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Kenneth Pumphrey’s Interview

Manhattan Project Locations:

Ken Pumphrey worked as a security guard for the Special Engineer Detachment in Los Alamos from 1946-1948. Pumphrey recalls his part in securing the secret city and rotating around Los Alamos on guard duty. He was one of the last 12 military personnel to leave Los Alamos before the area was turned over to civilian administration. Pumphrey talks about getting treated at the hospital, the military hierarchy, and his family’s suspicion over his odd PO Box mailing address.

Date of Interview:
December 27, 2013
Location of the Interview:


Alexandra Levy: All right, my name is Alexandra Levy with the Atomic Heritage Foundation, and we are here on December 27th with Kenneth Pumphrey in Florida. My first question is to please say your name and to spell it. 

Kenneth Pumphrey: My name is Kenneth Pumphrey, and I am 86 years old. My name is spelled, Kenneth, K-E-N-N-E-T-H, P-U-M-P-H-R-E-Y.

Levy: Great. Van you tell me about where and when were you born?

Pumphrey: I was born in the town of Takoma Park, Maryland, just about fifty feet from the Washington, DC line on Eastern Avenue. That was in 1927. As for the exact address, I don’t know. In those days they didn’t have a whole lot of numbers on some of the houses. They were nice homes, but they didn’t have a whole lot of addresses. It was not a heavily populated area anyhow, but in the interim I will say that thirty percent of the people were relatives in the town of Takoma. So, most people knew pretty much about me and my family. Now, if there are any questions on that? 

Levy: What kind of an education did you receive?

Pumphrey: Yes, my education consisted of starting out in the DC schools, and transferring to the Maryland schools. I went to a little school, J. Enos Ray School in the elementary area, and Mount Rainier High School for my high school education, and that is as far as I went with my education until I got into the service. Then I went to Columbia Technical Institute in Washington, DC to take mechanical engineering, but I found out that they had a lot of things going on that weren’t proper, and I didn’t feel completely satisfied. So, I didn’t go back the second year. I wanted to go to the University of Maryland, but even at that time, the universities were still pretty crowded with ex-military people coming back on a GI Bill and going back to college. 

So, the waiting list was pretty long, and I figured I would be a little bit too old to go to college at that time. So, from there I went into a mechanical trade in steam fitting, which is pipework for powerhouses, private homes and heating and air-condition, refrigeration systems. Now most of my work was in Washington, DC, and ninety percent of it was around government buildings or in government buildings, so government territory, government areas. So I saw quite a bit in Washington. 

Then I went to Los Alamos in 1946 just after I graduated, and I was there until 1948. Actually I was discharged from Sandia Base in Albuquerque, because we closed Los Alamos out to the military. I was one, I think, of the last twelve military personnel to leave there, with a security guard. We turned it over to the civilian guards. 

Levy: How did you end up working in the SED at Los Alamos?

Pumphrey: What it amounted to, we had finished our basic training in Camp Lee, Virginia. They rounded up a group of men, and I didn’t know any of them from the military thing. Of course, we were not all from the same companies. This colonel got up in front of us on a stage. Now, I may be wrong, but I think it could have been Colonel Landsdown that I knew, that eventually ended up as my neighbor where my wife and I moved in the Deale area of Maryland. Anyhow, but I can’t back that up, but I think it was, because that was part of his job. 

He got up on the stage and gave us a speech about what a great place it was that we were specially selected due to our background to serve where he was going to take us. He said, “Now this is a top secret project, but you gentleman are going to enjoy this.” He said, “You will be able to reach out the window and pick fruit off the trees.” He said, “We have got educational things for you.” He said, “And entertainment,” and he said, “You are going to be very well satisfied.” 

He said, “So if you are interested”—he said, “Now I know a lot of people will tell you in the military, do not volunteer for anything.” They did. He said, “But I am asking you to volunteer for this.” He said, “Now if you are interested in this,” he said, “sign up with the sergeant out there.” He said, “And he will hand me the papers. We will make arrangements for your transportation.” 

So, consequently, I talked it over with a couple of fellows. I said, “Well curiosity has got the best of me.” I said, “I don’t think it’s going to be what he’s promising us, because I haven’t seen it here in Camp Lee.” I said, “But I’m going to take a chance.” I said, “Well, he told us we would not be going overseas.” That’s what he said, we’re not going overseas. 

