Cindy Kelly: I’m Cindy Kelly. It is January 27, 2015. I am in Santa Fe with Richard Yalman, and the first question I have for you is to say your name and spell it.
Richard Yalman: My name is Richard George Yalman, that’s Y-A-L-M-A-N.
Kelly: Perfect. Very good. Richard has a very interesting story to tell about his days in the Manhattan Project, but to put it in context, we want him to start with his birthday, where he was born and something about his childhood.
Yalman: I was born on April 16, 1923, in Indianapolis, Indiana. But, by the age of five, my father moved to Columbus, Ohio. Actually, it was Bexley. Bexley is a little town surrounded by Columbus. It was a population of five thousand then, it’s five thousand now.
I went to the Bexley schools, and in high school, I used to hang around the chemistry laboratories at the Ohio State University. In the summer, the chemistry acting chairman was a man by the name of W. Conrad Fernelius. He thought I was pretty smart, because I solved the geometric problem that one of his graduate students was working on. As a result of letters of reference and what-not, I got a scholarship to Harvard. I went to Harvard when I was about seventeen, and by the time I was about twenty, I was already into my Master’s program.
When I suddenly get a call from W. Conrad Fernelius, who was now working in Dayton, Ohio, and he said, “Dick, what are you doing?”
I said, “Well, I’m a graduate assistant, but I’m only twenty and I will be drafted any day now.”
He said to me, “Well, if you come work for us, we can’t keep you from being graduated, but it’s an important project and we might get you reassigned.”
So, I went to work for them in Dayton, Ohio, for two months. I got drafted, and I was in Claiborne, Louisiana, doing basic training when I got reassigned to Dayton, Ohio.
Kelly: So, how was that, how did that happen?
Yalman: He was looking for people to work on a project and he was an inorganic chemist, and what he was looking for were just people who probably knew the difference nitric acid and sodium hydroxide, and I had enough chemistry to know the difference. He was trying to get people to work on this project, and he mainly got people he knew, former graduate students, current graduate students, students of professors from the chemistry department. They were all from Ohio State.
I got to Dayton, Ohio. I found that there was a man by the name of Ed Larson; there was a man by the name of Louis Marchi, a man by the name of [Arthur] Staniforth. These were people—oh, there was Joe [Joseph J.] Burbage, who later became the director of Unit Four. These were people I had known when I was in high school, because they were still, they were taking Master’s degree by going to Ohio State during the summer.
Most of them were high school teachers, and they taught school in the winter, went to Ohio State during the summer. Other people I found there, I got to know, a very good friend, was Henry Kuivila, even I can’t remember. K-U-I-V-I-L-A, Kuivila. He was an organic chemist from Ohio State, and they teamed me up with Henry. Henry was about six years older than I was, and he was married, but didn’t have a family yet.
Other people who were there in Dayton, a man by the name of Sergio deBenedetti. DeBenedetti had been a cosmic physicist in Italy, and he had already been gotten out of Italy and here he was at the Dayton project. I was told not to mention his name to anybody, because people knew what he did in Italy, and therefore, they’d have a good idea where he would be working in the United States. A man by the name of Swirbly [PH] was in charge of health at that time. He was the one who provided and analyzed the dosimeters.
Oh, a man by the name of [James] Lum, L-U-M, he was in charge of the Dayton project. Now, I got there in March of 1944, and Lum was in charge of the overall project. He had been a month—this was before Thomas & Hochwalt Laboratories was taken over by Monsanto. So, Lum had been a Hochwalt-Thomas employee and since this was under contract with them, they made Lum the overall director of the Dayton project at that time.
Fernelius was in charge of the chemistry program, and so he fit me into that. Another chemist who was there, I think he was an unknown at the time, a man by the name of Karl Rawlinson. And, that’s all I think I can remember of the men who were already there. They were all senior to me.
I was there two months. I got drafted. I got, went to basic training. I got reassigned, and by coincidence the master sergeant, the warrant officer responsible for signing my reassignment papers later showed up in Santa Fe, and I got to know him socially after I got to Santa Fe. I can’t remember his name now. I haven’t seen him in thirty years. But, I did run into him.
