at Berkley and immediately expand it I don’t know how many thousands of times as far as capacity is concerned and expect it to work.”
I had been talking to Tennessee Eastman and a lot of other people and I had talked to DuPont about this reactor business, and I said, “Westinghouse thinks maybe the centrifuge plant will work, but nobody knows. Gaseous diffusion—who knows something about that?”
He said, “Dobie [Percival] Keith knows something about that.”
I said, “Who the hell is Dobie Keith?”
“Well, he works for M.W. Kellogg.” Kellogg is a big piping expert.
So gradually, Nichols and I together got the word across to Vannevar Bush and Conant and all of the Nobel Prize people over there on these committees that this was a big engineering job and that you could not take test tube experiments and these milli/microsecond things in minute quantities that [Harold] Urey and John Dunning and these people had been playing with up at Cornell. Nobody had any U-235. They thought they had a little piece.
They said, “Well, we’re going to set up a reactor out here in this stadium or something.”
Groueff: Stagg Field.
Marshall: I said, “Well okay. What do you need?”
“Well, we need so much graphite.”
Well, the kind of graphite they needed wasn’t readily available. Groves in Washington could go to Donald Nelson—as it says in the book there somewhere, I happened to see that—and get priority, but the District Engineer of the Manhattan District, which happened to be me at the moment, had the power to give airplane priorities and get people on the airplane. We couldn’t get a Priority-1—that was White House—but we could issue in our own name Priority-2 and get people on an airplane anytime and bump somebody else. I could, in effect, sign orders getting material from Mr. Donald Nelson.
Well, Lucius Clay at this time, who had a lot to do with materials, he didn’t think this would work. I went to see him and tried to plead with him, and having known him since 1915 and being good friends, “I have a job to do. I have to get this material.”
He said, “We need it for tin cans for K rations, and God knows what all.” He said, “I don’t think this thing is going to work.”
I said, “Well, the scientists do. I have to build it whether it works or not.”
He said, “Well, you won’t get the materials except over my dead body,” or words to that effect.
I said, “Well, who is your boss?”
He said, “Somervell.”
I said, “Well, let’s go talk to him. We can’t build these things if we don’t get the materials.”
Things like that went on, and Groves got in on all of that down in Washington without me having to mess around with it. I went with Groves out to Los Alamos to buy that school out there, and I went out to Hanford, and at Oak Ridge—
Groueff: You were the first one to go to Oak Ridge in the selection of the site with Nichols?
Marshall: I went with Groves. Groves and I went down there together first. I can pinpoint the date by looking at this. It was in early July. Arthur Holly Compton and some other had been there before—
Groueff: You were with Nichols, from what I understand from Nichols and the book.
Marshall: Well, Nichols kept one of these, and at Oak Ridge there is undoubtedly the files—
Groueff: The files say that you went with Nichols, and I have the names. Nichols also confirmed that.
Marshall: I was in Washington again on the 25th of June, the 26th of June, new district, new district. Then I was in Washington again on the 29th of June and the 30th of June. I don’t see Groves’ name mentioned in there anywhere. Now we come to Wednesday, July 1, Knoxville, Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee. Friday the 3rd—a.m.
Groueff: I think that is when you went to the site with Nichols.
Marshall: I had down there that I remembered Colonel Blair and Nichols. That was before we decided we would never all be together. We had so much stuff that we wanted to write down, I remember getting on the telephone and asking Virginia Olsson, who had never been on an airplane before, “Get in an airplane, use the priority and bump anyone you have to, and get down here right away so you can take dictation for the next three days.”
Groueff: And she came down?
Marshall: Yeah. She bumped some woman with two children in her arms off the plane, and she was very sad about that as I remember. I think this was the time when she came down there. I called Groves on Monday the 6th of July from Syracuse. It had to do with my successor, Colonel [inaudible] a classmate of Colonel Groves. Then on Monday the 6th it says I called Vanden Bulck at Williamsport – that is where Nichols was: “Status of office space in New York, new district and district engineer for Syracuse.” I went to New York for that purpose.
“Dr. Stewart, Washington, meeting Thursday.”
“Colonel Nichols, meeting Thursday.”
These were telephone calls.
“General Styer, unable to attend Thursday meeting.”
Groueff: It definitely shows in your journal that the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd of July, you were in Knoxville, Tennessee, so that must be right.
Marshall: I left there in the evening, and I got to Syracuse—we came back on a train, I remember. It was a holiday here, the 5th of July, Sunday.
Groueff: I have some details of that trip from Colonel Nichols.
Marshall: I went down there with Groves. He was a BG at the time. Let’s see if I can find that. Here you see Gus Klein was still in Webster. I met him in New York to see if they would take the contract. Groves said, “Why don’t you hire Stone & Webster because they are—”
Groueff: When was that? The Stone & Webster client?
Marshall: I telephoned him on the 25th of July in New York. I was in New York. This shows I was in New York. Let’s see, Colonel Nichols. We talked about getting Fog, who headed up the security. Syracuse, Syracuse, Washington DC.
Groueff: But Groves took the job only in September?
Marshall: Here was the 4th of August. Nichols and I went to Boston to the head office of Stone & Webster. Let’s see what happened here. I called him. “Meeting in Boston on Thursday.”
Groueff: So the 4th and 5th of August ’42, you went to Boston to see Stone & Webster?
Marshall: No, no. Wait a minute. We intended to. This is a telephone call about it. Let’s see when I went there. I was supposed to have been there Thursday. That would have been the 6th of August, but it shows here I was in Syracuse. So maybe I didn’t go to Boston then.
Groueff: By telephone?
Marshall: Yeah. Here I went to St. Louis to steal [John R. Ruhoff, 1908-1973] Dr. Ruhoff.
Groueff: The 13th of August.
Marshall: I met him in the hotel out there. I remember he was a first lieutenant in the Ordnance for Chemical Warfare. He worked for Mallinckrodt, and I had been told by Arthur Holly Compton that this man knew more about uranium hexafluoride than anybody in the world, and to get Ruhoff. Well, he has a Russian name. I first had to find out if he had been cleared by anybody and so forth and so on. [Ernest O.] Lawrence, Arthur Holly Compton, Urey, and others had done a lot of talking amongst themselves, and everybody knew what the Manhattan District was doing mainly because these scientists were talking rather openly in those days.
Groves was the one, I think, to put the fear of God in them to quit talking. I remember in Chicago we sat around the table in a room in the hotel and had ten of these people—Nobel Prize winners, which impresses me, naturally—and Groves and I would always walk around the room when we’d go out for lunch or when we’d leave to see how many briefcases were left behind. Invariably, there would be one or two there with all the secret data that these long-hairs had left there. We had a lot of fun with it, and eventually they quit talking a bit.
Ruhoff—I went to St. Louis for the main purpose of kidnapping him and getting him in the Manhattan District. Colonel Nichols had talked to him about—
Groueff: I understand that Ruhoff wanted to go and do some fighting, according to this book.
Marshall: He wanted to be anywhere. He was already in uniform. He had gone to Johns Hopkins. He had been in ROTC. I believe he was a lieutenant of field artillery, or something like that. He was assigned, or was about to be assigned, to some project. Arthur Holly Compton knew that he knew a lot about the metal hydrides outfit up in Boston, so they said, “Get Ruhoff no matter what you have to do.” I met him clandestinely in his hotel in St. Louis. That is what this meeting was. We eventually got him. Do you know Bronxville up here at all?