I said, “I don’t know whether they will send me to Germany or Japan,” I said, “but I would not be interested in going to the Far East, so I am going to give this a try.” I’m young, you know, eighteen years old, got all kinds of funny ideas I guess, but anyhow, I decided I was going to sign that paper and give it a try. 

Consequently we were transferred from our barracks at Camp Lee, Virginia, to the railroad station in Richmond, where we were put on a train which had three military cars. Each consisted of a dining car, a sleeping car, and another car, and a Pullman. These three cars were hooked to other trains that were moving in a westerly direction. If they went southwest, they would hook us onto that train. Then we may be detached from that train and go northwest, like up towards Illinois. 

Our first real stop was in El Reno, Oklahoma. Every man on that train was broke. We had not received our pay from Camp Lee, naturally. We hit a restaurant there, and the man said, “Well I will help you fellows as much as I can.” He said, “I will see what we can do.” So, this lieutenant that was in charge of us on this train convinced him to let him sign a check for this, to get our names on it, and the government would reimburse us and him. We were a long time getting that money. 

So, consequently, our next stop was at a town outside of Albuquerque. I’m trying to think of the name of it. 

Levy: Was it Lamy?

Pumphrey: It sounds like Tucumcari. It wasn’t that. It was another town. There was a train that went in there. Anyhow, they hooked us to another engine and this engine backed onto us, not forward, I mean forward not backwards, and then pushed us up and out of the station. We traveled for quite a while. I don’t know how many hours, because we were not moving fast. I couldn’t understand; it was just three cars, just our cars with this one engine. We were going backwards, and I couldn’t understand why. 

Well, we finally got into Santa Fe. We knew where we were because there was a sign up there says, “Santa Fe.” There were people standing out there, and they had some of them children, and they were looking at this train. 

So we got all our baggage off and stood on the platform for a while, and 6x6s were there to take us up to camp. We didn’t know where we were going, and I asked this one lady, I said, “Do you always have people come up here to watch the train going?”

She said, “Oh, no.” She said, “My children have never seen a train.” She said, “Trains don’t come in here anymore.” So, that was a surprise too. Here is the capitol of New Mexico, and I knew that much, and a railroad track with a station, but the trains didn’t come in there. 

So, we finally ended up at Los Alamos and we had a lot of orientation, and we were told what we could and couldn’t do, and about the secrecy end of it. We were assigned our particular barracks. 

Now, I am going to let you take the questions from there, because I was in Company A, what they classified as 8455th Military Police Battalion.

Levy: Was that part of the Special Engineer Detachment? 

Pumphrey: No, yes, it was and it wasn’t. It was a funny setup, because the engineers that were in Los Alamos weren’t the engineers like we would expect to see if we were in combat or in a military camp. Some of them did have the compound for the vehicles. Some seemed to work for the civilian end of it. Some that we saw would never speak to us. We were told not to molest them, not to get out of line with them. We just got the impression that they weren’t full military because they never saluted their officers when they went by. The officers didn’t stop them to berate them to tell them what they were supposed to do. 

Levy: What was your job at Los Alamos?

Pumphrey: Strictly guard security system. In other words, we took our orders no matter what post we were on, and we put six on, and six off. In other words, we worked for six hours and we would be off six hours. We very seldom got the same guard twice. In other words, I would be at site, 10E, TD site. I don’t know whether you know anything about these or not, but—tech site. 

We didn’t know where we would be. We might be guarding a coal bunker or the ammo dump, anything. Post-1, the gate, I pulled that twice, but you never knew where you were going to be on guard. 

Levy: Did you ever do guard on horseback or in a car?

Pumphrey: No, no. They claimed before we got there some of the guards were on horseback. As a matter of fact, just before we broke the camp up and left, they set two half-tracks up there and one of them I was put in charge of, and we had to get a lot of cosmoline off of them, because they had been sort of sandbagged, I guess. But anyhow, I got them cleaned up, and there were six men with me, and that was our transportation. We had to learn how to handle it our own selves. There was nobody to teach us, but I was responsible for that halftrack. Of course, I had never driven one before. I had driven 6×6’s and Jeeps, and weapons carriers, you know, but never anything as big as a half-track. 

