Nathaniel Weisenberg: My name is Nate Weisenberg. I am here with the Atomic Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. It is Tuesday, May 22, 2018, and I am here with Philip S. Anderson. My first question for you is if you could please tell me your name and spell it.
Philip S. Anderson: My name is Philip S. Anderson, P-h-i-l-i-p, middle initial S, A-n-d-e-r-s-o-n.
Weisenberg: Why don’t we sort of start at the beginning. Can you tell me when and where you were born?
Anderson: Little Rock, Arkansas, May 9, 1935.
Weisenberg: Tell me a little bit about your childhood in Little Rock, and what you did before your family moved to Oak Ridge.
Anderson: Well, I think that when I went to first grade, I walked with my next-door neighbor; we were in the first grade and school was several blocks away. He and I walked together, and our mothers stood and watched us, and Bill and I were told to hold hands when we went. So we held hands and crossed the streets and went down to the schoolhouse.
Weisenberg: Bill is your younger brother, was that right?
Anderson: Bill was my younger brother, but this was Bill Bond, the next-door neighbor.
Weisenberg: What was your neighborhood like there? It sounds like you walked to the school.
Anderson: In Little Rock?
Anderson: Well, the neighborhood then is what the neighborhood is like right now. It’s a nice, quiet neighborhood, nice houses along the streets. Everything is very well-maintained. It’s a pleasant place to live. It was then, and it is now.
Weisenberg: Tell us what your parents did. Your father was in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers?
Anderson: Dad worked for the Arkansas Agricultural Extension Service, but he had an ROTC commission from the University of Arkansas, where he was in the ROTC, and he was called up immediately after Pearl Harbor. Then went into training, as it turned out, to go to Oak Ridge.
Weisenberg: Do you remember hearing about the attack on Pearl Harbor?
Anderson: Oh, yes, I remember it vividly. I remember the attack on Pearl Harbor vividly. I was in our house, which is still on the street it was on, and it was a cold, December day and we had a fire in the fireplace in the living room. And I remember that our maid—and I’ve often wondered what in the world Mother was doing with a maid on a Sunday—but our maid went to the Catholic church to pray when it happened. Mother and Dad were seated on one side of the fireplace really talking about how horrible it was. There was a footstool in front of the fireplace, which is a footstool in our bedroom now. I remember kneeling. I was on my knees with my elbows on the footstool staring into the fire thinking, “What’s going to happen to me?”
Weisenberg: At that time, your parents still lived in Little Rock, and then after that you moved around to a couple of places.
Anderson: Yes, we did. I’m trying to think – we were in Kansas City for a while, and then we moved to Omaha, Nebraska. It was in Omaha that I had the experience that I wrote to you about, with the school teacher who demanded that I tell her where I was going. It was a very painful day for me. I’ve never forgotten it, and I never will forget it. She said, “Well,” to the class—this is a second-grade class we’re talking about—and she said, “Well, Philip is going to be leaving us. Where are you going, Philip?”
I said, “I can’t tell you.”
She said, “Oh, yes, you can. Where are you going, Philip?”
“I can’t tell you. It’s a secret. I promised not to tell.”
“You’ll tell me!”
I mean, the school was there, and she was right in front of me. And I said, “I can’t tell.”
She got right in my face and said, “You tell me where you’re going, and you tell me now.” I started crying, and she said—she was right in my face—and she said, “Tell me!”
“We’re going to Oak Ridge, Tennessee.”
I went home that night in tears and told my father what I had done. He said, “That’s all right. I’m going to have to report it, but you did the best you can. Don’t you worry about it. I’ll report it and we’ll take care of it.”
I went to school the next morning not quite knowing what to expect with this teacher. She was seated at her desk at the front of the schoolroom, which was some distance from the class. We were waiting for the day to start. The door opened without a knock and two tall men in long coats, wearing hats, walked in and told her that they were from the Secret Service, and they needed to talk to her, and she needed to come out into the hall and talk. They went out into the hall, and they were gone for a long time.