Groueff: Very little.
Marshall: In those days it was a very segregated community. A person with a Jewish name or any Jewish background just couldn’t rent an apartment in Bronxville. Crenshaw had an apartment there, and I arranged for him to sublet it to Ruhoff. Ruhoff was quite a gentleman and all that, and I had an awful time keeping him in Bronxville, but he stayed right here and worked out of this office down here at 261 5th Avenue.
There, “Sunday the 16th of August Manhattan District established this day by GO #33 (General Order #33) of the Chief’s Office.” The 16th of August was the day that I got something in writing.
Groueff: That was the official beginning of the District?
Marshall: In writing. I had it from the 18th of June informally.
Groueff: Two months practically.
Marshall: That’s right. The order was dated then, although I had drafted the order myself some time before. Mr. [John R.] Lotz, the President of Stone & Webster, telephoned about some International Joint Commission. He was a friend I knew. That was Trail up in British Columbia. We had to get in on that.
“Confer with Blair and Lotz in Lotz’ office. Mr. Branch, Stone & Webster.”
Let’s see. Syracuse. I went up to Pine Camp.
“Dr. [Eger] Murphree appointment. Conference with Nichols and Murphree in Murphree’s office.” I was in New York, you see.
“Mr. Whitsun, Stone & Webster.”
“Cornell with the lawyer.”
“Captain Johnson advised and changed the Wednesday meeting.”
“Captain Johnson telephoned and advised, Styer changing time of meeting.”
“Captain Ruhoff, Mr. Branch.”
Groueff: You lived here in Bronxville?
Marshall: I lived in Bronxville, and when I had the office down here at 261 5th Avenue—
Groueff: Did you wear a uniform all the time going to the office?
Marshall: We wore a uniform here, but whenever I went to visit Union Carbide or Kellogg Company or Ingersoll Rand, went to Anaconda trying to get Anaconda to build barriers, and Ingersoll Rand to build pumps. They said, “You can’t make a pump like that with open pieces.”
So we wore civilian clothes part of the day or certain days, and we wore a uniform at other times. All of the officers in the district, unless they were accompanying Blair, Groves, Nichols or myself on one of these meetings with Carbide people or Stone & Webster people or Eastman Kodak people or Tennessee Eastman people—we switched around half the time wearing uniform. Generally, I wore a uniform from my home down to the office here on the train. I was just another Colonel in the Corps of Engineers.
Marshall: Expanding a little bit on how we tried to keep things secret by calling Tuballoy, for instance. In civilian clothes, I’ve driven around Oak Ridge, Tennessee after we started operations there in July or August of ’43, and we would ask people in [inaudible] and I’d ask them, “What’s going on over here near Clinton?”
“Well, I hear tell that they have found a new mine over there, that they’ve got a good grade of ore. I hear they are making some new kind of gun barrels.”
We would go somewhere, “What are they doing?” We circulated our people and several of our officers to ask whether nobody knew what was going on there, and we kept everything secret without recourse to the FBI or anybody else. We had our own internal security. Now your question.
Groueff: My question was could you tell me now what exactly happened? To start with this contrast that you found between what the scientists expected, or represented as being ready, and you as engineers, and more practical people, realized that they were far from being ready for industrial production. Now, is that the reason that you disagreed with them about the immediate acquisition of the site, and Bush and the others were very impatient and they said, “This Colonel Marshall just doesn’t want to acquire it immediately,” and that was the conflict?
Marshall: I never had any conflict as such. I never had any impression that they were dissatisfied with the fact that Groves or Nichols or I or whoever might have in their mind assumed to be in charge of this business was going too slowly, but from the time I read the June letter to the president mentioning building four production plants for a process which was so outlandish as atomic fission for nienty million dollars, I was suspicious.
I’d never had any complex against scientists. I had worked with a few of them, and just because a person has PhD or a Nobel Prize didn’t mean that, in my mind, he was entirely impractical and didn’t have any ideas about what to do. Ernest Lawrence, [Harold] Urey, Arthur Compton, [James] Conant, and all the rest of them, I had formed my own private opinion as to what they knew about when it came to translating into so-called brick-and-mortar, concrete and steel, pumps and machinery, these test tube ideas or these theoretical ideas.
Even December 2nd, the first sustained atomic chain reaction was on such a miniscule scale that it didn’t encourage me much. When they made it, nobody made it very clear, and I don’t think there is anything in writing that they wanted immediately—say, in June, July or August—to acquire Oak Ridge, because Murphree and some others had the idea that that was the most isolated site near a good source of power.
Well, it turned out the power was unreliable, and we couldn’t use TVA power. They thought we could. We had to go build a whole new plant there that we could have variable frequency and have our own power. Then when DuPont said, “We’ll never put a plant here because it’s too dangerous.” They had a contract for which they were being paid only one dollar as a fee, plus their actual expenses.
The size of the area required, how far apart the plants had to be, there was great dissention amongst Urey, [Enrico] Fermi, [John] Dunning, Murphree, [Lyman] Briggs, Conant, the whole bunch of them. Each one had a different idea. I was the guy who was going to have to have charge of building this, and I was waiting—
Groueff: Spending the money.
Marshall: Well, the money didn’t bother me. There was plenty of money, and I spent a lot of money before. I was told I had a free hand no matter what the rules say, just don’t violate any laws if you can avoid it because this eventually will get investigated and Congress will have a lot of fun. Jack Madigan told Secretary of War Patterson when he was sent there later on to investigate it, he came back and he says, “Well this is easy. If it works, Congress won’t have anything to say. If it doesn’t work, they’ll investigate it from Hell to eternity, so quit worrying about it.”
I wasn’t worried about the money, but I didn’t see any sense of building big monuments there that weren’t going to produce anything. After talking to DuPont and talking about concrete walls fifteen or sixteen feet thick and the size of these plants and 5,000-6,000 barriers in the initial gaseous diffusion plant and pumps when Ingersoll Rand said that you couldn’t build such a pump—well, we built a plant out in West Allis, Minnesota, a factory that had building parts that weren’t even designed. Bill McKee said, “I’ll design the pumps.”
We tried to get Anaconda interested in the barriers. They said, “No, we’re too busy.” Well, all the Anaconda people were seventy; of course I’m sixty-eight now, I shouldn’t talk too much. They said, “We just can’t touch it. We’re overloaded. Three of our top men have had heart attacks recently.”
Dobie Keith said, “Well, I’ll find somebody.”
They said, “We’re copper people.”
He says, “I want a nickel barrier.”
“Can’t tell you, but I want nickel, and it has to have certain characteristics.”
So we went to an outfit, I forget where—Houdaille-Hershey—and then we kept going to people who wouldn’t give us a no. For instance, we wanted Dr. Stafford Warren. I remember Groves and I went up to the University of Rochester. A fellow named Valentine was President, and we said, “We want Dr. Warren.”
The idea was—it was Groves’ idea—we wanted somebody who was an outstanding radiation expert in the country, a radiologist, an MD, because in WWI, the girls who painted the radio dials in Washington died. I remember sitting there with Mr. Valentine, and there was a doctor there. I think his name was—he had won a Nobel Prize for doing something. He was Dean of Medicine at the University of Rochester. Dr. Stafford Warren came in, he had done a lot of work on high temperature fever therapy for curing syphilis, I remember.