So, anyhow, I turned that in, and that’s when we closed the camp up and all of us moved out. We were shipped to Sandia. When we got to Sandia, a small group of us were transferred to a camp outside of Camp Hood, Texas. It was a high security area and we went there as part of the security system. We were only there about maybe a month, and then we were transferred back to Sandia for our discharge. 

Now as for Los Alamos, our barracks were rather archaic. They were pressure treated, like—not particle board, but the composition board. It was treated, wasn’t pressurized. It was treated with a green surface and 2×4 structure. I have got a couple cartoons there to show you what the heating system was. There were three coal stoves to each barracks. We had a nice latrine between two barracks. There was a connection barrack here and a barrack there, and the latrine was in the middle. They were in very fine shape. 

The mess hall wasn’t too far from our barracks, but the first Thanksgiving—we got there just before Thanksgiving, when we got off that train and we got to Los Alamos and a couple days later it was Thanksgiving. The cooks had a royal party, and somehow they got into some booze. They cooked the turkeys, but they forgot to take the entrails out. There was a lot of diarrhea the next day. I don’t know. They never seemed to do a whole lot of damage to the cooks when they would punish them. They had their own barracks and their own way of living there. They were sort of royalty because they needed cooks for the men anyhow, so we accepted that. 

Levy: Besides that incident, was the food generally okay?

Pumphrey: The food was fine. The food was good normally. About every once in a while you would get something maybe a little bit out of order, or maybe you didn’t like it, but the rest of the men would go along with it, and we found no fault with our food whatsoever. But the officer’s mess was attached to the mess hall, and they had their own place to eat. Of course, they had to pay for it. And they had a different type of silverware and a different type of plates. We had the regular steel plates, you know, with the sections, but we didn’t complain about that. I mean, that was part of the system. My initials were KP, KMP, and I lived up to my initials. I served some KP quite a bit and some military police, and it was just a 

Levy: Were there any security breaches while you were there?

Pumphrey: No, not that I heard of really. In other words, security was pretty tight. Even the security was tight on us. They kept telling us, “We got the articles of war,” I would say, on the average of once a month. 

They would tell us what we were required to do, but I made a mistake one time. I asked, “Well, what are the officer’s articles of war?” as the sergeant was reading them off. 

He said, “Well they do have articles of war, but I don’t have them.” 

I said, “Well we would like to find out what their standards are.” We never did. 

You know, that’s the military, but we weren’t too upset about anything like that. We had our own little confines. We had our own little groups, and basically, I think everybody there just did their job and kept their mouth shut, because a lot of us, when we found out what we were working with, we were scared. We didn’t take any chances. So we did what we had to do, and we took care of things. I knew my time was going to be short, so I wasn’t too upset about anything. 

Levy: How did you find out what Los Alamos was making?

Pumphrey: I guess that was sort of an accident on all of our parts, because they never broadcasted that. They never said, “The atomic bomb is here. This is the home of the A-bomb.” They said, “This is the atomic energy. We are responsible for the progress of the atomic system.” And that is as far as they went, within reason. Then gradually word of mouth got around that there were three atomic bombs in a certain area. We didn’t believe it, but there were. But we thought they were mockups, but maybe there is something ready for the future. We never questioned that. 

We saw things that maybe we shouldn’t have seen, but we never spread it out. We never questioned it. We never said anything. 

Levy: Like what sort of things that you might should not have seen?

Pumphrey: Well, maybe I shouldn’t say this, but one of the things I saw was one building where you pulled a guard and you punched a clock. When you punched this clock, you had a certain amount of time to get from this point to that point, and it showed up, one o’clock. When you turned your guard in and they started checking that clock report, if there was a discrepancy then you were called forward and questioned. 

Like one time on my first round, I missed one clock, but the rest of them turned out the time period was right. The captain did; he questioned me. I told him, I said, “Sir, I didn’t know I missed a clock. I thought I got all of them.” 

He said, “Well, did you count them? 

I said, “No sir. I wasn’t told to count them. I was just shown where they were.” I said, “And plus we didn’t have much time to get from one to the other.” And that’s what I did. 

