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Felix DePaula’s Interview

Manhattan Project Locations:

Felix DePaula talks about his role as “garbage man” at Los Alamos and witnessing the Trinity test. He discusses everyday life at Los Alamos, from water problems to adopting a pet crow, and General Groves’ insistence that everyone work seven days a week. DePaula tells a funny story about accidentally flinging a snake right into the Mess Hall.

Date of Interview:
March 7, 1992
Location of the Interview:


Yvonne Delamater: We are interviewing Felix De Paula for the Manhattan Project video. Thanks for coming here to give us an interview.  Briefly tell me when and where you were born and something about your education and training.

Felix DePaula: Actually I was born in Brooklyn, New York June 3, 1926. I graduated from vocational high school in Brooklyn, New York and that’s about as far as my education went.  Then I was drafted into the service in 1944, October and I was sent to Ft. Belvoir, Virginia because of my school training.  I was in the Corp of Engineers.  I stayed in Ft. Belvoir, Virginia for, oh, maybe two and a half months or two months or so. Then I was interviewed to come to Los Alamos.  It was an officer that interviewed me, a lieutenant.  He told us about this wonderful factory we could work in. We would be working with civilians.  The only time we had to wear uniforms would be during working hours and in the evenings, we had the evenings to ourselves and the weekends to ourselves.  He said this sounds so good, he would like to trade places with me.  Of course, you’re going to such a nice warm climate, Santa Fe, New Mexico, the capital of the state.  They made it so wonderful, it was hard to turn it down. They had to get your permission to go, that’s all, not that we were picked because of any special training I had or anything of that sort.  So I elected to come out here.

Now we are talking about January and they routed us on up into Chicago and we got off the train and we had to wear our helmets and our OD uniform and gas masks on the side, we looked like a real bunch of freaks walking through. There were about fifteen of us.  Then they routed us on down to St. Louis and the same thing at each station, we would be picked up by a certain person and they were looking for a group with helmets, gas masks and full OD dress and all.  We decided in St. Louis, gee if we’re going to such a wonderful warm climate, we should be wearing our khakis instead of our OD’s.  So we put on our khaki uniform and got off in Lamy in January. There was snow on the ground, it was cold.  So here we were rushing to get the OD’s back on.

We were picked up there and drove up to Los Alamos on a bus.  Those days, I don’t know if you recall the old road coming up from Los Alamos. Now, as you made the real sharp turn coming up the hill, there’s a historical marker on the right hand side, right opposite that you’ll see the old road that goes up right along the canyon. The bus could not make the turn in one drive, he had to drive up to the wall and then back up and then get back onto the road.  It was at night so we didn’t know what we were driving over.  When we saw the road during the day time we all wondering how you go about making this trip day after day.  Then I think a little later one, it wasn’t too much later, maybe within a year’s time they had the new road built and they didn’t have to make this treacherous turn. They never lost any buses but I’m sure everyone was frighten on that turn.  It was pretty scary because when they’d back up you’d have to get pretty close to the edge for this big bus to be able to make the turn.  We got up here late in the evening and there was about a foot of snow on the ground.  Cold barracks, we finally got things going pretty well. We got our bedding and got some fire going in the barracks. They took us over to the Mess Hall and fed us some cold sandwiches which was fine.

Then the next day it was my first day of seeing what Los Alamos was like.  I had never been anywhere like this in my life.  I couldn’t understand why I’d walk a 100 feet and I was gasping for breath and everyone else.  Because we all come from pretty much back east.  Every once in awhile I’d have a nosebleed.  Finally I talked with the medic and he said this was natural.  You just have to become acclaimed to the height.  I had no idea what the altitude would do to the body in all.

Since I didn’t have any skills of any sort, they put us down as helpers.  We would help anyone that needed help in the engineers, the truck drivers, the plumbers, the electricians, you know they would call on us to do this type of work.  Then all of a sudden, I guess it was somewhere in March that we were sent down to Trinity Site. I guess it had to be March because I remember they gave us time off at Trinity Site to go to Easter services if we wanted to.  We all went to the church in Socorro for Easter services that coming April. That was the first time we were allowed out of the camp.  Cause everyone was restricted to the camp for nine months.  That doesn’t mean that they all stayed in camp.