Dr. Chapman, who was executive vice president of Eastman Kodak, Groves and I went over and told him we wanted Stafford Warren. He said, “Well, you can’t have him.”
We said, “We’ve got to have him, we have a project,” and Chapman and Eastman Kodak of course were pretty intimately connected to the University of Rochester.
They knew why we needed to talk to Warren. So I remember Dr. Valentine, who was President of the University, said, “I’ve got to have some authentication.”
Groves or I spoke up and said, “Well you know, Dr. Conant? Call him and see if this is on the level.”
He said, “Well who else do you know?”
We named all the people that could vouch for this, Vannevar Bush and all. Finally I spoke up. I said, “Call the Great White Father and see what he says.”
Valentine said, “Okay, you win.”
So the next day, Groves arranged it in Washington, we commissioned Stafford Warren colonel of the Medical Corps without telling the Surgeon General about it. Colonel Nichols showed him how to salute, how to wear his uniform, how to wear his insignia, sent him down to Oak Ridge, and he worked out very nicely.
But, the scientists just said, “Go ahead and acquire this and start building a plant.” Well, some of us—Groves, Nichols, and myself, Colonel Blair, who was my chief engineer in the Syracuse District, and later in the Manhattan District, and later in charge at Oak Ridge when we first started construction there—we all knew, as well as Stone & Webster and Kellogg Company and Union Carbide, they had a bunch of scientists working on this, that you can’t translate theory into full-scale production, even in wartime.
Of course, Clay wasn’t going to give us the materials at one time there. We got that overruled. Nelson, I think Groves worked that—he wrote a letter to himself from Nelson, and got Nelson to sign it. I forget how that happened. Just like they said, we can’t have copper to build the magnets in the Y-12 Plant. I heard from somebody that you could use silver.
So, I remember calling up on the phone to Gus Klein at Stone & Webster. I said, “Will you compare, over the phone, the conductive qualities of pure silver and pure copper and disregard the cost? What is the resistance, the electrical properties, and the thermal properties?”
He said, “What are you getting up to?”
I said, “You’ve heard of a certain plant that’s going to need some magnets?”
He said, “Yes,” and we talked gobbly-goop there, but I wanted to know the cross-section.
He said, as I recall, “It’s something like three quarters of an inch by four inches wire.”
I said, “You call that wire?”
He said, “Yes.”
I said, “I call it a ribbon or a band.”
He said, “Well, whatever it is, that’s what it is.”
I said, “Okay, that’s all I wanted.” Then I could figure out with all the stages and all the magnets needed in that Y-12 Plant how many miles of wire, copper wire, could be a slightly smaller size than the silver.
So I then said to somebody, “Well, we’re not going to use copper. Where can we get silver?”
This Al Johnson or somebody said, “Well how about getting all this stuff form Mr. Morgenthau? He’s got 250 million dollars’ worth or I don’t know how many hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of silver up there at West Point.” So I sent Johnson over to Morgenthau to seize that treasure.
Groueff: You sent Nichols?
No, I sent Johnson, Al Johnson. He was Captain at the time. Last I heard, he had charge of the plant at Arco, Idaho, somewhere in Idaho, atomic energy plant. Well anyhow, it was arranged that we would get, as I recall it, about 245 million dollars’ worth of silver out of the vaults at West Point and have that converted from the form it was in then – pigs, I guess you would call it, looks like gold – to a plant down here in Newark.
We had this fellow Tim O’Meara, who later became Mayor of Oak Ridge, and from there we had to account of course for every grain of this silver. We had it drawn into continuous bands of wires or ribbons to the proper size, and from somewhere in New Jersey here we shipped it to Allis Chalmers outside of Milwaukee. They there wound it on the magnets, and those magnets were big enough to require two long freight cars, and they were shipped to Oak Ridge.
Well, that was a major operation in itself. Early in the game, some of us, many of us, began to realize that Ernest Lawrence’s little 36-inch cyclotron—and he was building a 60-inch cyclotron—and he didn’t even have that working out in Berkeley. He wanted I forget how many hundreds of those to be built and be put into operation down in Oak Ridge.
That’s why some of said, “Well, maybe we don’t want to build all this stuff at Oak Ridge, maybe we better get out on the Columbia River where there’s a lot of cooling water. We’ve got all the cooling water you’re going to get out of the Clinch River that’s going to be needed for this power plant we’ve got to build here. If this reactor method needs a lot of cooling water, you’ll never build it here.” So that reinforced DuPont’s absolute refusal to build it at Oak Ridge.
Then we started looking. Groves and I went out Hanford, Washington, Richland out there to look at that country. It was plenty godforsaken, and we figured as long as we could get the water, and DuPont had assured us that we would not raise the temperature of the Columbia River at that point sufficiently to destroy the fish, the salmon, or whatever it was.
By that time, Oppenheimer had been recommended by Lawrence as the man to do certain things. We then looked for a remote site for Los Alamos. Now in Spanish, that means “the elms.” Now the way we heard about that was Dobie Keith—I think I’ve got this right—his son had gone to school there, and Dobie Keith says, “Well if you’re looking for a place that’s where nobody will bother you, go look at that school they call Los Alamos. You go to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and you go up there.”
Well, it was on a mesa quite high, about 8,000 feet high, several thousand feet higher than Santa Fe. Groves and I—I forget which—decided to buy it. We bought the whole school, the horses, the canoes, the skis, the tennis ranges, everything. All because—was it Dobie Keith or Murphree? It was Dobie Keith who had a son that went there.
So we got that and then we set up a little monitoring operation in Santa Fe so we could keep track of these guys. We gave them C-ration cards for gasoline instead of A so they wouldn’t be tempted to run around too much. We built a road up there. We had to build a big enough road to get an old second-hand generator we’d gotten somewhere to produce electricity for this thing. But, we discouraged people using their automobiles.
At that time, Oppenheimer—Groves wanted him commissioned a lieutenant colonel in the Corps of Engineers, and I objected for various reasons. As a civilian on the recommendation of Ernest Lawrence and various others, Oppenheimer was put in charge of the Los Alamos Laboratory, and I borrowed an officer from the Syracuse District, a Major Dudley on loan, to go out and get that started. Then I borrowed another officer and got him assigned to become permanent, and we got going at Los Alamos.
We had Oppenheimer’s complete file from the FBI and all, of course, his acquaintances back in there. He was a physical wreck, he had only one lung and TB, and Groves insisted on getting him commissioned. I said with that file, I just wouldn’t stand for it. So we argued a while, and finally Groves had him examined physically and thought the guy was going to die almost any minute, so that’s why he was not commissioned. So what other questions?
Groueff: About Oak Ridge, you said before we started recording that after a few months, you disliked the job, or you felt that it was too much of a strain and it needed a man with extraordinary health or—
Marshall: No, no, no, no, I never felt that way, and I didn’t mean to give that impression. I had had several opportunities to get combat commands—that meant promotion. In other words, I could’ve had command of one of the amphibious brigades that were being formed. A total of four were formed, and it was a colonel engineer put in charge of each one, later made a BG, but I couldn’t be spared from my important work at Syracuse. I was spared for this, and I naturally was disappointed.
As the months went by and Groves began getting more and more into the picture in Washington, because he was a general officer by that time, he could take Styer’s position on the Policy Committee whereas I couldn’t. I left more and more of the Washington work to Nichols who, being a PhD and a very bright fellow and more personable than I ever was, got along with the scientists. If I thought that something couldn’t be done, I told them that it couldn’t. My language was perhaps not too polite. I’d say, “You’re crazy,” or, “You just can’t do it,” basically.