He carried a key with a number on it, and this was a raised area, I guess about that high and a floor below. There was a whole bunch of material down there all cut in different shapes and different sizes with sort of a round surface. Later on we heard it was called yellowcake. It looked like it was made of wax to us. We didn’t know. We didn’t pay attention to it. All we wanted to do was get out of that particular building and get back to our barracks. I only pulled that particular post twice. In the interim, we pulled about every post they had. Each individual went from post to post, you know, and you never knew where you were going until the guard roster came out. 

Levy: As a guard, were you checking people’s badges? 

Pumphrey: Yes indeed. Even I had a badge. It was a film badge. and I had what they called a TLD badge. When you went into your guard area, you had a badge there, and you were only allowed in certain areas, because your badge would be colored. A red badge could only get in this particular building. A blue badge meant parameter. You could only go in that building. If you had a mixture of colors, that meant you were allowed in different areas. “All area badges,” as they called them. So, security was very tight. 

Now, our military boys, our guard system, we had problems with men in uniform going in and out of the gates. Our training was, any time that you saw an officer, you had to salute him. We would salute the officers coming through the gate, check their badges. Sometimes write their names down, if it was required. But these officers, a lot of them would not salute back, so we complained about it. We said, “We have to salute, but the officers don’t.” 

I said, “What happens if we don’t salute?” 

They said, “You can be court-martialed.” 

So, you know it was the military. Things were, I guess they were different then. 

Levy: Do you remember checking the badges for any of the top scientists?

Pumphrey: Yes. I checked people through Gate-1. Some of them couldn’t speak English, but another person would be in charge and do the talking for them and vouch for them. We would have his badge number and his identification to make sure he was the right person that was doing this. Then they would be given papers at Post-1, and some type of badge so that they could be cleared to go into wherever they were going with this individual who picked them up at the main gate. Sometimes it would be more than one person out there that we recognized but didn’t necessarily come into the main gate at the building. 

Levy: Did you have any relationships with any of the civilians, or did the military mostly keep to themselves? 

Pumphrey: No, no. We didn’t fraternize. They sort of frowned on that, and I don’t think the civilians were too happy with the military, but there was no friction. 

Levy: What was the social life like?

Pumphrey: Nil, next to nothing. When they finally let us get passes to go out, there was a big ruckus in Santa Fe between the military and the civilians. The boys were turned loose, and the people in Santa Fe were asking a lot of questions. Some of them already knew the answers. They had relatives up on the Hill working or something. 

So, you know, it was secret, but it wasn’t secret. As a matter of fact, we understood there was a lady there, and I read about her later on, that received all our mail. She was the one that brought it up to Los Alamos. And her office was in Santa Fe, and that was Post Office Box 180 there.

Levy: Was it PO Box 1663, or was it 180 for the military?

Pumphrey: No, ours was Post Office Box 180.

Levy: 180, okay. 

Pumphrey: Santa Fe. 

Levy: Santa Fe. So that must have been a lot of mail then. 

Pumphrey: Yeah. 

Levy: Were they censoring mail at that point? 

Pumphrey: Well when I went up there, they were supposed to be censoring it. But I never heard my family complain about it. My mother did mail me a camera, simple camera, what do they call them? Pentax camera, where they open the top and look at and take pictures. But I never received it. Now, I don’t know whether the military got it whether the Post Office lost it, or what happened to it. But I asked her—she asked me something or another how the camera worked, and I asked her, “What camera?” in return mail. 

Levy: During the war, you were not allowed to have private cameras. 

Pumphrey: We were not supposed to have them, no, but my mother didn’t know anything about that. 

Levy: So they may have confiscated it then. 

Pumphrey: Yes, so they may have. I don’t know. You know, it’s just another one of those things. 

Levy: Did you ever get out around the Los Alamos area to do any hiking or any sports?

Pumphrey: Yes. Not sports. Yeah, one time we saw a basketball game between the basketball clowns, what are they called? They get out there and they clown around and play around, and they played the Los Alamos   . That was way late after I got there. 