Then we were having troubles with the sanitation down there. No one wanted the job of hauling the trash around and getting the barrack trash picked up, the Mess Hall trash picked up and taking care of the furnaces.  Since I was really not a very big boy, you know, I didn’t have too much strength in all.  Cpt. Davlos had come up and talked to us and Lt. Bush was in charge of the camp had asked for a volunteer for take over the trash duty and all that.  No one would volunteer.  He finally come out and said, it would be his only duty to take care of this portion of the work down there.  And I decided well, let me try it for a month.  I’ll be glad to try it for a month. No one was wanting it.

Gee, it turned out that it wasn’t too bad a job after all because I had the afternoons to myself and I could take a ride into Socorro with the water truck.  Cause the driver would go by himself and I would be allowed to go along with him as a helper.  So I would get to ride into Socorro every, maybe, two or three times a week. Then I’d get to know the MP’s down there and they tried to teach me how to ride a horse because they patrolled the perimeter on horseback and jeeps. I never really get to ride a horse real well. I stayed with that job and I took care of the furnaces, hauled the coal for them.  And that’s how we, Bart and I, got to talking about the dump out there. Where he would like very much to dig into that dump. That may come in the future.

There were forty-five engineers and about forty-five MP’s. The MP’s were handpicked men, they were trained very well for the job.  They had to do some special training. The engineers, are builders and all they needed them for was building the site, the poles to handle the wires, going ahead and keeping the camp up, all the maintenance on the camp, maintenance on the trucks.  With ninety men down there and most of the time most half of the MP’s were on duty we had a very close relationship.  Its surprising at how close people can get when they are put into the same environment you know, even though we were not allowed out of camp.   Before long we found ways of entertaining ourselves.”

At the time it was Lt. Bush, he was just a wonderful officer. He didn’t act or wanted to be treated like an officer because he knew had a problem now I realize it, but at the time I didn’t. He had a problem trying to keep ninety-six men in camp for an undetermined time, we didn’t know how long and restrict them to the area.  So he had to work very hard in making things as easy as possible on us.

The first thing we complained about was the water. It was very, very hard and lots of minerals in it.  The first group of fellows that got down to the site, they learned that when you go into the shower, you just don’t use ordinary soap cause you can’t get any suds out of the soap.  You can’t wash yourself. They would wait for a new crew of men to come down and they’d kind of stand outside the shower waiting for the remarks because everyone would just feel the same way about it. You’d go into the shower and stand there and try getting some suds.  You’d rub your body and no suds.  You’d get the soap in your hair, no suds, but it would stay there.  We finally complained to Lt. Bush and it wasn’t long after that, I think after about two months he got a water softener built into the camp and that made life a lot pleasanter.  At least you could clean yourself real well. It was pretty hard at the beginning. There were so many minerals in the water. The poor plumber after two months, the pipes would clog up on you. You were constantly having to tear the pipe out and put in new pipes until we got the water softener.  That made life a lot easier.

KP, you couldn’t clean the trays. The metal trays they served us on, the grease would just stay on it. So what you had to do, each person was responsible for cleaning his own tray for awhile because the KP just couldn’t handle it. You’d stand there and just use the water as hot as you could stand it to try to remove the grease.  Eventually you would get them clean. We were told that we had to go ahead and clean as much off the tray as we could get off of it. So we would use paper towels and things of that sort. Grease would just pile up on you.

Finally things started working much better but it was getting kind of, after about three weeks, people were getting a little bit edgy.  They wanted to get out of town, wanted to get out and we could not go so Lt. Bush gave us permission to go ahead and build a PX, kind of get us doing things. He knew that if he could keep them doing things, keep people busy, maybe take their minds off the loneliness.  We finally got two buildings and put them together and made a small PX out of it. He finally got permission to get some movies so I believe it was maybe two or three times a week that we would get a movie down there.  Some of them were not very good movies, but anything looked good to us.

I remember some things that happened down there. See the men that were sent down there, we had several men up here in Los Alamos that had just spent three years or so in the South Pacific and here they were sent. They had come over from the islands, they were up here in Los Alamos and all of a sudden these men are shipped down to a camp like we had at Trinity. Here they are in the States, back from the South Pacific and now they are restricted to a camp for nine months. Those boys were the ones that really had it hard because they expected more after spending their three years in the South Pacific.

Delameter: Its sounds like punishment.

DePaula: It was quite hard on them.  A person like myself being in the service a short time, I was only eighteen, very frightened.  The first time I was away from home. I was never more than fifteen miles from my home in New York and I just took things in my stride. I was very frightened of the Army anyway, if they told me to do something, I’d did it.  So it wasn’t as hard on me as it was on some of these men.