He said, “Oh, I didn’t know what you were doing, but I knew it was important.” He said, “I signed papers for a lot of fellows like you, young people who were technically trained, but obviously couldn’t avoid the draft, because they were all under twenty-two.”
When I got reassigned to Dayton, I was a private in the Army. There were at that time seven of us. This is June 1944. Prior to the reassignment, there had already been one Army person at the Dayton project, and he was a sergeant, and he was in charge of communication. That’s what he did for the next couple of years. I was there, one of seven, for almost a full year. Oh, maybe not quite, but nearly a full year.
It was a rather odd experience. I lived and worked as a civilian. I would not wear the uniform. I did not have an Army privileges, except for franking (sending mail without postage) privileges, and that was because my return address was a P.O. box someplace.
As a civilian, we were told not to wear any part of the—excuse me—as an Army personnel, but on this project, we were told not to wear any part of civilian clothes. If we did, we would get transferred or jailed or what-have-you. Occasionally, that broke down.
Sam Jones, another young chemist like myself, went rowing one day in uniform in a nearby lake, and he was picked up and he was broken from sergeant back to private, with the admonition that he was lucky he wasn’t being shipped to the Pacific. Another man, oh, his name was Paul Hamilton, Paul’s wife joined a woman’s group at Thomas-Hochwalt and she said to them, “Oh, my husband has a very important job.” Paul was told to shut his wife up, she was not to mention anything about being an important job. Another man was caught wearing his suntans one time. I forget, he was just reprimanded. One time I wore, well, let me turn it back.
Another odd thing that happened was our company headquarters was Chicago. So, we were seven enlisted men with no officers, and we got to the point where—and, of course, we couldn’t salute while we were in civilian clothes. Well, that didn’t bother us. We could go to get furloughs and wear our uniform on furlough, but we had to go to the train station and change clothes, and we had to have an Army pass, a furlough pass. So, I went to my wife’s graduation from Swarthmore at the end of one year, and I remember changing my clothes at Union Station in Columbus and Dayton, getting on the train, going to Philadelphia, getting off the train in Philadelphia, stop by the MP, and fortunately, I had the correct papers, saying that I was a furlough.
Another odd thing was although we were in civilian clothes, we could go out to Wright Patterson Air Force Base. This was in Fairborn, Ohio, about ten miles from Dayton. As we went out, on the right side of the road was a medical corps. On the left side was the experimental and mechanical and PX [Post Exchange] and prisoners of war, what have you. On the right side, we could go to, we had to go monthly for a monthly inspection. We could go to the dental clinic and go the medical clinic. And, we’d do that in civilian clothes. When we went on the left side, to the PX, we had to be in uniform.
So, eventually, after I’d been there about six months, a man by the name of Ralph Meints was assigned to the project. Ralph was a captain in the engineer corps, but he was in a different company. So, none of us would salute him. He could not reprimand us, apparently, because of the strict Army of chain of command. So, he was not our commanding officer.
At one time, I roomed with Ralph. Ralph was out of Oak Ridge. We heard he had worked with chemical and poison gas system, setting up plants. That might have just been the story. He might have worked for the project then in Oak Ridge. Anyway, Ralph was able to get us to the PX. Before he came, we couldn’t go to the PX, and so he would, he was really nice that way.
But, we were going to the PX and he’d be surrounded by a gang of eight or so at that time, and we wouldn’t, we never saluted him. We never saluted officers on the Wright Patterson Air Force Base. And, this clearly annoyed the ones that we passed, particularly if they were accompanied by a young woman.
But, we could go to the PX, and what we would do is one of the fellows had a car and we could drive out in the country, change our clothes and go onto the PX. We’d come back from the PX, we’d change our clothes before we got back into Dayton, Ohio. It seemed rather odd at the time, but this is what we did.