They said, “You can do anything.”
I said, “Well, I’ve got all the money you want, time we don’t have.”
Well they said, “Nichols says that if you do that—”
I said, “Okay, Nichols and I work together. He agrees with me, if you get us both sitting around a table at the same time, that certain things take certain amount of time. Ask the top men in DuPont, ask the top men in Union Carbide,” or by that time we had Mr. Keller of Chrysler in on it and various other people.
I said, “They know how long it takes to build things. Ask DuPont. Nobody’s dragging their feet here.”
Well, Groves handling more and more of that from Washington and me operating out of New York here after four or five months, I proposed to Groves that they didn’t need me—that Nichols could relieve me. I had gotten to be made a deputy district engineer over the objection of the General Staff in Washington because I got a two-page letter written by some staff officer who also said, “You cannot delegate authority. You’re responsible as the commander,” and all that stuff.
Well, now everybody’s got a deputy in the Army, and Nichols was the first deputy district in engineer in the whole outfit. But anyhow, I told Groves, I said, “Nichols could take this thing over tomorrow and let me go off to war. You said that I would never get promoted as long as you only had one star.”
He said, “Forget it.”
And I did.
It was July the 20th, I believe, when I was in the office of the governor of Tennessee trying to smooth his ruffled feathers because we wouldn’t let him into Oak Ridge. He said he is the governor of Tennessee; he can go anywhere he wanted. I said, “Well you can’t go in that place.”
I got a telephone call from Groves, I think it was the 20th of July of ’43, saying “Congratulations.”
I said, “What on?”
He said, “Well you’re going to be promoted.”
I said, “How come? You said I’d never get promoted as long as you had only one star. Congratulations to you if you’re going to get two stars.”
He said, “That’s not it. You’re going to take command of Camp 7.”
I said, “Where in the hell is that?”
He said, “That’s in North Carolina. Aren’t you pleased?”
I said, “Am I getting fired?”
He said, “No, you told me months ago you wanted to be relieved, that you didn’t think they needed both you and I, and that Nichols could take over.”
I said, “Well fine.” I had forgotten all about that at that time. I didn’t think this damn thing would work and we would build a lot of unused big concrete monuments that will be somebody’s folly. I would just as soon not have my name connected with it. That was why I was interested at that time in leaving, but I said, “No, I’m perfectly willing to stay with it. I don’t care if I’m a colonel or what, and I don’t care how many stars you’ve got.”
He said, “Well, this has already gone through that they wanted to promote you and give you this camp.”
I said, “I think I’m getting fired.”
He said, “No.”
So I dropped everything with the governor of Tennessee. I left Major Cornell there, I think, to straighten that business out. I flew to Washington and went to General Styer. I said, “I’ve just been told I’ve been put in command of a camp down in North Carolina.”
He said, “Yeah, that’s right.”
I said, “How come?”
He said, “I don’t know, talk to Groves or talk to [David] McCoach, General McCoach, in the chief’s office was handling personnel assignments of that kind.”
I said, “Am I being fired? You want to get rid of me?”
He said, “No, I don’t know anything about this. Go over and talk to either Groves or McCoach.”
I passed Groves and went over to McCoach. I said, “I understand I’m relieved from the Manhattan District.”
He said “Yes,” and he pulled out from a drawer of his desk a list of colonels of the Corp or Engineers that he had been keeping, a list that had been made up probably two years before of officers with certain experience, certain age group, and certain records that he thought were eligible for a promotion. He showed me where my name had been on that list for about two years, and showed me that I could not be relieved at Syracuse because somebody said I was needed there.
Then I got the Manhattan District and said I couldn’t be relived there, so he said, “Your promotion, or chance to see if you’re qualified for a promotion on field command, has been held up all this time. The other day I called up Somervell or Styer, I forget which, and I said, ‘How about this guy, Marshall? We’ve been passing him over all this time and you’re going to keep him on that crazy job he’s on?’”
Styer said, “Well, talk to Groves. If Groves is willing to let him go, you can have him.”
I felt better then when McCoach told me that, because then I more or less apologized to Groves about me accusing him of getting me fired. Now, maybe Bush had asked that I be fired because he preferred Nichols to me. I never knew that, but what I’ve just said is the way it came to me.
I took command of the camp in August the 16th of 1943, one year to the date of the issue of the issuance of the official order designating the Manhattan District. I could’ve gotten to Camp Sutton, North Carolina a day or two earlier, but I just decided to go down on that anniversary.
Groueff: Several months before that, after Groves received his orders in September ’42, weren’t there some conflicts or some situation by having two bosses? You were the District Engineer and he was, without being District Engineer, he had the kind of assignment to be the head of the project.
Marshall: Well, I didn’t know anything about that. I never saw anything in writing that I remember. Groves told me that he was going to handle the Washington end of it. I said, “Well who is in command of this show?”
They both said, “You’re the District Engineer. You’re in charge of it.” I never had any quarrel with Groves. I never saw anything in writing of him superseding me up until August the 16th of 1943 when I left to take command of this camp in Carolina.
Groueff: So you were on good terms with Groves?
Marshall: Sure. I deferred to his knowledge and judgment, and being onsite in Washington, he was on this Policy Committee that they wanted Styer on. Of course, he met regularly with Conant, Briggs, and I forget who else was on it, there was Admiral Purnell, I think. I would get word from Groves. If Groves issued direct orders to me, it didn’t bother me. I accepted them as coming from Styer or Somervell, or somebody.
Groueff: You were too busy, both of you, to think of this—
Marshall: Yes, we’re still good friends, and even those days. For instance, I wanted to put a fireplace in every house we built in Oak Ridge. We started out I build 1,000. He said, “You’re crazy, you don’t need that many.” Well then we had 3000 going in a matter of two or three months, all on my say-so. Then we built 12,000 there, and all of the first 3,000 anyhow had fireplaces.
Well, Groves said, “That’s silly, people like the pioneer experience.”
I said, “You can build Army barracks if you want to out in Los Alamos. I don’t care what you build out in Richland.” You can’t have fireplaces there because there’s no wood to burn in them. But I said, “At Oak Ridge, there is going to be a screened-in porch and there’s going to be a fireplace in each house, or you know what you can do about it.” I played like that, so I had the say-so for Oak Ridge.
We had Colonel Matthias, whom Groves had known, a reserve officer at Hanford, he was a brother of an officer whom I knew, regular Army officer, graduated from West Point in 1925 I think. Matthias was put in charge out there, and he dealt with me here. Oppenheimer, every time he wanted to get some boy excused from the draft—this came out in the Oppenheimer hearings down there—he had to come to me.
Groves had authority in an indirect way, and I assumed that anything that Groves told me, I assumed, came either from Stimson, George Marshall, Somervell, or Styer or from the White House, or from Secretary Wallace, he was secretary of agriculture and vice president, I forget. None of this was in writing, or some of it was.
But, I never considered Groves as being the Commanding General of the Manhattan Project. Up to the time I left, I considered myself as in charge of the Manhattan Project. I accepted orders, suggestions, whatever you want to call them from Groves, just like he was a five star general and I was a captain, for instance. The idea was to get the job done. Groves talked directly to Nichols a lot because Nichols spent a lot of time in Washington. Then when we moved Blair down to Oak Ridge, Nichols didn’t go to Oak Ridge until after I left in August here because he was still there at 261 5th Avenue.