Delameter: When you sent here, what did you tell your family and friends?

DePaula: I just couldn’t tell them much because our mail was censored. I just told them I was stationed out in Santa Fe, New Mexico and that was it.  I told them that I worked with the Corp of Engineers.  I told my mother that I was probably going to be learning some sort of a trade in the engineers when they found out what I might be capable of doing and all that.  That was about it.  Just couldn’t tell them too much because we were censored.  Even though we didn’t know why.  No one had any idea why they were—why the mail was censored.

Delameter: Sort of leads into the next question. When did you realize what the goal of the Manhattan Project was?

DePaula: I never did.  I never did. Even down at Trinity Site, we were doing all the building.  Like I say, I only did the work for maybe a couple of months until I took on the other job as the garbage man.  I don’t mind saying garbage man because it turned out to more fun than I thought.

Delameter: What was some of the fun parts of it?

DePaula: The fun parts of it was the fact that I had all the time to myself to do what I wanted to.  If I wanted to visit with the MP’s, I could go over there and visit with them.  If I wanted to go down in town with the water truck, I could go ahead and do that.  If I wanted to read, I could go ahead and do this.  Now the other boys were out usually, maybe as much as ten hours a day working in the field and working in the desert, putting up the poles to carry all the communication lines.  We finally built a garage because we had to have a building to maintain the vehicles in.  None of this stuff was down there. The only thing that was down there when we got to Trinity were the barracks.  There must have been something like, oh maybe eight barracks and a Mess Hall. So we had to build a garage.

Those boys were working out in that hot desert sun and I didn’t have to do that.  My job was really taking care of things in the morning and afternoon and the evening.  It turned out to be a little bit better. The work was quite hard.  I was, I guess the youngest.  In fact, I believe I was the youngest person to come to Los Alamos as a serviceman when I got up here in ‘45.  Most of them were older people in their mid 20’s and 30’s.  I was just eighteen or so.  I really wasn’t a very strong boy, I was only 145 lbs. or so.  Probably it was best that I took the job that I could do without running out of steam.  Because these other boys worked very hard.  At times I would, when they were working off in the fields, you know, building these bunkers and all, I would go ahead and take some cans of cold water you know and drive out to them ice water and see that they had a nice cool drink and all that.

Then they had some water tanks down there. Can’t believe it.  I guess they were originally stock tanks and they were quite large, maybe, the wall was maybe four feet high and the stock tank could be maybe twenty feet by fifteen or so. We would swim there. We were swimming in these stock tanks in the middle of the desert. That helped pass the time away.  I just had a lot more time to myself.

Delameter: What did doing your work involve, where did you have to go three times a day?

DePaula: I had to hit every barracks and we had of course a trash can at every barracks.  I had to empty that on the truck.  I had to go to the Mess Hall and empty everything they had, morning, noon and night to take that.  Then I would go around to the officers’ quarters and of course empty their trash.  The favorite spot was the photographer’s room, because whenever he threw trash away, I would like of pick through it and I’d get a picture here and a picture there you know. Pictures that he didn’t want of the camp, the area, the site and I managed to keep those pictures.  I still have those pictures today.   When the weather was cold, it was my job to load the truck with coal and see that all the barracks binds had coal in their bins because that’s how we heated the barracks. Cause in March and April and probably the first part of May it was still quite cold there at night on the desert.  So that was the extent of that part of it.

Delameter: Have you already mentioned who your commanding officers were, you may have mentioned the name?    

DePaula: Lt.  Bush was in charge of the camp. He was the MP, Lt. but he was in charge of the engineers also. Then there was Cpt. Devalos.  Cpt. Devalos was working very closely with Col. Groves and we saw Col. Groves several times, but we saw Cpt. Devalos quite regular.  Of course we saw Lt. Bush every day.  He actually lived like we did.

Delameter: Were you able to note any differences commanding in those commanding officers in the way they handled civilian/military relationships at the base?

DePaula: No it seemed as though as soon as they got on the base down there, they became a part of us, they immediately took their uniforms off and downed fatigues.  Now Col. Groves never did this but Cpt. Devalos use to do this.  Lt. Bush always walked around, they would have their bars on, you know to let us know, but they always downed fatigues like we had.  I guess maybe they thought this would like of help the morale a little bit.  And it did.  We ate in the same Mess Hall and sat down with them. They didn’t take any special portion of the Mess Hall to sit down, they sat right with us.  They cleaned their trays out just like we did.  So they were very close with us in fact, I think they made things a little bit easier for us.