When they returned, my teacher was an absolute wreck. Her hair was disheveled, she had been crying. She sat down, and they talked to her some more. They had some more questions for her, and then they left. They never took their hats off. She pulled herself together and said, “Philip, will you come to the front of the room now? I want to say something to you.” And she said, “Philip, I’m sorry for what I did, and this will just all be a secret between us now, just between us. Okay?”
I said, “Okay,” and went back to my seat. That was it. I think it demonstrates the secrecy in which Oak Ridge was planned and developed and carried on its mission.
Weisenberg: How was your father selected to be a part of the Manhattan Project at Oak Ridge?
Anderson: I have no idea. He was in the Corps of Engineers, and of course, it was a big engineering project. Dad was in charge of housing. We moved to a hotel in Knoxville, where there a lot of other people were also on their way to Oak Ridge. It wasn’t opened yet. But we were with a group of people who were going with us. It was a secret, why we were there. But we stayed there, it seems to me, for maybe a week, maybe a week and a half.
Then, we moved to Oak Ridge, and we moved into the first house that was complete in Oak Ridge. It was an “A” house, which was a two-bedroom house, but very small. The “A” houses were small. And it was all mud. It was all red mud and we didn’t – as Mother said, and she was quoted in a book.
I think it’s The Oak Ridge Story, is the name of it. I was unaware of the book and ordered it after hearing of your interest in talking to me about this project. I was just opening the book and was astonished when I came to one page that began, “Philip S. Anderson, who was a captain in the United States Army, and his family were the first people to move into a house in Oak Ridge.” Dad is cited with saying some things, and Mother is quoted. I recognized the quote, it was from some speech that she gave years later. The essence of it was we weren’t born early enough for the Gold Rush, but we made up for it in Oak Ridge.
Weisenberg: In other interviews that we’ve done, people have described it as feeling a bit like a frontier town with the mud and boardwalks, because they hadn’t really put sidewalks in yet.
Anderson: Yes. There’s also a book—and it may be The Oak Ridge Story—that there was just mud everywhere and people had to take their shoes off before they went in the house. And we had boardwalks, and it was awful. Well, my recollection when we moved in our next house in Oak Ridge, nobody took their shoes off. I mean, it was bad, but it wasn’t that bad, and we had boardwalks, really, above the mud. The boardwalks were subsequently phased out, and we had concrete sidewalks like everybody else in the United States.
Weisenberg: You started off living in one of the alphabet houses, in an “A” house.
Anderson: We lived in an alphabet house, and at the first opportunity, we moved into another house. “A” houses were the smallest. They’re A, B, and C houses, and then the D, E, and F houses were larger. They were of a different configuration, but they all were the same space. Our house was on the second lot up from the cross street below. It was on a slope, up a hill, but it was gentle. It was a gentle slope.
I can’t tell you what the size of the lot was, but it was comfortably large, and there was room for everything that we wanted to do, croquet. It was what I would call, for Oak Ridge, a large lot. There weren’t any larger lots for houses, although the houses were of a different configuration.
There was a wooded area next to our house that went on for some distance, and I used to spend the night in the woods. I’d camp out in the woods by myself, which was actually, you know, only a few yards from our lawn. But I would camp out in the woods. The rest of the lawn was available for croquet and badminton and the like. Oak Ridge was really a very pleasant experience for me.
Weisenberg: Can you tell me a little bit more about some of your adventures? You would walk down this, with your—
Anderson: G Road.
Weisenberg: G Road.
Anderson: G Road. Well, we were on New York Avenue; our address was 401 New York Avenue. It went up a hill, and then to a wider street where we turned left until we got to G Road, which was an unimproved road. It was just a dirt road that went down the hill. There were houses there, but they were all abandoned because they had been condemned by the Army and taken by the United States from the people who lived there. All of those houses were empty houses, and I would go with some of my pals down G Road, and we’d walk down with our backpacks and our camping equipment.