At the time I left, when Nichols was designated District Engineer of the Manhattan District and promoted to full colonel—I think we got him promoted a little before—it’s possible that some instructions were put out appointing Groves Commanding General of the Manhattan District. But, everything was so secret; you couldn’t have a district engineer and have somebody over him like the division engineer normally would do. I was not under a division engineer. I was reporting directly to the Chief on Engineers.
Nobody in the Chief of Engineers Office—Reybold, McCoach, Robins—none of them knew what this was all about. They weren’t allowed to know. Groves knew, and when Reybold was acquainted with the really highly secret—we didn’t have the top-secret designation in those days. This was really more than top secret. I don’t know when Reybold was told as Chief of Engineers, and I know that Robins never knew what this was all about. He just thought that Somervell had gotten some crazy ideas, or somebody told him to go ahead and spend a lot of money.
When the thing ran up into hundreds of millions of dollars, I know that Reybold, Robins and Farrell, who was his assistant by that time, all began to wonder what this was all about. So somewhere in there, it was clarified either orally or in writing that Groves was the commanding general of a project called the Manhattan Project. Up to that time, it was just the Manhattan District. I was the District Engineer—normal lingo. Now, a lot of that was camouflaged. I don’t care who was boss, there never was any question.
Groueff: Nichols and you had very good—
Marshall: Nichols could give orders in my name anytime he wanted to. If people dealt directly with Nichols and I wasn’t around, or if they dealt directly with Blair, in those days, those were the three that knew anything about this. Then we had various others brought into it.
But there was no conflict. It was all out of channels and—
Groueff: You get along very well with them?
Marshall: Oh sure, I’m still fond Nichols and Groves. I never chided them about whether I was fired or eased out, or whether I was relieved at my own request. That’s all immaterial. To this day, I don’t give a damn.
Groueff: The important thing was the bomb was built.
Marshall: Well, I give Groves full credit as one has to, you know. I don’t know how much more of this water you can stand.
Groueff: Groves had—and he would be the first one to admit it—a reputation for being very sort of abrupt and tough and like a slave driver.
Marshall: He’s what they call a “take-charge guy” nowadays, and he had had similar assignments, and he had a reputation for getting things done.
Groueff: Do you think that meant that he wouldn’t be popular, or he would be disliked, he didn’t care about that?
Marshall: Well, his reputation amongst the wives of his contemporaries was far different from what it is nowadays as compared to lovability, likeability, being able to get along with him. Groves was pretty mean in those days, and most of the women thought that he was driving their husbands crazy. For instance, Mrs. Nichols and Mrs. Marshall would say, “What’s that guy Groves doing to you? Where did he get all this authority?”
Well, it was one of those things you couldn’t talk to your wives or anybody else about this. I would say the same thing I’m saying now if Groves was sitting right there, and I think that he would agree with everything I’m saying.
Groueff: He said he treated many of the scientists and engineers the same way.
Marshall: Well, he could get away with it and I couldn’t. If I told him that something couldn’t be done, Bush and Conant used to believe me, Ernest Lawrence was up in the clouds, and Urey, and he was way up in the moon or somewhere. By that time, Arthur Holly Compton seemed to be sane. Fermi was sane—and I use the word advisedly. Conant. Lyman Briggs was pretty old, and he was kind of skeptical of this whole thing.
I believed when Fermi told me something, or Conant told me something, or Arthur Holly Compton. Then later on, I began to believe that this guy Lawrence wasn’t as flighty as it seemed. I figured he had the right idea, but just couldn’t build 1,000, 60-inch cyclotrons overnight. He had one that had taken him five or six years to build, and he didn’t have it working yet.
Groueff: He was always enthusiastic?
Marshall: Yes, but I liked all of these people. Now, whether they like me or not—Bush, I never saw much of him, but apparently from what this book says, which I never saw until last night, he didn’t think too much of me. He said he was getting impatient with me in here somewhere, but—
Groueff: That’s about selection, about acquisition of the site, but not generally.
Marshall: Well, I don’t know, I wasn’t going to be stampeded into buying any site or deciding whether we could do it all at one site or at four sites, until people like the DuPont people, who absolutely refused to anything at Oak Ridge and said, “You can’t have this reactor method here,” and until Urey, Dunning, and Fermi could tell me a little bit more of what gaseous diffusion was like.
Centrifuge, we washed that out very fast because the Westinghouse people—there was some fellow from the University of Virginia there and they said, “Well, we don’t know whether this will work or not, we think it will fly apart if you get it up to 50,000 RPM’s.”
I said, “And I should go spend two or three hundred million dollars building a plant when you don’t even know if it will work?”
Well, those things got back to Bush and of course he’s an inventor of great note. He said, “Well, that guy Marshall is some kind of a stumbling block, he says you can’t do something, we want people that say it can be done.” Well, Groves could soften up and he could smile. At that time, after they had made him a General, he had all the authority. He began to maybe put the iron fist in the velvet glove, to use a cliché, or something like that. But he was a driver, and his physical stamina was such that he could work twenty-four hours a stretch.
Well I found that I couldn’t quite take it. The mental strain of keeping four or five projects going, and I was more intimately connected with them than Groves. I had to deal with contractors and see that concrete was ready, and this, that, and the other—that is through my staff people.
Groves was on a little bit higher plateau where he didn’t get quite the heat that I did, and I wasn’t near any physical collapse or anything like that. By the time that July came around and I was told I was being relieved, I was perfectly willing to see the thing through and let Groves handle the scientists and the long-hairs and let me handle the contractors and the guys down in the dirt and mud getting things built.
I was having no physical health problems or anything else. I was in perfect health then and have been ever since. I’ve been on some crazy jobs in Africa and in Turkey and God-knows-where since then, and I feel I’m in good physical condition now. After four or five months, I said, “I’m just not wasting my talents here.”
Groueff: I understand that you didn’t have this reputation of toughness. To put it the other way, they refer even now to Groves as “SOB.” You had a different approach—more gentlemanly to contractors.
Marshall: Well, that’s flattering for you to say that, perhaps, but—
Groueff: Nichols, sort of—
Marshall: Well, I’ve always operated under the principle—just like recently out in Minnesota, when I was head of the Highway Department—I had some 6,000 people there with peculiar things like the Minnesota Highway Patrol, driver’s license, and a political situation where the governor who appointed me lost out to the governor who wanted to get rid of me for political reasons, I suppose.
I’ve always, almost from the day I was commissioned, felt that it was one of my characteristics and it’s not too good—that I would rather be thought well of by the people that work for me than the people higher up. In other words, I don’t think I’ve ever been known as a bootlegger or whatnot in any situation.
Groueff: You were considerate?
Marshall: If I had a company, I’d rather have the men in the company feel that I was working for them rather than I was bootlegging some guy higher up hoping I would get promoted. Now, Groves wasn’t the bootlegger type either, but sometimes—he hadn’t had as much [inaudible], maybe he had. He had been—
Groueff: He wasn’t as considerate to people, and he thinks that sometimes he did it on purpose. He doesn’t dislike his reputation of being inconsiderate if the job was done.
Marshall: Well, let’s make it a different—
Groueff: He’d call people in the middle of the night even though he could do it during the day, just keeping them up all the time, creating an atmosphere of urgency and emergency.