Then the reason this business came up on trying to someone to handle the trash and stuff was because many of the men down there were carpenters and plumbers and electricians. They didn’t feel that they should be hauling trash when they were needed in their other work. They had so much to do. This is why oh maybe fifteen of us that didn’t have any trade of any sort.  So this is why they decided they would have to get someone, one person to got ahead and maintain the camp. Because things would pile up and then it would be up to Lt. Bush to come out and say, well you have to do this. You have to clean up the camp today. They wouldn’t do a very good job of it. When one person is doing it and he knows what his job is, and the Lt. would if you didn’t do things too well, he wouldn’t mention it to you, maybe a “Better things up a little bit better and try to maintain the camp.”  The officers were very, very good with us.  Very good with us.

Delameter: You didn’t want that one taped?

DePaula: Well I don’t think we should say that about— well its fine, I don’t mind.  In the early days when Gen. Groves had come down, he had noticed on a Sunday that the engineers were pretty much sitting around and the MP’s that were not on duty were doing what they were doing, some of them even had some polo games down there. The polo sticks were made out of brooms, they didn’t have regular polar clubs.  As I recall, I saw them playing, they took these brooms and they cut all the straw off and just left just the top portion of the broom and they would use that to go ahead and hit the wooden ball that they were hitting. It was quite interesting for us to go ahead with something else for us to do.

Gen. Groves told Lt. Bush, he wanted to know what we were doing on Sunday, you know sitting around.  Lt. Bush said, “Well, we work six days a week and I feel the men should be able to do have a Sunday off.”  

Gen. Groves said, “That’s not to be any more.”  He wanted the men working seven days a week and of course we didn’t like this too much.  But later on in retrospect, we realized that he knew what had to be done down at the camp. There was an awful lot of work to be done and he had deadlines to meet.  They had a deadline of detonating some hundred pounds of explosives to calibrate their instruments. This is stuff we knew nothing about. So he had a reason for working us as many days as we could work.  

After he left, Lt. Bush got us all together and told us that he still didn’t think seven days should be our working days.  He said, “Work six days a week and you’ll still have Sunday to do what you want.”  If he felt we had to be working because some important person was coming in to camp, we might have to work on a Sunday. But he still didn’t allow us, he didn’t want us working on Sunday.”

So we would take jeeps and our vehicles and ride off and do things like chasing antelope.  Other MP’s went out and they had themselves a den of five or six different compartments with rattlesnakes that they had come across patrolling the perimeter.  Now as many times as I have been out in the field I never did see a rattlesnake. But they would see them regularly. You know people find things to do.  When we finally resigned ourselves that we were going to be stuck down there, you would find things to do.  

We were out in the field one day, we came across a crow’s nest.  We found a couple of crows in the nest, we brought them back to camp.  I guess I can’t remember the names, I named one of them Jim and gave the other one another name. We raised those crows as pet crows.  I’d walk around the camp with those crows on my shoulder and other service men would come flying around and land right on their shoulders and walk around camp with you.  We fed them and took pretty good care of them.  Finally, eventually, they both died off.  One of them—they’d walk amongst the building and one day couple of fellows were running and they turnd the building and didn’t see the crow in front and they stepped on it and broke its wing. The medic tried his best to go ahead and repair it, but he couldn’t repair it. So we had to go ahead and put it to sleep.  The other one –

Delameter: I just have to interject that Don had told me during the debriefing that you had about twenty-four minutes.  What do you remember about relationships between the military and the civilians at the base?

DePaula: Very good.  We had some civilians come in and we never had any problems with the civilians.  The thing that I found the hardest to do was when the special engineer detachment, the portion of the people in Los Alamos that were doing the scientific work with the bomb and the instrumentation down there, they would come on a Monday afternoon from Los Alamos and then Saturday morning they would start pulling out to come back to Los Alamos on the weekends. They were allowed out of camp, but we could not get out. That was very hard. That was probably the most trying time for us. When we could see these fellows being able to take off and leave camp and here we were restricted. We could not get out. But after a little bit you got use to that. We had very good relations with everyone. Everyone realized the problems in the camp and they lived with them. They lived with the hard water, they lived with the fact that they had to clean their own trays.

