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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

General Leslie Groves’s Interview – Part 5

In this interview, Groves discusses his administrative approach to managing the Manhattan Project. The General talks about his early career before the Project and some of the key lessons he learned during his job as an engineer that helped him succeed during the Manhattan Project. He also discusses his relationship with Congress and the ways in which he was able to persuade government officials to provide the enormous funding for the Project. Groves also discusses his ability to control stress and mentions that he slept soundly before the Trinity Test and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

Date of Interview:
January 5, 1965
Location of the Interview:


[We would like to thank Robert S. Norris, author of the definitive biography of General Leslie R. Groves, Racing for the Bomb: General Leslie R. Groves, the Manhattan Project’s Indispensable Man, for taking the time to read over these transcripts for misspellings and other errors.]

Stephane Groueff: We were talking about President Truman. 

General Leslie Groves: Yes. As far as I know—I’ve never heard anything to the contrary—Mr. Truman knew nothing about this project until he became President. I think the first intimation, which should be checked—and it can be both from Truman’s memoirs and from the Stimson Diary and I’d be glad to check that particular thing for you if you want me to, I can do it in a few minutes while you’re typing this out—Stimson may have said to Mr. Truman at the time he was sworn in that he had a very important matter that had to be discussed and that he should know about right away and that he wanted to see him at the earliest possible time.

Now whether on that occasion just how strong Mr. Stimson made it—I doubt if he would have mentioned the word “atomic bomb.” He might have said something like, “Something that will revolutionize warfare” or, “It will have a terrific impression into something that Mr. Churchill will want to talk about right away.” But he would have made it strong enough so that Truman wouldn’t have said, “Well you handle it and let me know about it later.” After all, a new president is in a terrible spot particularly one like Truman who didn’t know anything thanks to Roosevelt’s attitude and that was it.

Groueff: The Senators and Congressman except for those few selected didn’t know anything? 

General Groves: They didn’t know anything about it. The way that that is done is they take the appropriations bill for example and they conceal the item in there. They may have an item of say fifty million dollars for such and such a purpose and they make it fifty-five, [telephone ringing] with the understanding that the other five will go in that direction.

Groueff: We’re talking about the money side of the appropriations—

General Groves: Well as I say they put in appropriation in the bill to be $55 million for something and $5 million of that would be diverted to this purpose with the proper arrangements made in advance. For example some of the money we used first came from money for expediting of procurement of military supplies, which was under the control of the Under Secretary of War, Mr. Patterson. Some of that was made possible by reason of a surplus in construction funds and the congressional committee was just told we’re going to switch this money around and that was agreeable to them.

Groueff: They didn’t ask why?

General Groves: No. No the leaders merely told the others, “This is all right, don’t ask any questions.”

One thing that hasn’t been emphasized in the minds of a lot of these people enough and that is that to run a project like this took a familiarity with a large undertaking, including large expenditures of money. You could not be frightened by large expenditures.

Now the typical training of an army officer other than the Corps of Engineers was the utmost care of the slightest expenditure of any kind. The amount of money that was authorized was pitifully small for anything that was required. So people were accustomed with federal funds to exert the utmost economy and anything that required the expenditure even $100.00 would be very, very carefully scrutinized and studied and all the rest of it.

Whereas in the Corps of Engineers, because of work on rivers and harbors, which is the very fine engineering training for military engineers, decisions have to be made promptly. You don’t have time to sit and study and stew and fret. If you have a channel that is being dug you have to be able to make instant decisions. If you have a ship that needs repair and that dredge is costing you maybe $1,000.00 a day just to sit there, you can’t wait to make these elaborate studies, you have to make a decision to do something. And starting in with my first assignment in Galveston, for example, I was confronted with decisions that involve maybe some of them $50,000 to $100,000, which I had to make personally.

Groueff: And at the beginning you were nervous about it?

General Groves: Well no, I wasn’t because I wasn’t that disposition but without that training building up through the years, I would not have been ready for when the war came. For example, when I was in charge of the development of engineer equipment—this was during when Roosevelt took office—his first action was to divert all possible funds from normal government expenditures into the make work idea and what we termed “leaf-raking”, where you derive no benefit but you kept people employed. Of course, you also threw the people out of work who were doing the useful things and so our appropriations were severely restricted the following year for the procurement of engineer supplies.

Well I took the stand that if we couldn’t buy supplies in reasonable quantities there was no use in buying a piddling amount so we wouldn’t spend any money for that; we’d take all the money that we would normally have spent on supplies such as photographic paper, drawing paper, pencils and things of that kind and TNT and other explosives and we would divert all that money into the procurement of experimental equipment.