At the bottom of G Road was a spring, a beautiful spring. Up the hill right next to the spring was a cave, and it was wonderful to explore the cave. We didn’t go very deeply into the cave because we didn’t know what to expect. But we would climb up and go into the cave. There was a spring and we’d put our bedding down right on the ground with a tarp underneath. We’d cook our meals by the fire that we had built and wake up the morning with the birds and do it again all over that day. And then the next day we would hike back home. It was just absolutely wonderful.
Mother and Dad didn’t worry about us at all. None of the parents really had any worry about their children because Oak Ridge was highly, highly protected by wired fencing that was patrolled every hour. Our parents didn’t worry about it; they didn’t have anything to worry about. I mean, if anybody had anything to worry about, it was somebody trying to get in. We felt well-protected and very happy.
I think that I mentioned in my notes to you that when I went back years later after picking up our daughters, who’d been in summer camp in Tennessee. I went down to G Road and the spring was gone, the cave was gone, and there was a huge shopping center where our campout space had been.
Weisenberg: You had mentioned that you think some of your neighbors were scientists who—
Anderson: Yeah, they were scientists.
Weisenberg: —who had gone to maybe witness the Trinity test?
Weisenberg: Do you remember any of their names?
Anderson: No. I knew them at the time. I mean, they were neighbors and I knew who they were at the time, and I recognize their names in news reports. But I can’t do that, I can’t pull it out of memory now, that’s all lost. But I remember them. They were very nice men, and they were all men, that is to say, the ones who were involved. They had families, and they lived in houses like ours, and they were either scientists or they were somehow involved in the governance of the City of Oak Ridge. We knew they were scientists, we knew they were working on something, we didn’t know what they were working on. It was Oak Ridge, we didn’t know what we were working on.
We later learned that some of the men, some of the scientists who were gone for long periods of time, like a week or two—and we didn’t know where they were, but just knew our neighbors had gone. It was a close-enough neighborhood that we knew who was there and who wasn’t there. They were watching tests in Los Alamos, and I guess it was the Pacific where they also made tests. But we didn’t know about any of that until later. They all were very nice people, wonderful neighbors. The United States should be proud of all those men.
Weisenberg: Did people ever speculate about what this whole project was about, or did people generally keep quiet about it?
Anderson: Well, I’m sure there was a lot of speculation about it, but there wasn’t any speculation at our house and among the people we knew. There was no speculation about what it was. They just had a job to do, and they did it.
You saw the large plants, these huge plants with barbed wire all around, guards everywhere. You had to have IDs to get onto the project. Sure, we talked about, “What in the world is going on in these plants?” They weren’t just great big buildings. As you saw, they were huge, there were pipes going everywhere, and of course we wondered what it was. But we had no idea what – all we knew it was connected with the war effort, and that it was a military secret, and we couldn’t talk about it.
Weisenberg: So your father worked in housing.
Anderson: Yes. He initially was in charge of housing, and I would say that’s probably why we moved into the first house that was completed, because it was his call. I’m sure that Dad had other duties as time progressed, but I don’t remember what they were.
I was reminded by one of my children of an occasion that I had told them about. I was at my house and a friend who was my age—which was probably about 10 or 11—was there, and Dad was in the house. It was a morning—I don’t remember why in the world he was there—and he was seated on a piano bench, smiling. And Mother was there and my brother, Bill, and we talked about things and Dad just kept smiling. I wondered, “What in the world is going on here?” My friend tumbled and got up and said, “Congratulations, Major Anderson.” He had just been promoted.
Weisenberg: He was a captain and then a major.
Anderson: Then he was a major, yes.
Weisenberg: Your mother, what did she do?
Anderson: Mother was active in a lot of things, and she was very active in social matters. I can’t go into what they all are, I don’t remember. I just know that she was very, very active and she was very busy with a lot of other women in projects that they had. The projects, of course, had nothing to do with the war effort. I mean, it was part of the social fabric of Oak Ridge. She was busy, and we all had a good time.