When we got our passes, we went into Santa Fe. We went into Albuquerque. A lot of times I would go down Frijoles Canyon and go around the ruins down there, the Indian ruins or the old gold mine up the hill. I was interested in the other side more I guess, but I did go into Albuquerque a couple of times and Santa Fe, but these were short runs. In other words to Santa Fe, you were only there for a day, and then you have to come back to camp, maybe go on duty or something. But for a long time, we didn’t get out of camp. 

Levy: Did you have any relations with the Pueblo Indians in the area?

Pumphrey: Yes, we met a few of them in our travels in Santa Fe. And one guide down in Frijoles Canyon, and he didn’t seem to be there all the time, but he explained a lot of things to the group. There were four of us who went down there. He explained a lot of things to us about the Indian dwellings, you know, up in the hills. Somewhere I have pictures, but I don’t know what happened to them. 

Levy: Did you have any contact with General Groves or Oppenheimer or any of the top people who had been on the project?

Pumphrey: No, some of them passed through our guard system. At that time there were a lot of names that we didn’t realize that were being transported, but I heard about them after I got there. Then when I got out, it finally dawned on me—I had passed some of these people through my security, not knowing who they were. 

Levy: I think you had mentioned that you had been on a basketball team and a football team. 

Pumphrey: No, I wasn’t on it. 

Levy: No, you weren’t on it. 

Pumphrey: No. They had one, and they were called the Los Alamos Bombers, and they were bombers all right. They never won a game, but they tried. 

We didn’t have any athletic directors. We had some guys that had played football maybe in college or school, and we had some that played basketball. For those that got on the team that had never had any experience with it, it was something new, but it was something they could do. 

We had a hospital up there, and it was a civilian hospital basically run by the military. I had to go up there one time to have a cyst taken out of my earlobe, because when I went on sick call they gave me turpine-hydrate and codeine and some APC pills. I don’t care whether you had a toenail aching or a finger hurting or you had diarrhea or your vision was bad, that’s what you got, the APC pills and a bottle of turpine-hydrate and codeine. So, that was a big joke. 

Levy: Were the doctors there good, or just passable?

Pumphrey: This one doctor, Dr. McDonald who operated on my ear, was very thorough. He told me I may have a little scar there. He said it may come back, but he said he got it all, because it was about that big around and had swollen up. You know it was giving me a lot of trouble, but the doctors who came down for sick hall, they were not regular doctors. You would have one doctor this time and another doctor the other time and so forth. This one doctor, when he was down there, he would look at this thing. He would squeeze it and say it wasn’t ripe yet, it isn’t ripe yet. 

So, this Dr. McDonald from down there showed up one morning, and he asked me, he said, “What’s your trouble, soldier? and so forth. I told him. He looked at me and he said, “My God!” He said, “Why don’t you have this thing taken out?” I told him what was happening, and he blew up. So he wrote the other doctor’s name down. He went back to the register and got it; wrote the other doctor’s name down. Then he got the name of all the technicians who were there for the Army, the corpsmen. 

Anyhow, when I went up to the hospital, he and a nurse came in and got me ready for this little operation with a lot of bandages and all. This doctor happened to come in, and they went in the corner and had a big conversation. He came over and he showed him my ear. I heard him tell that doctor, “Now, I’m going to talk to you later.” 

So, you know that was pretty good. I couldn’t complain about that, but I was sure glad to get that thing out of my ear, because it was painful. But that was another incidence, so you know. 

Levy: Did you get friendly with the other men you were serving with?

Pumphrey: Yes, I did. As a matter of fact, they were all good people, every one of them. Well, we had a few miscreants, but there were minor things like going AWOL or maybe getting inebriated or something like that. They would end up at the guard house, and I had to pull prison guard for a couple of times. That was also part of the deal. In other words, everybody got his job within reason as prison chaser. There were not any real bad offenses up there, none that I could see. One man stole a military vehicle and tried to get out, because they wouldn’t give him a pass. He wrecked it. I don’t think he had ever driven one before. 

Levy: Did you ever see any explosions, any atomic explosions, or were you always just at the gate?

Pumphrey: Yes, I don’t know whether they were atomic or not, but we saw a mushroom cloud go up, and that was on the canyon on the other side of our barracks. The sirens would go off, and all of the sudden you would hear a loud rumble and you could feel it over where we were, and then you see this mushroom cloud go up, but a lot of explosions do that. 