Where other agencies such as the Ordnance department and the others all found themselves cutting all development out almost completely, the engineers did more development than they’ve ever done before because we just stopped purchasing all these things—we have done what we have in depots. We just said well, “Well, we just won’t have the supplies on hand that we might like to have but we will be progressive.”

The result of this and I felt for some time—this was again due to the experience on our river and harbor work—I felt that we had to get into mechanical equipment. At that time the Army was dependent on the engineers on the same type of equipment that we used in World War I. A lot of it was the same we used in the Civil War because they were hand tools. We used picks and shovels; we didn’t use air tools. We didn’t have power tools of any kind and so that if we had to drill any rock, we drilled it by hand.

Well that was not so far out of date as people would think today because we were still drilling by hand in commercial life as late as about 1920, so we weren’t too far behind. But my feeling was in case of war, we wanted our officers and our senior non-coms [non-commissioned officers] to understand how to operate and not to have people come in from civilian life and say, “Oh my goodness, you’re not going to dig a ditch by hand are you? You’re going to dig it by ditch diggers?”

Well ditch diggers were new; none of this equipment had been in use for any length of time. So we bought that type of equipment, we furnished it to some of our engineering units for experimental purposes; that’s the only way we could buy it, we weren’t authorized to buy it. We took things of that character so that by the time that the war broke almost all of them had been with troops for the last year or two and they were all very conversant with modern machine tools and they didn’t have to stand and admire any civilian construction worker because they knew all about them.

One air compressor for example with drills could do as much work in a couple of hours as maybe 100 men with our old method could have done in a couple of days. So that was one thing and that is all part of the decision making. Now in the appearance before a congressional committee it was very amusing, the assistant chief of engineers was to be the witness. The head of military division in the Chiefs office, Lt. Colonel [Francis Bowditch] Wilby who is my immediate superior said that he wanted me to go down to this hearing. He said, “I just want you to go down there to get the training of seeing how a hearing is conducted.” 

Well I went along. When we got into the car with the assistant chief, General [George B.] Pillsbury he turned to Wilby and he said, “What’s Groves doing? I suppose he’s just going down to the capital on something.”

And Colonel Wilby said, “Oh no sir, he’s coming to the hearing.”

And Pillsbury immediately said, “What for, we don’t want him, we don’t need him” and proceeded to lay Colonel Wilby out pretty severely. As we went in and Pillsbury said, “Well he’s come down here, he may as well come in.”

And he said, “Well Groves I want you to sit off in the corner and not say a word”. And so I sat in the corner.

The congressman, one of them was very obstreperous and his name was Ross Collins and he liked to make the smart remarks and ask the smart questions. So he asked General Pillsbury after they started to testify, “General, I noticed you still have this bridge equipment, model 1924 and 1926, and here it is 1932.”

He said, “When are you ever going to get through spending money for developing that? What are you doing on it anyway?” 

With which Pillsbury said, “Well Mr. Congressman, I thought you’d be interested in that and I brought Lt. Groves along with me whose immediate charge of that work to answer your questions.” 

He turned to me and said, “Come up,” he motioned me up and I moved up to the table and I did all the testifying from then on everything pertaining to our development. I was caught cold because I had just moved in and I didn’t know much about it. I’d seen the equipment and that was all and I hadn’t understood myself the same question and so I said, “Well Mr. Collins, you won’t see that again because that work is finished and this accepting for these few minor modifications that we want to make before we declare it satisfactory.” 

But I said, “That’s the last time we’ll ever ask for any money for flooding bridge equipment of this nature.” So that was all right.

And Pillsbury on the way back in the car didn’t say a word to me. I didn’t know what I committed us to and I didn’t know what the clashes were or anything of the kind. He didn’t say a word; he walked into his office and Wilby said to me, he says, “Come on in here a minute.”

And I went in with him and as soon as the door was closed he started to tell me what he thought of Pillsbury, which was just what I thought of him too.

But he says, “The idea after what he’d said going down and then putting you in that spot and not at least saying that you did a magnificent job and I’m proud of you—” 

He said, “I’m proud of you.” He said, “I don’t know how you had the nerve to do that.”

I said, “Well I hope I didn’t make a promise that we can’t keep.”

He said, “No, that will be up to you to keep that promise. How you going to do it?”

I said, “I don’t know yet.” 