The food was very, very good. While there were just ninety-six of us, when they finally had the full contingent of people down there from Los Alamos as we were getting closer and closer to making their tests, then of course the cooks had to feed three hundred and fifty people or so and the food was not quite as good.

Delameter: Where did you live down there? What was it like?

DePaula: We just lived in the regular Army barracks that was just one great big room with our bunks, each person had his own bunk and his own little cabinet for clothes and his wooden foot locker and that was it.  We just lived in those barracks. There were a couple of wood stoves.  About a third of the way from each end of the barracks. That was one of my jobs, to keep the wood stove going in our barrack., which was fine with me. It didn’t take too much time to go ahead and do that.  I’ve got to admit the officers were very good, they were good to us.

Delameter: You were at the Trinity Test, could you describe some of the events that happen, your impressions of the Trinity Test.

DePaula: Well you see they had their command post a few miles from this site. Toward the end when they were getting ready to detonate the bomb and all, we were not allowed to get into these areas unless we had a specific job.  I would go out to the bunkers maybe once every three or four days to kind of pick up what trash they had there.  But not any oftener than that.  The night they detonated the bomb, they got us all out of the barracks of course and we all had to suit up. I can’t really recall how far I was from the bomb, but I believe it was something like five to seven miles. The detonating room was something like two miles from the bomb. The building that they assembled the bomb in was something like two miles from the bomb.  We were all told to hold our backs to the detonation. Then after the explosion we were given these dark glasses we could turn around and look at the effects after the bomb was detonated.  That was when we were sitting for some amount of seconds and we could feel the blast and the heat wave.

Well you know this still didn’t make a big impression on me because the only thing I’d ever seen in the way of explosives was firecrackers, you know. So we had a great big explosive.  But this older man, name was Pop Borden, he come from upstate New York. This man had worked with dynamite in his days before he got into the service. I recall three maybe four days after the detonation that man still couldn’t eat, he still couldn’t get over the detonation. He’d go around and he’d say, “That’s the most terrible thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”  It still didn’t really make much of an impression on me until later on after we had seen pictures of what had happened after they had dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He could see the devastation that it could bring on.  Because he had something to compare it to. I had nothing to compare it to.”

Then there were only a few people that really knew what was really going on.  A few of the scientists.  I remember seeing Kistiakowsky was one of the scientists that was down there. I can’t remember if Fermi came out there.  Jette was down there, they knew what was going on. We didn’t have any idea.  Some of the engineers that were involved with explosives they were quite frightened.  But like I say, I had nothing to compare it to. So it was a great big ball of fire to me.  But these fellows could see how much area it covered to what a few sticks of dynamite might do, you know. This one person I was telling you about was really quite frightened.”

Delameter: Where were you when you heard of the bombing of Hiroshima and what was your immediate reaction to the news?

DePaula: We were down at the camp. We were down at the campsite and that’s when we had an idea of what we were doing.  Now we could look back and we could say now we understood why Gen. Groves wanted us to work seven days a week you know. Why we were restricted to camp. The reason we were restricted to camp, was that they didn’t want people in these smaller towns to get too curious about what was going on. I’m sure that was it.  The other people, the SED’s that came from Los Alamos, they would drive through the town, come to the camp, then drive out of the town so they were never staying in the towns.  They were not seen like we would be seen. We got to thinking later on, now we can understand things that had happened.

You know after the bomb was dropped and all there was a so called loneliness which wasn’t that lonely. Cause we found many, many things to do down there, many funny things happening, some sad things happened.  But one of the sad things that happened is that we had two of the engineers had got lost in the desert.  They went for a drive one morning on a Sunday morning and their vehicle broke down on them and they were some fifteen miles or so from camp. 

Well they thought they could go ahead and cut cross country to the camp a lot easier than staying on the road, which they knew they should have stayed with their vehicle. Well someone noticed that they hadn’t seen them during lunch hour, they knew they took off.  All of a sudden we got a call from one of the MP’s that patrol the road that they had found this empty vehicle. So we immediately dispatched and went out there. They could see that these fellows had started toward camp across the desert so we kind of spaced ourselves every ten feet or so and we started walking toward camp. We found them something like maybe four or five miles and they were dehydrated. One of them was actually collapsed behind a big yucca bush in the shade and the other one had his shirt off and was waving his shirt. They way we were marching we would have probably seen them. But we saw them in time and got them into camp.  They were pretty well dehydrated because it was a very, very hot part of the season.”