My wife, the wives would go with the men to the PX, so the wives could buy the groceries there. My wife, at that time, would see a piece of meat and she’d say, “Oh, that’s a nice piece of meat.” She would ask the butcher then what she did with it, how to cook it. And, she learned her meat cooking from the butchers at the PX at Wright Patterson Air Force base.
We all belonged to the Manhattan District Corps of Engineers. That was the aegis under which we worked. All of our identification—Army identification, such as furlough passes and so forth—identified us as being, belonging the engineer, or Manhattan District Engineer Corps.
I got married in Dayton, Ohio, sort of an interesting story. My wife was from Manhattan, New York. She went to Swarthmore. Her folks were rather upset when we got engaged, because she would get engaged with a man who lived way out in Ohio. They thought this was still Indian Territory. She came to visit for three weeks toward the end of the Summer of 1944. Oh, let me back up.
I was at Harvard when I got my phone call from Fernelius asking if I’d be on this special project. I went by way of Swarthmore from Cambridge to Dayton, Ohio. I dated my wife and I remember taking a walk with her in Crum Woods at Swarthmore, and she was sitting on a log, and I knew that she had several boyfriends. I wanted to know whether I was still in the running. And, she said, “Yes, I’m engaged.”
I said, “To whom?”
And, she said, “You.”
So, I got engaged and on the way out to Dayton, Ohio. Rather sort of a romantic thing, I presume.
I met her the previous summer, the Summer of ’43. She went to Radcliff for summer school. She had been at Swarthmore for a full year, and she was sort of tired of it, and she decided to go to Radcliff during the summer. Well, she met some men and they’d get her name and I was given her name as a blind date, or just given her name. So, I called her for a blind date. At that time, we used to have a little radio station at the school, and on Wednesday nights, it would play the music, played a piece, and there would be call-ins. The first person who called in and identified the piece could get the name of a girl from Radcliff and he could ask her for a date.
I had three roommates. They knew I couldn’t hear, I couldn’t recognize anything. But, one of the boys, his father was a well-known Broadway producer of musical comedies, Adolph Green. He, the son knew everything about music. I mean, you’d just hit a note and he actually knew what it was. So, the son that identified the piece, another boy would have six digits already on the phone, and soon as the fellow identified the piece, off came the 7th digit and they would let me make the date.
I would say things like, “Would you like to go on a scavenger hunt. Would you like to go on…” and they’d say yes.
I’d say, “Well, bring a raincoat and bring a flashlight,” and I would enumerate a number of things.
I’d, then I made the date and I’d go up to Radcliff and pick the girl up. And, I can remember we went to the theater.
The girl said, “I thought we were going on a scavenger hunt.”
I said, “We are. Now we have to hunt for seats.”
So, that was the kind of fellow I was, I guess.
So, I get this name of my wife, future wife, name of Joan Osterman, O-S-T-E-R-M-A-N. I made a date with her by phone to go to a dance on Saturday night. It was at Adam’s House at Harvard. But, on Wednesday, I decided to go take a look at her, because maybe between Wednesday and Saturday, I might get sick.
So, I went up to Radcliff and she was in the dormitory. I called on her and she came down. I looked at her and I thought, “Wow, this is great”. We talked a little bit, and she asked me how come I was there, and I said, “Well, I was just passing by.”
Well, passing by was about half a mile out of my way. I was just passing by, I thought I’d stop. So, we went to a dance on Saturday night. So, I dated her several times during the rest of the summer. I remember one time she had a cigarette in a long cigarette holder, which I made fun of. And, she never did that again. Another time, I took her to a dinner at a spaghetti house, and I can remember that she dropped some spaghetti on her skirt, made a mark and it needed to be cleaned. I thought, “Well, she’s pretty relaxed about it.”
So, anyway, I wrote my mother that I met my girl I was going to marry and she had purple, violet eyes. Well, she didn’t have violet eyes, she had brown eyes, but I wrote my mother. Well, anyway, I dated her between semesters; I went down to New York and dated her a couple of times.
At New Year’s, I invited her up, she was back at Swarthmore. I invited her up to Cambridge for New Year’s Eve. I was very nervous. I got sick to the stomach, and I had a friend pick her up at South Station.