Levy: They were doing all kinds of—

Pumphrey: Yeah, that was on the Hill. That was at Los Alamos. That wasn’t down in Socorro. 

Levy: Yeah. At Sandia, were you also a guard? Did you have the same kinds of responsibilities?

Pumphrey: No, they knew that we were rotary that we wouldn’t be there, for some reason. So, we got all kinds of details, like yard pickup, KP, latrine duty, and they had their own guard system and the rest of that. So, we were just supplementary I guess, and they were waiting to see what was going to happen to us.

I was transferred out from there to that place in Texas, down the other side of Camp Hood.  

Levy: Were you still with the same group of men then?

Pumphrey: Yeah, the men that went down to that place, yeah, but I didn’t know them all until I got down there. 

Levy: So, the men at Los Alamos, why do you think you were selected? Was it because you had an engineering background?

Pumphrey: No, that was what bothered me. Prior to me going up there, from what I understand from neighbors and relatives, someone or some people were going through the community and checking with relatives and friends to see what I was like. That’s another reason they thought maybe I was in trouble. When I came up with this phony mailing address, as far as they were concerned, they figured maybe that’s what it was, and they thought maybe I had really done something wrong. It could have been the FBI or anybody checking. They had no idea, and we didn’t have a phone. 

Levy: Why did they think the address was phony?

Pumphrey: Because it was not a military address. In other words—

Levy: It was a PO Box address.

Pumphrey: Yes, just a post office box. There was no—1310626 added to it, my name, 1310626, you know. They said, “No, Kenneth is in trouble. He’s done something wrong.”

Levy: Now, I think you told me that all of the men in your group had a high school degree. 

Pumphrey: As far as I know, some went passed that. Some had a year of college. As a matter of fact, Sergeant Peak in our outfit had been a school teacher. 

Levy: So, but you were all pretty young, eighteen to twenty, early twenties.

Pumphrey: Yes, even he was young, but he was still a schoolteacher before he come into the service. We had quite a few men in there that had gone to college for some special training unit. We had quite a few that had been in the ROTC. So that meant that they were in college, but we don’t know what college. 

Levy: So, you were discharged in 1948?

Pumphrey: Yes.

Levy: What did you do after your work in the military?

Pumphrey: Well, on the GI Bill, I went to the Columbia Technical Institute. And like I say, I was dissatisfied with the way they were doing things and handling things, and the way they were grading people. So, I didn’t go back the second year. And I went into—actually I worked for John Mansville as an asbestos worker at heat and floor installation system. Then I worked for another company doing household installation, and that was some of the same stuff, plus siding and all. 

One day I just asked my dad to get me into his trade, and he wasn’t too happy about it. He said he didn’t know whether I was going to stick with it or not, because I had a five-year apprenticeship that you had to go to that was three nights a week. 

You didn’t lose any time. If you lost any time, you were berated for it, and you were brought up before the board of directors. So they wanted to know why you lost time, and how come, and if you didn’t have a good excuse or a doctor’s report, you were put out of the apprenticeship. But I went for five years. I didn’t lose any time, even when my children were born. I got a decoration for a Hamilton watch with all kinds of engraving on the back, which was pretty good, and I had a good report from then on too in the trade that I worked for. In other words, I always had good jobs with good companies. 

Levy: What trade was that?

Pumphrey: I was a steam fitter, a local steam fitter. 

Levy: A steam fitter. 

Pumphrey: But I spent fifteen years at Minneapolis, Honeywell, in the electronic and pneumatic control systems. 

Levy: Did anything that you learned in the military then help you with your job later on?

Pumphrey: Not a blooming thing. 

Levy: Did you ever go back to Los Alamos?

Pumphrey: No, I wanted to, but I never had money or could get the time off to go. Of course, after I got married, I was pretty well locked in. In other words, I couldn’t afford to lose any time from work. We didn’t get vacations. If you lost too much time, there was always a man waiting to take your place. So, I just stayed with my trade, and I made real good with it. In other words, I actually left Honeywell. and I started working on industrial work and powerhouses and nuclear powerhouses, and even went out of town on the nuclear end. 