One of the funny things that happened is something I didn’t want anyone to know about because I probably would have been murdered at the time. But when I would go walking in the desert and I would go walking out every so often.  I had about an eight foot pole that I would take with me because if I ran into a rattlesnake I wanted to have some protection. This was during lunch time. We were all lining up in front of the Mess Hall and this friend and myself were coming out of the barracks to go ahead and go to the Mess Hall and there was a snake in front of the barracks. I believe it was a bull snake, I’m sure it was.  

So I grabbed by long pole and I get the snake on the end of the pole and I whipped it.  You know, throw it out.  But only I whipped it toward the Mess Hall instead of whipping it toward the desert.  I put the pole down and my friend and I started walking to the Mess Hall and there was a big commotion going on at the Mess Hall. Now this snake had to travel over, completely over a barracks to get to the Mess Hall.  

We heard this commotion going on and we walked up and wanted to know what had happened.  Wouldn’t you believe that snake had come down and hit one of the fellows on the neck and wrapped itself around his neck and he was yelling and screaming to try to get it off his neck, you know. We walked up there and they had to calm him down. He was quite hysterical, you know. The medic took him in hand and took him into his room and gave him some kind of a sedative.

Of course we wouldn’t tell them what I had done so the excuse—hey were all wondering where in the world that snake came from.  Finally someone come up and said the only thing we can think of there must have been a hawk that had picked up a snake somewhere and he lost it and it happened to come down.  I really kept that as quiet as I could. I never did tell.  Now this friend of mine knew what had happened and of course a few other people found out about it, but they never did tell this fellow because I’m sure he would have chased me all over camp.”

Delameter: That’s a good story. We have a couple of minutes. What were your reactions to Nagasaki?

DePaula: We still didn’t know how devastating it was. The war was over.  Now that’s the main objective, get the war over.  We were called into Lt. Bush, he called us all in. Because of our work down there, everyone was given an increase in their rank.  I went from Private to Private First Class, the Corporals went to Sergeants, the Private First Class went—and Lt. Bush went from Lt. to Cpt.  He became Cpt. We were given twenty day furloughs as soon as the war was declared over which was some time the middle of August. We were told that any excuse that we could find, a toothache, a back ache just send any excuse back to Lt. Bush and we could get a ten day extension on our furlough. So I wound up with a thirty day furlough with the war over in New York City.  Gee, there were so many celebrations going on in this city, everyone was treating the GI’s so well that I didn’t have to pay for any theaters, I didn’t have to pay many of the restaurants, so I forgot all about the problems we had.  It turned out in the long run.

When we started learning about the problems that the bomb had caused over there in Japan, I think that was different. Now we started feeling a little bit differently about the bomb.  We were sure glad the war was over with, but was it worth all that destruction and all that you know. I guess we finally took it in our stride.

Delameter: After the war was over and you told people where you had been and what you had done, what were their reactions?

DePaula: Everyone was very surprised. My parents were very surprised that I was involved in it.  Really and truly when you look at it, there were just a very few people involved in the operation. It became kind of a status thing with me. I was kind of proud to say that I was down there at Trinity. I didn’t mind telling people that I was the garbage man. In fact I thought it was pretty nice to be the garbage man on that kind of a situation.”

So all in all, things turned out quite good for us.  I tell you, with all loneliness down there and all that, when we got back from our furloughs, we were called together again and Cpt. Bush said they still needed something like fifteen or eighteen people to stay down at Trinity to help clean up the site and they would be discharged from Trinity Site. 

It’s surprising most of the people, now I didn’t want to stay down there because I was still pretty young, but most of these married fellows and all that they had so many volunteers that Cpt. Bush finally had to set up straws. He put straws in his hand and the ones that picked out the short ones got to stay down at camp.  They were willing to stay there now that the war was over. But now they had the weekends to themselves and could drive into Albuquerque if they wanted to and have their wives come and visit with them. It really turned out to be something that they were willing to stay at camp until they got their discharge.

Delameter: Did working at Trinity alter the direction of your life?

DePaula: Oh yes, cause I was given my choice of going to Kirkland or coming back up to Los Alamos. I chose Los Alamos and then when I was discharged, I had a job waiting for me in Los Alamos. Now I had all my friends, everyone I could relate to was here in Los Alamos. I had nothing back in New York. I had my family and all that, but still the people I pretty much associated with the last year and a half or so were up here you know, civilians and all that. So I decided to come back and work for the Zia Company with the idea that I would only stay a few years and I stayed on and on and never left. So it really did alter my life.