Weisenberg: Do you remember what some of the social life and recreational opportunities were like there?
Anderson: Well, I guess I do. We had recreational centers where people played basketball and all of that sort of thing, that were connected in some way with schools. My recollection is that they were used for other than school-wide projects but had more to do with community projects. There were women’s social clubs and Mother was very active in what she did. It was just all part of the community, but nothing to do with nuclear power.
Weisenberg: One other question that just came to mind: were you old enough to have a security badge?
Anderson: As a matter of fact, I was. There’s a book about Oak Ridge, about badges, and the author said every man, woman and child, regardless of age had to have a badge, and that wasn’t true because we didn’t have to have a badge until we were twelve years old.
Anderson: Every child at the age of twelve had to have a badge, the age of twelve and over. When a child reached his or her twelfth birthday, he or she had to have a badge, no exceptions.
Weisenberg: When would you have to show the badge?
Anderson: Coming into Oak Ridge. The closest city was Knoxville, and there were the larger stores, and that’s where the major clothing shopping and other things occurred. People coming back onto the reservation had to have a badge. There was a lot of activity and it was all interesting, but a badge was essential to come in to the city. And I, quite frankly, was pretty proud of my badge. When the guard had stopped us at the entrance, would come around and look at everybody’s badges, and he’d say, “Okay, son, let me see yours.” And I very proudly pulled it out.
Weisenberg: Did it make you feel a part of the community at all?
Anderson: Oh, absolutely. I knew that I was important. I had a badge. I knew that something very important was going on, and I knew that I was a part of it because I had a badge. And there was something secret, and I was a part of the secret, although I didn’t know what it was.
I didn’t know what it was until the day the first bomb was dropped. That’s when we realized, and it was announced that Oak Ridge was where the bomb was built. There was a lot of interest and an awful lot of talk about it, of course. I mean, this revelation of why we were there. We were there for a long time before we found out what it was. There was a great sense of pride because we were part of the war effort.
Weisenberg: Did your parents feel similarly – that they were proud about their work?
Anderson: Oh, no question about it. I mean, Mother’s work was social work; Dad’s work was for the Corps of Engineers. He was a military man, and he was a good military man.
Weisenberg: Do you remember where in Oak Ridge you were when you heard about the news of the Hiroshima bomb?
Anderson: I was home. I was in my house on 401 New York Avenue when we learned of the dropping of the bomb. It was a revelatory moment. At last, we know what we were doing here, and we were very proud of the fact that we were. We knew that they dropped one bomb and then they dropped another bomb and it was all over, the war was over. Everybody in Oak Ridge felt—I don’t know about everybody, I know about our family and our friends—we were all very proud to have been a part of it. I was just a little kid, but I knew that I was part of the community. I knew that something very, very important was going on, even though it was a secret. I knew that I was a part of it, even though I didn’t know what the secret was until the bomb was dropped. Then I realized what was going on, as everybody did. And I was elated.
Weisenberg: Do you remember there being celebrations in Oak Ridge when the announcement came over—
Anderson: Absolutely, they were everywhere. There were gatherings everywhere, cheering crowds, and it was a great celebration.
Weisenberg: Did you or your parents’ thoughts ever change about the atomic bomb and the morality of the Manhattan Project?
Anderson: I was interested in that, because in your list of questions you raised the issue of the morality of that. Let me tell you, we were in a war, and we were going to win the war or die. And I don’t see any question of morality in destroying the enemy. They showed us no quarter when they were bombing us, and we had no quarter to give them. I don’t know anyone in Oak Ridge who said, “Oh, isn’t it horrible that we were part of this terrible bomb that killed all those people.” Well, think about the people who would have been killed if the bombs had not been dropped. There would’ve been an invasion of Japan, and there would’ve been many, many, many American casualties and casualties from other Allied nations, too.