So, I had a good clearance, believe it or not, by working at Los Alamos. In other words, when I worked for Honeywell, I had a government job and I had a top secret clearance. They didn’t have any trouble getting mine. It came through immediately almost, and I worked at quite a few of them. One of the main ones was Camp David in Maryland. I worked on a control system for that, and of course, Patuxent River Air Station, Andrews Air Force Base. I was on a lot of them, just about every big government job I would get on one way or the other. 

But I got real upset when President Eisenhower took Mr. Khrushchev up to Camp David, because he had all his henchmen with him. Of course they had photographic memories. He took them in a helicopter in broad daylight and then put them in a car. Through a motorcade took them up to the camp. I told my wife, I said, “I couldn’t tell you what I was doing,” I said, “but that was it.” 

So, I learned to keep my mouth shut, I guess, at Los Alamos. You can ask her. I had several jobs, but I couldn’t discuss what I was doing until it came out in the news or something. She would have a name or something, but she wouldn’t know what I was doing. So, I made out pretty good. 

Levy: Well you’ve told some really wonderful stories. Thank you. Do you have any other interesting or funny stories you would like to share? 

Pumphrey: No, we used to clown around a lot. We had to do that to take the friction off of boredom, but I’ve got pictures where we’re out clowning around and had long johns and a helmet. But the only training I really had was—that I appreciated, and I don’t know why—was my education in the different vehicles and how to handle them, and what to do in the military weapons and how to handle them, you know, of course, maintenance and repairs. Field strip and so forth, and for some reason that stuck with me for a long time. I finally got out of it. I mean, I never participated in anything, but it was just a mechanical thing. 

I am trying to think of something funny. You might get something out of some of these pictures I’ve got and these drawings. One of the fellows that was just two bunks from me was a character artist, and he had his own way of doing his characters, and I got some of his pictures here portraying some of the things that happened at Los Alamos. You know, making fun of them, but we—every once in a while our Officer Captain George W. McMinn would finagle some money somehow or another from the military to throw a little party for the men. It would be a beer party, and the barracks were like an egg shape, you know and so you had an area in the middle too. And we would go out and decorate that the best we could. We would get some good old fashion 3.2 beers, and all the men got happy, but there wasn’t anything to get happy about. You couldn’t get drunk on it, but it was beer, you know, and that’s all they served in the PX too. They didn’t serve any strong alcohol, but we had a good PX up there, very good. 

There wasn’t much that we couldn’t get that we needed. So, I don’t have too many complaints, it’s just I think I was mostly bored. That was a big thing. We would get some guard systems where we wouldn’t see anybody. It might be night or day, and then we would get guard systems where we didn’t have time to really think. We were so busy taking care of a little bit of paperwork, but we were still bored. 

Levy: Great well, thank you very much. This has been wonderful.

Pumphrey: Well, I just wish I had more to tell you. I mean, like I told you, I enjoyed getting out when I could get out, and I finally did get a hold of a camera about the last couple months I was in there, and I’ve got pictures of some of the territory around there and all, but no pictures of any of the buildings. I wouldn’t do that because I trusted my own sanity, to be honest with you. But like Frijoles Canyon I was telling you about and Pueblos and all. They weren’t Pueblos, cliff dwellers. I have pictures of them, and of course some of those canyons like up by our barracks and up by the pistol range and things like that, but they are just minor interests, but that’s what I enjoyed when I did get out. 

So, I wish there was more I could tell you, but there’s no a whole lot that I can go through. I can tell you I did see those couple bombs they had there. I don’t know whether they were dummies or mockups or what they were, but that’s what they described on television and all, but we actually had our hands on them. We could go up and touch them while we were on guard. That was part of our circulatory system. 

Most of the men I’m familiar with were in Company A. Of course the ones I was closest to were in the A barracks—excuse me, the first barracks in Company A. These are the ones you made friends with, but you got to know the rest of them too. In other words, I knew quite a few of them, but I didn’t buddy around with them. But like I told you earlier, it’s like high school or elementary school, you had your own little clique that you hung with, but you didn’t stay with them all the time. I mean, you are like quail. Today it would be three or four of these guys or two or three of them, the next day somebody else. It was good. It was good camaraderie between the men. 

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