Well the next year we went in and that’s again, this ability to take responsibility and talk to people who are—it shows why I could handle Congress. Well I testified every year from that time on from the time I was there for three years.

The next year I went in and Mr. Collins—when the hearing was printed, he’d read it and he’d mark with a red pencil what he wanted to ask the next year or one of his clerks would do it. Anyway so he’d always come in and you’d think he knew everything, well he didn’t. I know just how he did it.

In any case, the next year I went in there and I still needed money to modify this bridge, but the first thing I did as soon as I got out of there I put in a recommendation to the War Department declaring these two types of equipment standard, which meant we could then buy them to supply the troops if we had any money, which we didn’t have. So they could never ask that question again.

So next year Mr. Collins said, “Now Lt. I notice that you don’t have any money down here for this big bridge equipment, what happened to it”?

I said, “Why sir, that was right after the hearing last June. The War Department, on our recommendation, standardized; it’s now standard equipment.” 

And he said, “Well now are you counting on doing any more work on it?”

And I said, “Oh just a little here and there.” 

And he said, “Where have you got the money for that?” 

And I said, “Oh that’s just under development of miscellaneous engineer equipment,” with which he laughed uproariously.

And he said, “I knew you would have it in there all right.” And that was that was said.

Well that same year he complained about a railroad equipment engineer we had who was redesigning all of our normal rail equipment so that they’ll go over light railways like that in France. Of course, our heavy equipment won’t go over it and we wanted a heavier car than France supplies so we wouldn’t have these little bits of boxcars running all over.

Well he protested against that; he said, “The railroads are very efficient.”

And we said, “Well this is what we want.”

Well it went on and finally the next year I moved that man out to Belvoir. At that time every single employee had to be on our ticket by name and I think it included even typists: so and so, such and such position. So the next year he said, “I noticed that Mr. Ralph or whatever his name was isn’t on your payroll anymore; where have you got him hidden?”

I said, “Oh we moved him out to Ft. Humphreys, to Fort Belvoir”, I said, “Because Port Balbar because he’s with the engineer board.”

And he said, “I knew you’d have him somewhere. Some year, some time I’m going to ask you for a picture of him to hang in my office. You know an ROTC unit had a mule provided for and I finally got tired of seeing appropriations for that mule and I asked for his picture and he hangs in my office and I think I’ll ask for this picture of Mr. Rolph sometime.”

Well next year I wasn’t going up. I was through and was on my way out and I told the officer who went up—he was much older than I was and much senior—I told him the story and I said, “If you want to really run that committee you have a picture of that Mr. so and So and when Collins asks for it you say, you just pull it out and say, ‘Mr. Collins, I understood you were very much interested and you wanted a companion piece for your mule.’”

But you know this officer wouldn’t do it, but that would have just taken the committee by storm. Once you get your foot on the basis of equality—if you can be very pleasant, very respectful, you’re not nasty or anything like that. That was how I got trained this kind of thing.

And of course things like the Ft. Fort Peck Dam, you’re making major decisions and advising on decisions but generally those were sort of delayed. But in one case there was a very quick one. We had designed the gates for Ft. Peck, which were interior gates on a big cylinder and the gate came down and sort of like a screw and you turned it around and you had openings and you closed it this way and the opening was closed; I imagine you don’t know anything about dams. They were enormous structures, nothing like that had ever been built excepting the Boulder Dam.

Well I finally convinced the division engineer, who was most reluctant to have me do it, that I should take the senior engineer and go out to Denver where these had been designed and then to Boulder to see them. Our specifications were all out for these gates and they’d been approved, they’d been sent up to district engineer, and he was to mail them out on a certain date. Well I got out there to either in Denver or else it was in Boulder Dam and I suddenly saw that there was a terrific mistake in our design. And I turned to the engineer who was with me who had actually designed them and was a very able engineer and I said, “Well, it looks to me like there’s been a mistake made.”

And he said, “I’m afraid there has been.” Boulder Dam had not told us about this and our people had made the mistake—this was before I got there—of not sending an engineer out there to see it on the ground and talk to them and say, “This is what we’re thinking of doing; what do you think of it?”

Well the result, if I remember, was intense vibration, which would have led to failure ultimately, which would have been disastrous. So I tried to get the division engineer on the phone and he wasn’t available, he was away or something.

So I called the district engineer and said, “Don’t put those specifications out.”

And he said, “Well what’s the matter?”

And I said, “I don’t know what’s the matter yet; I’m not certain, but I’m afraid there’s a thin bow in the design. Now that you know as soon as I can get back and talk to the people back there. In the meantime, Mr. Roberts is going right back and he will start analyzing and working on this thing.”