I think that it was a great time in American history. I think that it was a great time for science. All of the scientists weren’t Americans, of course. They came from other countries, because they had been studying what we now call atomic energy. They participated in the work that resulted in the building of the bomb. They were great men. Again, I don’t mean to be dismissive of the women who were very important in Oak Ridge; they had an important role. Morale was one of them, and they kept up the morale. They kept up activities there so that it was a thriving community, and they felt like they were doing their part, and they were.
I’m unaware of anybody I ever knew in Oak Ridge who was ashamed or sorry for what I saw as a kid, and I think that a lot of adults saw as adults that the war had to be ended. It was a painful end for the people who were our enemies, but they were our enemies, and they would have killed our people if we had not killed them.
Weisenberg: Shifting a bit back to some of the community aspects that you talked about, can you describe your neighborhood a bit for me? Where you would go, where you would walk around? You had mentioned the grocery stores and other neighborhood stores. Then you would also, it sounds like, go to the town site as well, where there were bigger stores.
Anderson: Well, there were community centers throughout Oak Ridge, and there was a community center across the street from the people who lived right below us. There was a small grocery store, a small drugstore, a barber shop, a beauty salon, maybe a small clothing store. There were two ends and they were long ends and the long place in the middle where the grocery store was and the like. Then there was another L at the other end. The L, I think, was the beauty salon. It wasn’t really big, but it was enough to serve people needing to get groceries in the neighborhood and that sort of thing.
We would go to the town site for shopping for clothes, for the movies. There were two movie houses there. There was an ice cream store. There were other amenities at the town site. The town site was just down from Oak Ridge High School. Oak Ridge High School was on a hill, and then down the hill was the town site. The movie theaters were there and we all went to the movies on Saturday afternoon to see Red Ryder and Hopalong Cassidy and all of the other important things to our lives at that time.
Weisenberg: Did you go to the Grove Theater?
Anderson: Yes, I did go to the Grove Theater. It was farther away, because it served another part of the community. But the Grove Theater was a very nice theater. As I recall, it was the Center Theater in the town site and I believe it was the Grove Theater someplace else. But the Grove really was a little nicer than the Center.
Weisenberg: Where did you go to school in Oak Ridge?
Anderson: I went to Pine Valley Grade School, and Pine Valley Grade School was right across from the small shopping center that I’ve described. I walked to school. I walked down the hill for a block, block and a half, and went to the school.
After junior high—Jefferson Junior High it was—we went on to Oak Ridge High School, which was an absolutely wonderful school. All of the schooling that I had, I had from well-trained, well-qualified teachers. The high school experience was a good one, an important one. It was my understanding that every high school teacher had to have an advanced degree in his or her major subject, and it showed. The students there were sons of military personnel or sons of scientists, and the education had to be on a high plane and demanding. I felt like I had a wonderful education. Well, I know I had a wonderful education. The teachers were good, the work was demanding, and I believe that I’m a better man for it.
Weisenberg: You had mentioned, too, that after you left Oak Ridge you went for senior year of high school in Arkansas, and that you felt that you were pretty far ahead of the other students, because you had been at Oak Ridge.
Anderson: After the war, Dad bought a farm in Poinsett County, Arkansas. The nearest school was Marked Tree, the Marked Tree school system, very small. They were taking some of the same courses that I had been taking, and they were way far behind me. That is to say I was farther advanced in the curriculum than they ever got to be.
Weisenberg: Changing tack for a minute, were you still in Oak Ridge when it went from a closed city to an open city?
Anderson: Yes, I was.
Weisenberg: What do you remember about that?
Anderson: There was a lot of celebration, as I think I may have mentioned. I mean, it was a time to celebrate, and we did celebrate. I didn’t notice anything different really, except the gates were open. We could drive right through the gates coming back from Knoxville. The guards didn’t stop us anymore.
Weisenberg: Did you still have to carry your badge, or you didn’t need it anymore?
Anderson: No, I carried my badge everywhere. I had to have a badge. There were times when they asked to see my badge, and I’d have to show my badge.