Marshall: There was the question of background there, maybe. Groves had grown up in the Army. He was what you would call an Army brat. His father was a chaplain in the Army. I came from a small town out in Missouri where my dad was a small town merchant who went broke twice giving credit to farmers, and I worked my way through high school and so forth. At the age of seventeen, having never been away from home anywhere, I suddenly—
Groueff: From Missouri?
Marshall: Yes, near Kansas City, a little town north of there. I took a competitive examination at West Point and happened to win it. So I got an appointment to West Point. I had no military background, and my parents weren’t in the Army. My grandfather was in the Civil War on the losing side and so forth and so on, but Groves background, he knew the Army game and—
Groueff: Yeah, because his father. Since childhood, he lived from camp to camp.
Marshall: At the Military Academy, Groves and I had similar records, although he had a year or so of college when he got there, and he—
Groueff: He was one year ahead of you?
Marshall: No, a year after me.
Groueff: After you, I see.
Marshall: He was a year or two older, you see.
Groueff: He came after MIT.
Marshall: He went to college.
Groueff: I see.
Marshall: I went right out of high school one month. In high school I had taken Latin, German, and things like that. I had avoided mathematics and physics and chemistry, and I was very poorly prepared to go to the Military Academy. I had a hard time there for the first two years, and when I was about nineteen years old, I learned how to study. I did better and ranked high enough in the class to make the Corps of Engineers.
The background had something to do with it there, and I was a Captain before I was twenty-one. It just happened we graduated a year early, so I moved rather fast there. Then I go back to first lieutenant up to captain, back to first lieutenant. The third time I was a lieutenant, it took me eleven years to be a captain.
Well Groves’ class, the next after ours, graduated a few months later with only two years and three months service. They were first lieutenants there for quite a while, and our class were captains in the Corps of Engineers. Only the Engineers in our class got to be captains during WWI. If you try to compare his career with mine, and how he developed a reputation for being a tough guy and maybe I was a softie or something, you can expound on that a great length. But I have, and I still am, I think, in jobs I’ve had recently, been more interested in being well thought of by people who work with me and under me rather than the people higher. I never have cared a lot about what they thought.
Now, Groves was a lot the same way. He’s never bootlegged his way into anything, but he had the happy faculty that seemed to me of being tough, saying “no” in a way that they would believe him, but still without stirring them up as readily as I could. When I said no, I did it in a way that people didn’t like it so much. Groves has never sought the favors of higher-up in order to further himself. I don’t mean that at all. But he could be mean when he had to be. Maybe I had a little difficulty.
You have to give the man credit. He not only has the physical stamina and always has had to do tremendous things by staying up. He can go out and hike through the jungle like he did in Nicaragua, I guess. He has a brain; he has a head.
Groueff: Very intelligent man.
Marshall: He has mellowed in recent years. After he had that special weapons project, after they turned over the Manhattan District to the Atomic Energy Commission, he headed a special weapons project to make weapons out of the fissionable material, I believe. He decided that he wanted to retire, and Nichols had then become a permanent professor at West Point. Well, Groves managed to get him promoted to a Major General, then colonel. Nichols was made a brigadier general right at the end of the war. He went to Bikini for the test there. He was BG at that time I know, and Groves was major general.
Groves retired as lieutenant general, went with Sperry Rand, and then for several years was president of the Association of Graduates at West Point. He headed up or masterminded the Distaff Hall Project in Washington for a home for widows of retired regular Army officers. So, Groves has had far different experiences since his Manhattan District days, and perhaps he has mellowed a little bit in the process. I haven’t seen him in.
Groueff: I found him very pleasant, extremely pleasant and interesting to talk to.
Marshall: He always has been, except when there is a job to be done. He could raise hell with people there and his reputation was worse than he was.
Groueff: I think a little bit on purpose probably he entertained this reputation like a lot of people do that.
Marshall: Somervell was a lot that way, but I never could bring myself to chew somebody out, as they say nowadays, or raise hell to some subordinate.
Groueff: Nichols was more like you?
Marshall: I always thought so. He is very even tempered, and I just never could bring myself to raise hell with somebody just to show him who was boss. I always figured there was some other way to know who was making the decisions. If there’s any doubt maybe I was wrong, I was willing to talk it over with people rather than being arbitrary. Groves had the reputation, a lot of it wrong, of being somewhat the other way. Who is the stronger character or the badass and all that stuff.
Groueff: A Different technique. But I found Groves and Nichols, who are very different human beings, I find certain similarities in a kind of dedication that both men have, and also this kind of patriotism, which even politically I would describe them as conservatives, men of the right politically, and men who has a very strong feeling of what, in their book, is right or wrong. They are not people who doubt and who are hesitant about those things.
Is that the typical thing for West Point? Do you think that there is such thing as West Point spirit or mentality, which teaches—
Let’s put it this way. Nowadays, certain values are considered old-fashioned. A lot of the liberal-minded people make fun of that, but then you talk to people like Groves or Nichols. They feel very strong about things like the flag and their country and without sounding corny. You see what I mean? I found that in a lot of the doers. For instance, Dobie Keith seems to me this kind of conservative strongman, Keller—
Marshall: Keith isn’t known as a conservative.
Groueff: Not conservative from a scientific—let’s say as a citizen, or morality.
Marshall: I’ve known Dobie Keith’s brother-in-law, a man who worked for Kellogg when I was down there, I think was my boss. I went to work for Kellogg after the war for a while—he was a brother-in-law of Keith. I knew Keith during the Manhattan District days. I knew him by reputation when he had been with Kellogg and then with Kellex, which is a subsidiary formed to handle that. There’s no need of expanding on Keith’s background, but I got it from variety of sources.
He was looked upon as a radical and way out and impractical, a dreamy sort of a person. He dreamed up pumps and stuff for the Manhattan District that the best experts in the country said couldn’t be built, so you’ve got to give him credit. But to get back to this West Point spirit, I’ve had that referred to me as, in a derogatory way in a job I just had for some four years, the fact that I had a military background, I was considered an autocrat, a dictator, and a lot of other things.
I was a military guy coming from New York, although I originated in Missouri, and I’ve never been in a position or allowed myself to be in a position where I had to defend West Point, or the so called West Point spirit, or background or what not. It happens that Mrs. Marshall and I have a son who is a colonel in the Army, a District Engineer in Mobile, who made full colonel before he was forty years. He’s probably forty-three, forty-four now.
Groueff: West Point man?
Marshall: He was captain of the lacrosse team at West Point, the year or two before Groves’ son played lacrosse. Groves’ son went to Princeton, then went to West Point and played lacrosse. So we’ve had a lot of things in common that way.
Our son has a great number of children, some of which may go to West Point, but I never allow myself to defend the so-called West Point spirit or military sprit or military background. President Eisenhower, and General Bradley, General MacArthur, and all the other people of great note are accused of things. They talked about their background, their military background, or their West Point background and so forth. Any of us who have been fortunate enough to go to the Military Academy and graduate appreciate it, I might say. We always stand up for it.
Whether that colors your thinking or makes this kind of a person of you or another, I’ve never been able to go along with that. Whether it gives you these undesirable traits of being an autocrat or a dictator or a general SOB, as it is sometimes referred to some of us within civilian jobs like which I just completed, get notoriety in the press and other news media because of this military background. They rather hesitate to use the word U.S. Military Academy, those words, or West Point. They talk about a military background, and they don’t think the guys an SOB or martinet because he went to West Point, they just say that he’s been in the Army too long.