Well we did have to take this thing out; we had to do it. Now that is the difference between the engineer training and the military training and military operations. If that had been a military thing an officer of that period would never have done what I did. He wouldn’t know what to do.”

Groueff: Engineering was the best school that you can think of for somebody who later—

General Groves: Well plus the military training, which enabled me to understand all of the military problems and my service in Washington and the chief’s office and then in the general staff that enabled me and my previous knowledge.

I knew how Washington operated. As General MacArthur said sometime long after Korea—he was talking to a group of people and he was telling them about Washington—and he said, “Nobody can get along in Washington who isn’t on the slippery and sort of shady side.”

And then he said, “Now Groves here—”

And I said, “Wait a minute General, what did you say”? 

And he very cleverly got out of it by saying, “He understood all of this crookedness and he was just too smart for them to get away with it.”

Well that is what you have to do. You have to understand how their minds operate and how they’re going to react and that enabled me to handle the congressional committees to the extent that I had to.

And it amounted to this: on one occasion—this was the last time I testified on construction—they said, “How much money is there? Is this enough?”

And I said, “No, I’m not certain that it is. I’d much rather see us with a big reserve in there. You know enough about me now to know that I won’t spend it just because we’ve got it. I will spend that only if I have to. We can make the estimates but if the military situation changes and the War Department has to tell us to build an extra barracks for each company that could just upset everything.” If demands for water come up to be much more than contemplated—we found out that tanks use more water than horses ever used and automotive equipment uses more water.

And I said, “That’s what I’d like to have.” 

And the chairman of the committee said, “Would a billion dollars be more be enough?” 

And I said, “I think so.”

And he said, “I’m in favor if the committee doesn’t object of giving you that extra billion because we can trust you not to spend it unless it had to be spent.”

And actually that was surplus money with which the Manhattan District was started; a lot of it came indirectly into that I think, but I don’t know.

But I was gotten after by the Bureau of the Budget, which went wild, they didn’t like to see anything changed. It wasn’t this occasion but I think previously they had sent word to me indirectly the way they do saying if I didn’t stop getting these appropriations raised when I went before a congressional committee they were going to report me to the President for not conforming to his budgetary policy. My answer was “I’m going to answer any question that’s asked of me or else I’m going to reply that by order I am not permitted to answer your question,” and then see what happens. And in those days Congress would have raised the roof at such an answer. But that is what led to this.

Groueff: You had to have it?

General Groves: You had to have it. I also had all of the military background that enabled me to understand the tactical and strategically and part strategic importance of this thing and all about it whereas an engineer from civil life would not have had. And he would not have understood how to get around the Washington rules of operation. He thinks they’re outrageous. Well, they are the result of long experience.

It’s the same way you have a deadline. If the President was assassinated you’d know that that deadline didn’t apply but you’d know that there was still a deadline. The magazine had to go to press at a certain time and there was no use of you having a nice story that got in a day late. But on the other hand you’d know that if your deadline was Tuesday morning, it could be Thursday morning, particularly if you sent a warning message, “Save me so much—”

Groueff: That explains very well what I was going to ask you about your feelings when during the Manhattan Project you had to make enormous decisions about spending hundreds of millions; so I see that you had to have it.

General Groves: You had to have it.

Groueff: So you were not scared?

General Groves:  No, and all through the construction work the same thing had been true. For example, I was out on a job and I saw a dam that had been designed and this dam had been passed on by a very prominent hydraulic and dam engineer in this country, probably the best.

Well I just looked at it and I didn’t like the looks. I didn’t think the wing walls—this dam went across here and the wing walls go back into the embankments on each side, the hills and mountains on each side—I didn’t think they went back far enough. I just said to the engineer there, who is the local designer, I said, “I think you ought to change that.”

It wasn’t in my bailiwick; at that time I was not supposed to say anything about engineering—this was under Somerville—I was supposed to be operations only. I told him, “I don’t think that is sound and you ought to change that.”

And he said, “Well, so and so has passed on it.” 

I said, “I know it but he’s wrong. That isn’t safe. You know that’s a dangerous thing to have there; if you really start to analyze it and why not go back twenty feet more? It isn’t going to cost us much money.”

Well, I argued him into doing it. I could not give him an order to do it but I argued him into it. I think about after we’d started doing that and I just heard reactions from the engineering department asking why was I sticking my nose into their business for, a bad dam failed out in California and I think 102 people were killed with one more word said about this thing and that’s just what I’d been afraid of—that cut around the edge. There were constant decisions made on that.