It became an open city, and of course, there was a lot of interest in Oak Ridge and what went on in Oak Ridge, and somebody in the city decided that they needed to do something to celebrate the uniqueness of the city of Oak Ridge.
There was a place where there was an exhibit for other things going on, but the dime exhibit was part of it. The dime exhibit consisted of a long band, and it was protected by glass on three sides, and then there was the band underneath. It was a moving band, and the people who were running this display would put dimes on the display and run the dimes, they would irradiate the dimes. This was all part of nuclear science, you know, and the dimes would be irradiated. In order to prove it, there was a Geiger counter at the end of the band when the dimes came out, and they’d put the dimes under the Geiger counter, and the Geiger counter went wild and so it proved that these were irradiated dimes. Boys got them to swap. I went to a Boy Scout Jamboree, and I had a sack full of dimes and exchanged the irradiated dimes with Boy Scouts from other parts of the United States as souvenirs of the Jamboree. It was a 1950s Jamboree.
I got back to Oak Ridge in time for a flap. Some doctor said, “This is outrageous. Those dimes are radioactive, and if boys carried those dimes in their pocket, they could become sterile.” Now, I don’t know about the other boys—I know that I didn’t become sterile—I don’t know about the other boys. But it was a huge flap and they shut it down, shut the exhibit down.
Weisenberg: I wanted to ask you about the newspaper that you had when you were a kid in Oak Ridge.
Anderson: I delivered the Knoxville News Sentinel and also the Knoxville Journal. One was a morning paper and one was an afternoon paper. I had routes only for one paper at a time, but I had paper routes for both of them. Robert Oppenheimer’s house was not far from mine; he was on the paper route. He was the only prepay on the paper route that I had, and he was therefore my favorite, because I didn’t have to collect from him. It was all taken care of. I never saw him. I saw his housekeeper once or twice. I talked to her about something. Something was going on in the yard and we talked about some yard problem. She was a very nice person. But it was very quiet around his house, and I never had an opportunity to see him. Although, there were signs that he had been there when he was there, but I just didn’t get to meet him.
Weisenberg: What sort of signs were there that he’d been there?
Anderson: Well, he left things there. That was one of the things that we talked about. Something was left on the ground, and we talked about his leaving it on the ground instead of putting it up. There were signs of activity and the lights were on at night in his house, so I know he was there. I just never got to meet him.
He spent time in Oak Ridge. He probably got up earlier than I did and went to work.
The newspapers were just normal newspaper routes. One was a morning paper, one was the afternoon. The afternoon paper was easier to deliver because I wasn’t as sleepy. I had to get up real early in the morning to do the routes and then go to school. But it was just what a boy does, you know. I wanted to be productive and that was one way.
Weisenberg: You were riding around on your bike?
Anderson: No. I was afoot the whole time. I had a great big pack of papers, front and back, and I’d just throw the papers. It was all on foot, but it wasn’t a big route anyway. It was not big.
Weisenberg: How did you feel when your family left Oak Ridge?
Anderson: I really haven’t given it any thought, of course, until just right this second. But on reflection, I would say that I was sorry to leave Oak Ridge. We were moving back to Arkansas and that was important to Dad and to Mother, because her sisters lived there. It was a new adventure for me, and like any boy, I was up to some sense of adventure. It was close to the end of my junior year when we left, and I really regretted that I wasn’t able to finish high school at Oak Ridge. But I didn’t have any say in it, and I certainly didn’t beg Dad not to do what he wanted to do.
I really haven’t thought much about it. I know how much I liked Oak Ridge, and I didn’t know what was going to happen when we got back into Arkansas. Our relatives were here, as I said, and my cousins were in Arkansas, so that part of it was good. But I really enjoyed my experiences in Oak Ridge. I had a wonderful childhood in Oak Ridge. I think it was unique, and I think it informed me for my life thereafter in a good way.
Weisenberg: How did it inform your life in a good way?
Anderson: What, Oak Ridge?