I had an argument in a legislative hearing, a Senator said to me, well we were arguing about something and he said, “Well, you’ve just been in the Army too long.”
I said, “You’ve just been in the Senate too long.” Well, we were good friends before and after, but I’ve been a little bit quick on the reply. I haven’t had to defend West Point, nobody has to defend it, I don’t think. I found two or three statements in here that strike me as being wrong. Let’s see—there is one on page seventy-four.firm
Marshall: Where it says, “On Wednesday June the 17th, the day Bush forwarded the report to the president, Styer telegraphed orders to Colonel James C. Marshall to report to Washington.” The rest of it is all right.
“When Colonel Marshall reported on Thursday morning, Styer outlined the project and told him of his appointment, he did about 5:30 that afternoon. On Friday, Styer introduced Marshall to Bush, who promptly opened his S-1 files.” Well that was after he got the fifteen million bucks, not that that means anything.
“Later the same day, Styer forwarded to Colonel Marshall a letter from Bush indicating the president’s approval of the June 17th recommendations. Marshall began at once to organize his command, which he called for the time being the DSM Project.”
Well, I have told you, whether it’s on the record or not, that Styer handed me a four-page letter from Bush to the president. Up in the corner it said, “OK FDR,” and two other pieces of paper having to do with the S-1 Committee. That was the S-1 file, which he gave me. Now Bush did have a whole building full of S-1 files over there at the OSRD, but it says, “Later the same day, Styer forwarded to Colonel Marshall a letter from Bush indicating the president’s approval.”
Well he handed it to me late on the afternoon of June the 18th I guess it was. Let’s see what it shows in my book here. I went to Washington. I received this telegram on Wednesday the 17th of June 1942.
I got to Styer’s office on Thursday the 18th of June, and late that afternoon, he handed me the papers. On Friday the 19th, I got the money and went over to Bush’s office. It says, “On Friday, Styer introduced Marshall to Bush.” That’s right.
“Later the same day, Styer forwarded to Colonel Marshall a letter from Bush.” Well, he handed me that the day before. So that part’s all right.
Marshall: Let’s see, there’s one other thing I could quibble with here on page seventy-six, heading selection of the Tennessee site. “A good example of how the new arrangement failed was the tedious process of selecting a site for the production plants. The planning board had first discussed the project in April when the board was primarily concerned with the site for either the gaseous diffusion or the centrifuge plant.” The centrifuge plant, of course, never was built.
“Since the primary requirement was a large and reliable electric power supply, Murphree had approached the War Production Board for information about the most promising power areas in the country. Later that month, Zola G. Deutch of Murphree’s Standard Oil Development Company, Thomas V. Moore of Compton’s Metallurgical Laboratory, and Milton J. Woodson of Stone and Webster visited a number of sites in the area recommended by the War Production Board in the heart of TVA.”
Now, this was long before I got in it. It says, “The selection of the Elza site seems to be the one decision which the Planning Board could recommend with confidence. When Conant received the report late in May, he forwarded it to Styer and recommended to Bush that the Army proceed at once to acquire the site.” Now, that was in May. They wanted the site acquired. I was brought into this in June. I immediately sensed that we couldn’t acquire a site because you didn’t know what you wanted it for. These people thought that everything was ready to go, just like they thought they could build four production plants of fissionable material for ninety million dollars.
Naturally, it says here, “With these firm recommendations, Styer was ready to act. He told the S-1 Executive Committee on June the 25th that the Army would acquire the Elza site at once. But Colonel Marshall was not to be stampeded. First, he ordered a detailed study.” On July 1, he and Nichols met, so that is correct.
Groueff: That’s correct.
Marshall: That is correct. But that gives the impression that the Elza site that they had wanted back in May was fine, “Let’s go ahead and get it.” When I got in the picture here, we were talking about—that site was out completely. We were talking about another one where there was some water, and we thought at that time, or Murphree thought the TVA power would do. I found out it wouldn’t, and I wasn’t about to go ahead and build something in a place that we didn’t know whether it was the correct place or whether it would do the job. It just takes time from an engineering standpoint.
Clay’s name is mentioned here on page eighty. “Colonel Nichols, after checking with General Styer, saw General Clay on August the 29th.” As deputy chief of staff of requirements and resources, Clay as much as any man in the government can control the flow of critical materials. Prior to that, Clay had told me that we weren’t going to get any of this stuff that we needed or any priorities, but he didn’t think this thing would work.
Nichols went over and talked to Clay, and as it says here about August 29th, which can be verified, “Clay recommended the more usual route through the joint chiefs of staff to the Army and Navy Munitions Board, but he quickly added that such priorities should not be granted, and that it was never contemplated or granted a AA1 priority to DSM.” The most Clay would do is to grant a blanket AA3 priority for the entire project. This concession was unacceptable.”
Later on it, said about Bush slyly talked Groves into doing something here. I haven’t had a chance to read all this.
Here’s one on page eighty-two that I had a chance to question. It says, “Groves’ orders signed by Styer on September 17th directed him to take complete charge of the entire DSM project.”
I’ve never seen any such orders, and I doubt if they’re in writing. Styer may have told Groves to take complete charge. He didn’t tell him to take over for me. He told him to take charge in Washington, from my understanding.
“And to arrange at once the necessary priorities and the immediate acquisition of the Tennessee site. Groves’ new command was not officially announced until his appointment as brigadier general September 23, but he had already taken up his duties. On September 19th, he signed a directive for acquiring the site. Then, he discarded the letter which Nichols had drafted for General Marshall (that’s George Marshall’s signature) requesting Donald Nelson to authorize AAA priorities.” This may be true, and it was stuff that I knew nothing about and cared nothing about.
It says here “Thus, within 48 hours of Groves’ assignment, the Army resolved the two problems that had plagued the project all summer: site selection and priorities.” Well now, maybe that stuff is in Groves’ book, I don’t know, but that’s distorting it just enough to make Groves look pretty good. I don’t go along with that, because just the fact that Groves was put in command two days later, or 48 hours, it says that all the problems were solved, that’s just not true. Groves had problems for the next four years. So this is a little optimistic.
I think if I read the whole book, I would find other things to quibble with. But, I’m not intending to quibble. I not in any way have desires of detracting any credit from Groves or Nichols or anybody else in this project, and I’m not looking for any credit for myself. I had forgotten it completely until I dug this thing out of the safe, this journal and diary just before I came down here and last night when I got this book out of the library. I’m going to try to get a copy now and read it.
Groueff: It’s an interesting book, because it gives, for the first time, several details even about electromagnetic about the gaseous diffusion.
Marshall: I have checked a few of the notes in the first one or two chapters that I’ve read, and then I looked back in the index under my name. Last night, under my name on page 746 in the index, it mentions “qualifications, appointed head of DSM Project, delayed selecting Oak Ridge site.” Well, there were delays, but they’re under Marshall’s name, I noticed—my name, not George. It says in here “Bush dissatisfied” on eighty-one. You would think that Bush was dissatisfied with Marshall; he was dissatisfied that we didn’t have the plants built.
Marshall: “Establishes is MED, eighty-one.” That was the Manhattan Engineer District. “James Marshall advocates quantity production of weapons,” that’s all right.
“Leaves MED” on page 117, “conservative attitude on design for pure silver for electromagnetic plant.” The only thing I quibble with there is it’s a little important that Bush seemed to be dissatisfied with me.