Now as an example of what was required in those days was I went up to someone who was in the engineering section one time and I said, “We just got to get the plans for this particular job. You’re holding it up and we can’t get the work out there. What’s the matter?”

And this man said, “Well right here on the back of my desk is one of these bottlenecks. I can redesign that layout and it would save about $30,000.”

And I said, “Well you’ve already cost us $50,000 on idle time waiting to get at it. If we don’t get this thing done, every day you delay it’s costing us about $5,000. Furthermore, it’s an urgently required job for a depot and I don’t know what that’s worth, but I would guess at least $50,000 to $100,000 a day. Now do you think you’re saving money?”

He said, “Oh, take the plans.”

That is what you have to have; you have to have a broad viewpoint, which you don’t get under normal conditions unless you’ve been trained for it. And of course you have to have a temperament, which goes with it.

Now someone was talking about a book that’s written by [David] Lilienthal in which he talked about how he’d seen me. Of course, it’s all post war and he hated me like poison, I know. He was talking about something and he said, “General Groves was very afraid.” And this woman I talked to—she never worked for me—she worked in this field and she was a secretary to Admiral Strauss. I said, “Has Admiral Strauss read that book yet?”

And she said, “I think he has, but he’s been very sick and I haven’t talked to him about it.”

I said, “Have you looked at it?”

And she said, “I looked at it but I don’t place any confidence in it because one of the first things I happened to look at was a statement made by Lilienthal that you were obviously very afraid what was happening. I never saw you afraid in your life. I just knew this book couldn’t be trusted.”

I think that is generally true.

Groueff:  You’re not, in your personal life—

General Groves: No and also the two types of courage. You see there is the moral courage and the physical courage. Well the moral courage is the hardest to find. You take the physical courage and I always said, for example, that the average West Point graduate that 98 to 99% of them are fully capable of winning the Medal of Honor in the first six months they’re out if they have the opportunity.

Well you know the same thing is true in every other country, but the moral courage that enables a man to say, “We’ll do this,” which is a courage taken by a major commander such as Hindenburg when he decided to attack at Tanenburg. Of course, people like to say that this was not his idea; this was Major so and so. But [Joseph Jacques] Joffre I think was the one who said it first about the Battle of the Marne when he said “Well I don’t know who is responsible for the victory,” but he said, “I know who would have been responsible if it had been a defeat.”

And that’s what you’ve got to have and it’s a remarkable thing that Joffre and Hindenburg both were what might be termed the more stolid type. I don’t know how a man like Poche, for example, would have stood up under the toughest of going; you just don’t know. You never know until they’re faced with it, for example who everybody thought was tremendous man as Chief of Staff to Poche, was no good when World War II came. He didn’t have the personal moral courage to do what should have been done.

Groueff: But during the Manhattan Project were there moments that you were discouraged?

General Groves: No I was never discouraged. I knew it was an impossible task to start with but my feeling was that while I very much disliked the assignment that as long as that was my assignment, we were going to make it go. Every outward appearance was this is going to succeed, it’s got to succeed, and we’re going to make it succeed.

Groueff: Even in the darkest moments when the reports came that that cannot be done?

General Groves: Yes and I never permitted anyone to know what I felt about it. Now when I talked to General Marshall at the beginning of things in December ’42, when I showed him the first report, he said, “What are your chances of success?”

And I said, “I feel that there is a 95% chance that ultimately there will be a bomb that will be very powerful. I don’t know what size. There’s about 60% chance we’ll have one in this war.”

Now when I told certain people, particularly [Percival] Dobie Keith, he said, “You shouldn’t have said that; we haven’t got that much chance.”

But if you think of working at something with 60% chance of success and the knowledge that if you’re not successful it’s going to be a complete disaster, why I think you’ve got some idea of what it’s going to be like if you’re a nervous disposition.

Groueff: You have nerves that are very, very solid.

General Groves: Yes.

Groueff: Are you the type of man who at the end of the day when you go home to sleep you can switch and relax?

General Groves: Oh no I never had any trouble sleeping. I even went to sleep with the most critical time from my standpoint, which was waiting for news from Hiroshima. After I got the first news, I got the news of the dropping and then I wrote the report. This was about 11:30 at night. I wrote the report that I was going to make to General Marshall the next morning and then I gave it to Mrs. O’Leary who wasn’t going to sleep—she couldn’t—and none of the others were in there.