Anderson: Oh, my goodness, think of the people I was in touch with! I mean, think of the people on my paper route. We’d sit down, and it wasn’t just “throw the paper and come and collect.” They would be in the yard, and we would talk. They were interested people, and they at least took time to talk to me about things that I was interested in. Which is to say, I guess, in all, they were very kind, good people for the most part. I’m sure that there were some bad apples. It was my good luck to be around some really wonderful men who did a lot for this country, and who were very, very smart and capable in what they did.
Weisenberg: Growing up in Oak Ridge, do you think that influenced your decision to go into the law at all?
Anderson: I don’t think that it did. It wasn’t until I was at the University of Arkansas as an undergraduate that I started thinking about what I wanted to do. One thing was stay at the University of Arkansas and get an advanced degree and teach here. That had an appeal to me. As a matter of fact, the president of the University of Arkansas invited me to dinner at his house one night. I haven’t thought about this since then, but you’ve piqued my memory with your question.
He talked to me about going into an academic career, is what he wanted, and referred me to the dean of students, who had become a friend, and he made a similar encouragement. I thought about it a lot, but as my undergraduate years went on, I thought that I wanted to be a lawyer, and so that’s when I decided to go to law school. I had a wonderful experience at the University of Arkansas.
I’ve said more than once that two of the best teachers that I’ve ever had were my English teacher in Marked Tree when we came back to Arkansas, and Robert Leflar, who was the dean of students at the law school at the University of Arkansas. Who was a remarkable man, a great scholar. We became friends. He was interested in my pursuing an academic career too, but I was just determined to go on to the law.
Weisenberg: There was one story I realize I forgot to ask you about, which was an exploding toy truck. Is that right?
Weisenberg: You want to tell me that story?
Anderson: Yes. A friend of Dad’s gave him a truck for me, to be my toy. It was a little wooden truck. Anyway, they were friends, and I was sitting with Dad. The wheels didn’t work right, so he got a nail and was driving the nail into the wheels, and the truck exploded. Dad’s hands were damaged. I mean, they had to be bound up and everything, he was bleeding. We called a doctor and military intelligence came. It wasn’t the same guys that were in Omaha, but it was on the same sort of thing. I mean, two guys, two members of military intelligence came to see him, because he was working on the project, and somebody gave him something that blew up that could’ve killed him.
It turned out that his friend was having trouble with balancing the truck, and so he had put bullets in the front of the cab to hold it down. When Dad nailed into the tires, he exploded the bullets. There was a big flap about that, and that was the end of the friendship Dad had with the man who brought the bullets in the car to him.
Weisenberg: You’ve written about that when you were in the Boy Scouts, you had an atomic patch.
Anderson: You bet. Still have it. Mother designed it, and the other boys’ mothers did what they did, and it was circling neutrons around the center. That was the emblem of the Oak Ridge Boy Scouts who went to the National Jamboree in 1950. We had our own patch. I’ve still got it. I’ve still got the advertisement for the Jamboree, to come to the Jamboree. Boy Scouting was very important to me.
Weisenberg: I’ve heard that a lot of kids in Oak Ridge were involved in the Boy Scouts or the Girl Scouts. That it was a big activity there.
Anderson: I mean, we were normal kids and the Boy Scouting was a part of that, and the Girl Scouts were, too. The parents, the mothers were deeply involved in what their children did. Look, we were red-blooded American children, and we did red-blooded American children things, and that was the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts. We went on hikes together—not the boys and girls, the boys at one camp, the girls did their own thing. But scouting was a big thing in Oak Ridge.
Weisenberg: Speaking of your mother, you mentioned she was sort of hired to design the patch. Do you know how that came about?
Anderson: No. We had to have a patch, and Mother drew the short straw, I guess. She may have volunteered for it, but she was the one who designed the patch and did the initial work and others helped her with the same thing. It was just a matter of putting the patch together. She didn’t put one together for everybody. I think every mother did the patch for their son. It was just replicated for all the boys who went to the 1950s Jamboree.