Groueff: Yeah, the wording.
Marshall: He never told me that he was dissatisfied, maybe he was. Some of the statements in here would indicate that I was being eased out as being superfluous and possibly because I had told Groves once before that whenever he let me go I would be more than happy to get the hell out of there. Nichols could do anything that I could do. It wasn’t a need for three of us: Groves, Nichols and me being in there in top positions. It worked out that as soon as I left, Nichols took over for me, and Groves took over everything else that I had been handling with written authority to him. So I’m not quibbling about the chain of command and all that stuff there. Well I think it’s almost time for libation, do you want to stay here and chat with that thing off.
Groueff: Well, we have about five more minutes. Is there anything you remember on the first meeting with this Belgian man, Edgar Sengier, from the Congo? Did you contact him for the – how did you find the uranium?
Marshall: By that time, I had gotten Dr. Merritt, Dr. Philip L. Merritt, who was a geologist who had lived in Colombia for two years, the country of Colombia, had gotten a PhD in geology from the University of Columbia, who had been in the old Katanga in the Congo and in Rhodesia, and was at that time working for American Cyanamid up here in West Hartford, Connecticut. Well, I had known him personally, so I got him commissioned. He was given the job of finding out where there was any uranium, or any fissionable material. In the course of that, he found out that the Belgian government must have been—Sengier was practically the Belgian government in exile in this country.
We found that there was a plant in Pittsburgh that had a little bit, just like later on heavy water, we found there was a plant in Los Angeles I think that had some. So Major Merritt was given a certain sum of money and disguised in civilian clothes and told him to go up to the Great Bear Lake country and the Great Slave Lake country. He was sent over to the Belgian Congo twice, and he dealt with Sengier and a couple of others whom I met. But Colonel Crenshaw was in charge of the procurement of raw materials. Merritt worked for him, and Kelly later came in there and William Kelly later was Area Engineer and director for the Atomic Energy Commission. I got him commissioned a major. I personally never went after Sengier, I went up to Columbia a lot of times.
Groueff: Nichols met him at the end I think to make the, sign the—
Marshall: Possibly. Crenshaw and Merritt did most of the spade-work, and those arrangements were made while I was still district engineer. But Nichols as deputy district engineer, and by that time was a full colonel—you’re not supposed to have two colonels on the same job, that was the old fogey notion in the War Department.
Nichols was my deputy officially and in writing and he could sign anything I could sign. Prior to that, he still had the same authority, but according to Army Regulations and legal definition, until he was designated as deputy district engineer, I could not grant him authority or deputize him to do things. He was an assistant district engineer. Just like Blair was assistant district engineer and chief engineer, Nichols was assistant district engineer and executive officer at the start. Then I finally, over War Department objection, got him made deputy district engineer, so he signed a lot of things.
Oppenheimer would come in to see me about getting some scientist deferred from the draft. A letter had to go from either me or Nichols, who was my deputy, to the man’s local board saying he was responsible for certain things in the war effort. Then we found out that they were going to draft him anyhow, so we formed that military detachment at Oak Ridge. As soon as they were drafted, we grabbed them all up and put them in uniform down there. When they were getting 15,000 or more, or was working with a PhD research scientist somewhere, we would take them as a private to do the same work. So there was a lot of little things like that. Hard to find out what Nichols did or what I did or what anybody else did in those days.
Groueff: Do you remember anything in particular about the pessimistic attitude of Dr. Urey the moment when the barrier had difficulties? I understand that he had trouble first in Columbia between him and Dunning, and Groves and Urey didn’t get along.
Marshall: Well, Urey was an idealist, and Dunning and Fermi impressed me as knowing what it was all about. Dunning is an engineer and Fermi is a nuclear scientist or physicist or something. Urey we had problems with because he was up in the clouds too much. Ernest Lawrence started, we thought he was up in the clouds, but pretty soon we found out he had some sense and knew that steel and concrete and copper so forth would do certain things. But Urey was entirely theoretical, and he should have been working on the NASA project thing instead of on this thing in my opinion.
He was pessimistic. He just said this that and the other, and Dobie Keith was a man who had the faith in this crazy ideas that you could get a barrier fine enough to separate the isotopes, that you could line a pipe with glass that would take care of the uranium hexafluoride and all those corrosive substances and so forth. Ruhoff knew an awful lot of how to get certain things done. Szilard was another one that—
Groueff: Groves had a lot of trouble, he told me with, with Szilard.
Marshall: He eventually got $50,000. He sued the government for something. But Szilard was, in my opinion, an unreliable person. Urey was unreliable. I mean scientifically; I don’t mean personally or morally or nothing like that. But, they were a little bit too fantastic. Dobie Keith was just about as crazy as we all thought, but his stuff all worked out. Lawrence we thought was pretty impractical and his stuff worked out. I forget who was masterminding the centrifuge process, somebody in Westinghouse and somebody down at the University of Virginia.
Groueff: [Jesse] Beams, I think.
Marshall: I can look it up, but when they start talking about heavy pieces of equipment going to 25-50,000 RPMs in those days, back in ’42, you just didn’t do that. Now you have gyroscopes and all sorts of things. Dentist’s drills go that fast, whereas in those days—and this was a huge piece of metal. Some of us knew the thing would fall apart from centrifugal force, or centripetal force, I forget which one works in that case. But so we washed up that one right away, and we were about to wash up the gaseous diffusion plants I remember in the early days, just because Urey didn’t seem to know what it was all about.
Then with Dunning, whom I could talk to as a civil engineer, he was a little more optimistic, and Fermi was sure it would work. Then Murphree had a pretty good idea it would work. Then we got this fellow Keith in on it, and we all thought that he was way up in the clouds. The guy made sense because every one of the things that people said couldn’t be done, that fellow found a way to do it.
Groueff: Who found him?
Marshall: He worked for Kellogg, and he was put in charge of Kellex, a subsidiary. A fellow named Al Baker, who is now dead, later took over from Keith and headed up Kellex, which was a subsidiary of M. W. Kellogg, which then was bought out by Vitro. The old Kellex people are now with—
Groueff: But who had Kellogg? It was in your time?
Marshall: Well, yes, Groves and I, Groves had known him for some work that he had done at a munitions plant as being the best welded piping people. They had a big plant over in Jersey City. They were working on flamethrowers, tank turrets, and condensers for the Navy, so Groves and I talked to the top people at Kellogg, Mr. Kellogg, Mr. Lawson, I forget the other people there. They formed a separate corporation called Kellex and put Dobie Keith, who worked for them—
Groueff: Because he was the kind of energetic doer and—
Marshall: That’s right, and because he was so crazy, in my frank opinion, they wanted to get rid of him. So they put him off on this crazy project over here and we won’t have to worry about him, we can get on with our work.
Groueff: It sounds that they always had somebody with extraordinary ideas.
Marshall: That’s right, but they all worked out. That gaseous diffusion plant was the first one to get going, as I recall it, and was the one that produced the material for the first bomb. The second bomb was produced out of Hanford, and the DuPont people walked that project through.
Groueff: So he deserves a lot of the credit?
Marshall: Keith does. Well, we all thought really that he was crazy and don’t pay any attention to him. Urey we felt the same thing, and we still think it, some of us. Keith, I haven’t seen for fifteen or twenty years. Urey I haven’t seen since 1943.
Groueff: He’s in La Jolla now, Urey. Szilard died.