And I said, “Now I’m going to sleep in here and when the next message comes in, which will be the message after the plane gets back to Tinian, I want you to wake me up and we’ll go over this report.”

I just had a cot in my office and she went out into the outer office along with all the other people who were around there and when the thing came in she—

Groueff: You did fall asleep?

General Groves: Oh I went right to sleep. At Alamogordo, when we had about three hours or four hours to wait for the bomb there, the tents were flapping and there was a high wind and Conant and Bush were in the same tent with me—it was a brown little tent—and they said after, “How on earth did you sleep? You went right to sleep and we stayed awake. We don’t think we’d have gotten to sleep anyway, with those tents flapping, how could you stay asleep?”

Groueff: How many hours did you sleep normally; are you one of those men who don’t need much sleep? 

General Groves: I sleep all that I can. I used to sleep from six to eight hours I guess. But I normally work from about 8:00 in the morning, a little before 8:00 to about—if I was in Washington—to I guess about 7:00 at night. And then two nights a week I would stay at the office and I would go out to dinner, keep Mrs. O’Leary there, we’d go out to dinner and have a hurried supper and then come back. And I would then clean up all the paperwork where I had to dictate because normally—unless a letter had to go out right away, this was just something that was semi-routine—I was on the phone or talking to people from the time I came into the office until I left at night.

And you see with the time difference that meant I opened here at 8:00 and San Francisco didn’t close until 9:00. And we had our secret code machine was normally close down about 8:30 but not until San Francisco was through, in other words all the messages would be in.

And then an officer was kept there who had to inspect all the safes and all the desks to see that no papers were left around by any mischance and then after that was done he had to sit there and wait until this girl was through so that he could escort her to either her own car, which I guess almost none of them had, or to public transportation. He would take her to the corner where the bus came or the streetcar, and he would wait until she got on that car, on the basis that it was not a good part of Washington. It’s where the State Department is today, only not as big a building.

I could not afford to have any disaster happen to any of these people; supposing somebody kidnapped her and we wouldn’t know what they were after. Also I didn’t want anything to happen that they would start to say, “Why was she working late?” Some of the officers used to get to their cars and just take the girl home. They said that’s easier than standing on the street corner; I’ll get her home faster that way. But that was the general way that we operated. I never considered travel time as traveling as work and I would stay up until all hours working on papers.

Groueff: That requires very solid health; you must be very healthy man.

General Groves: I was, but the pace showed towards the end.

Groueff: It was tiring?

General Groves: It was very tiring, but not enough on the other characteristic I would say it was very marked. At 6:00 or 8:00 in the evening I could discuss things with other people on just as even a temper as at 8:00 in the morning. If I did not like something I wouldn’t tend to lose my temper at that time of day, which is characteristic of most people.

Groueff: I also noticed that you have exceptional memory for dates and very often in our conversation you caught not only the year but the month of event.

General Groves: I don’t have a good memory for memorizing. In other words it’s torture to me to memorize anything like a poem or if I’m making a speech to memorize the first paragraph or the last paragraph, I can’t do it without tremendous effort. But as far as remembering everything, I can remember anything if I told anybody.

People used to say when I would say, “I can’t remember,” they’d say, “I’ve never known you to remember anything that you told me to do that I didn’t do.” 

When I wrote the book, I dictated generally in rough without looking at anything. And that was the first rough draft and those things are only two things, this was written three years ago or four years ago.

Groueff: It was practically twenty years after the events.

General Groves: Yes and there were only two things that I was wrong on my understanding of what happened.

Groueff: But all dates and names of people?

General Groves: I didn’t have the dates; I had to look up the dates. I had to look up the spelling of the names or the first names because I never knew the first names anyway.

Groueff: But you have very good capacity of remembering?

General Groves: Yes maybe because I don’t remember individual things that don’t matter too much.

Groueff: You have a selective memory?

General Groves: In other words I can’t remember poetry. To me to memorize a verse of a poem is just terrible. I can’t even memorize the opening sentence of an address.

Groueff: You would memorize figures?

General Groves: Well if the figure was necessary but not normally. When I was at college at West Point if it was something to do with trigonometry or calculus quite often I would have to sit and work out the theory to get the formula where other people would know the formula right off because I wouldn’t remember it. Or, if I remembered it I wouldn’t be sure of it so I would work it out in part without jumping wherever I could jump, of course, so it wouldn’t take too much time.

Groueff: It’s a different kind of memory.

Copyright 1965 Stephane Groueff. From the Stephane Groueff Collection, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University. Exclusive rights granted to the Atomic Heritage Foundation.