Delameter: Given the war circumstances and all, would you do it again?

DePaula: Oh yes, now that I have a little bit more age behind me and all that and you understand that some things are done with a purpose in mind. See after the bombs were dropped we were all down at Trinity you know, after we had come back from our furlough talking and all that, we were all pretty happy people, you know. Pretty proud that they worked down there. Some of the older fellows were really, really proud of the fact that now they could understand different things that had happened you know.

I might mention one other interesting thing, I think we may have a few minutes.  Now here we had these fellows from overseas, like I said, had been in the South Pacific and one evening we were sitting about the barracks shooting the bull and all of a sudden we heard a strange noise out.  I saw two or three of these fellows that were overseas, they ran out of the barracks and they dove under the barracks.  We were bombed.  

Alamagordo had a bombing site over this mountain range.  Every so often they would go over and make some practice runs.  Something happened where they mistook our camp lights for the bombing range and they actually dropped bombs on us.  Now they were not—the bombs only contained something like five pounds of black powder and when they’d land they would detonate and give off a flash and I guess the people in the planes could see if they were accurate withe their bombing an all that.  We couldn’t quite understand.  We heard the bombs drop out, you know, out of the campsite and here are these men jumping. They understood the whistling of a falling bomb was and it was still instilled in their mind. They were actually under the barracks looking for cover and the rest of us just standing around wondering what are they going crazy or something, you know.”

Delameter: Standing with your necks extended.

DePaula: Then immediately Lt. Bush must have got on some communications and they got in touch with either Kirkland or some other Air Force using it for the bombing range and got in touch with them and stopped it immediately, you know. So it only happened one night but it did happen to us. And another thing, they cleaned up the bomb debris very fast the next day. I think the MP’s went out and cleaned it all up and got it out of the campsite right away.  I don’t know why, maybe they didn’t want us to think that this was going to be an ongoing thing or something of that sort.  So there were things that happened down there that you just can’t—

Delameter: We may have a few more minutes if you want to tell us anything else that springs to your mind.

DePaula: Now it can be told, some of these men from the—I didn’t know this was going on, but some of these men from overseas not liking the idea of being restricted and they had a lot more older people and a lot more bravado or something, they were braver than I was.  Saturday night would come along and all of a sudden we wouldn’t see some people.  Some men.  

It turned out that they would take a couple of government vehicles, there were maybe four or five of them and they made their own path, their own roadway.  They came out into the little town of San Antonio.  But the reason for the two vehicles is that one of them they would some gasoline cans in it and they found a place to hide one vehicle and they would fill their car up with gasoline or they really used the four-wheel drive vehicles and they would drive and come out into this town of San Antonio and then they would go back and pick up the vehicle and come back into camp.

So there were a few guys that were sneaking out of camp and no one knew about it.  No one knew about them sneaking out of camp. They made the mistake one day of taking the cook with them.  He was not on duty for Sunday breakfast and that’s when Lt. Bush found out what was going on.  Because they were waiting for them, they knew they had to be out of camp somewhere and here they waited for them.   Here come these two vehicles with these five or six fellows in them and the cook.  Needless to say, they never did that again because he got them in his chambers and he must have really read the riot act to them.  Because they did not do that anymore.  But we don’t know how long it had been going on.  It might have been going on for several weeks.  That was one of the other incidents that happened.

Another incidence that happened is that the Laboratory sent down a truckload of five gallon cans of 190 proof alcohol and when they counted them in inventory, there were only forty-nine cans.  It turned out that some of these overseas guys found out that they were 190 proof and they took one of the cans and they hid it off in the desert until the heat cooled down. They must have made a mistake somewhere on the inventory.  After several months we noticed that a few of these fellows liked to drink beer were buying 7-Up and Coke and they found out that they were starting to hit that 190 proof alcohol.

People find a way of entertaining themselves and all.  But I really think one of the reasons for us being able to get along was Lt. Bush. He was just a terrific person.

Delameter: I think we’re out of tape.

DePaula: Well, I hope I told you something.

Delameter: We’d like to hear more. Maybe you could go to Trinity Site.  We’ll be taping at Trinity Site.


Copyright 2012 The Los Alamos Historical Society. This transcript may not be quoted, reproduced, or redistributed in whole or in part by any means except with the written permission of the Los Alamos Historical Society.