The Jamboree was a wonderful thing, and I was afraid I wasn’t going to be able to go. I mean, I had to have a project. I came up with a project that – it turned out that it wasn’t very successful, but it was enough to get me on the squad to go to the Jamboree. Dad told me after an appropriate period of time, “You left a boy and came home a man.”
Anyway, so much for scouting. You asked about growing up in Oak Ridge. That was part of it.
Weisenberg: I think one of your kids had mentioned that your mother played an important role in helping console people who were trying to deal—
Anderson: [Laughter] That’s true. It is true. Mother met with the new arrivals in Oak Ridge, with the women who were in tears because they were there and felt isolated and cut off from the world and wondered just what was going on, and what their role in the community would be. Mother counseled with many of them about Oak Ridge. It was okay, and they were going to learn that they could fit in, we’d all fit in together. It was a matter for the war effort, and it’s something that we, as Americans, had to do.
Weisenberg: Another story I wanted to ask you about—
Anderson: Yeah, sure.
Weisenberg: —was about the toy airplanes and what you would do—
Anderson: We were given—we, children, 10, 11 and 12-year-old children—were given models of enemy planes. This may have been done through the Boy Scouts, but we were given models of enemy planes, and we were supposed to be on the lookout for any planes that looked like those enemy planes. We had binoculars, and I think Kate [his daughter] had the idea that we were given binoculars by the government, and we may have been, but we were asked to be a part of the war effort. We were asked to be on the lookout for the enemy, and we felt justifiably very important about being given that responsibility. We would go on tops of buildings with our binoculars and our chart of what enemy planes looked like and look to the skies to see if the enemy planes were any place around. We didn’t do it every day, but we did do it, usually on weekends. We thought we were doing our part in the war effort. We were very serious about it.
Weisenberg: When you were looking around through those binoculars, was there anything else that you would see when you were looking around the city? Or were you just kind of looking at the sky the whole time?
Anderson: No, we were looking around the city. But I mean, we weren’t spying on lovers in cars or anything like that. We were on top of a building and we just looked around, we kept our eyes on the skies. There were planes that flew over occasionally, but when the planes flew over, our job was to identify the plane. Now, of course, the government had far more sophisticated surveillance ability than a bunch of Boy Scouts. Anyway, we felt we were doing our part, and that it was an important part of the war effort, and we were going to do a good job, and we did.
Weisenberg: Oh, I do have to ask you about when your mother was at the hairdressers and there was another customer who was being very nosy, if you don’t mind telling that story.
Anderson: Well, she was being very nosy, and the hairdresser figured she was a spy and turned her in. Mother was a witness to this. In any event, they were mistaken, but Mother was involved with the hairdresser and this other person, and they talked about what they should do. The hairdresser called the authorities, and it turned out this woman was engaged in some suspicious activity, but it didn’t have anything to do with the war effort. It’s an illustration of how concerned people were about what was going on and cognizant of their own duty to help protect Oak Ridge and what was going on at Oak Ridge.
Weisenberg: Were people told if somebody was going around acting suspiciously or asking too many questions, “Oh, you should let the authorities know about this person”?
Anderson: Yes. That happened, yes.
Weisenberg: Not quite the same, but “If you see something, say something.”
Anderson: Yes. Of course, there were signs up: “Report any suspicious activity.” There were signs all over downtown Oak Ridge, the town site, about maintaining a picture of – indicating silence. “Don’t tell secrets, don’t talk about what we’re doing.” “Remember not to talk about our activities.” “Be wary of people who might be spying on us.” The adults took it seriously and the children did, too. They felt justifiably like they were playing an important part in the war effort, and we were.
Weisenberg: Do you remember any of those billboards? There’s a famous one of the three monkeys on it. Do you remember any of those?
Anderson: I don’t remember the three monkeys: hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. I mean, I guess that’s right, yeah. We had those signs, we did.