My friend at that time was named Francis Whitfield. He was a junior fellow, known as a junior fellow at Harvard. He was an expert in Polish language. He later wrote the definite Polish-English dictionary. He was a real linguist. He got a prize for something in Denmark and decided he’d better learn Danish, because he was going there in six weeks.
So, within six weeks, he learned Danish. He was one of those just natural linguists. He later changed his name from Francis to Frank. He was at, went from Harvard to the University of Michigan. Later on, my wife and I were teaching. I was teaching summer school at Michigan. We were out at a recreation lake and Joan sees Frank walking across the park grounds and yells out to him. Sure enough, it was Francis, and we renewed our acquaintanceship.
Later on, he went to Berkeley. And, one time I had a sabbatical at Berkeley and renewed our acquaintanceship again. So, we kept up with Frank and up until he died, when he was in the 80s. I thought of him always as an older brother. Frank must have been at least four years older than I was, maybe six. But, I treated him, and he treated me like a younger brother, and we had that kind of relationship.
Getting back to my romance, in the summer—so, I had gotten engaged in March, 1944, on my way to Dayton. At the end of the summer, Joan had a break between summer school and fall, and she came out to visit me in Dayton. Her family thought it was a good idea, because they said if she saw me in a more natural setting, like the wilds of Ohio, she would certainly break up the engagement.
Her uncle, in the meantime, had hired a detective to investigate me, see what kind of a person I really was. All this time, I had a Q clearance from the Army and was working on the Manhattan Project. Well, they didn’t know that, of course. They just thought I was doing something for the Army. Well, they knew I was in the Army, because they knew I had been to basic training. But, they didn’t care about me, so it never bothered them, they never talked about it.
My own folks lived in Columbus, which was only seventy miles away, and they had no idea what I was doing. Anyway, Joan came out for three weeks. I got her a room a block or two away from where I was staying, and of course, at the end of her two weeks, we decided to get married. So, I ran down to the, I went and got a three-day weekend pass. We went down to, we had to go down to the judge, get married, get a marriage license. I forget the details, but we appeared before a municipal judge and Joan had to state her age.
Being very sophisticated, she said she was twenty-one, because if you under twenty-one in Ohio, you had to have your parent’s permission, particularly a girl. So, she said she was twenty-one. Then she got embarrassed, because if she were twenty-one that meant her birthday was April, anyway, April 11th, that’s right. And, my birthday was April 16th.
So, if she were twenty-one, she would be five days older than me. Well, my very sophisticated fiancée almost broke things off at that point. She didn’t want to be older than her spouse. We got married, we got the license and we got married by a justice of the peace. His name, I’ll think of it in a little while, but he had a very famous name, from New England, one of those names. It wasn’t Thomas Payne, but it was a name like that, well-known in New England history.
When she came down from wherever she was staying on the streetcar, on the bus, and she—I remember the dress she was wearing. It was a light print with sort of lace around the neck, like a dickie or something, but lace around the neck. She was so excited she told the woman next to her on the bus she was going downtown to get married. Well, we did, she got married by the justice, the justice of the peace.
Fernelius acted as the man who gave her away. He was a leading man. Nancy Kuivila was there with a sack of groceries. I can remember the celery sticking out. She and Henry had dinner for us. Henry and Nancy remained friends for years. They were very nice to us. I think the Marchi’s were there and the deBenedettis. Sergio deBenedetti had married a young woman, and she became quite close to my wife. So, we knew the deBenedettis quite well.
Well, then Joan stayed, we got a house, we got a room together, 7 Ivanhoe at Oakwood, Dayton, Ohio, a suburb called Oakwood. After a couple of weeks, her mother came to visit for a week, and then we went to Columbus where my folks lived and visited. Joan went back to Swarthmore for a year. Her father said he wouldn’t handle her tuition. She had to be on her own. And, Joan said, “Okay, I’ll just apply for a scholarship and tell them that you won’t support me”.
Well, that embarrassed him so that he gave in and he took care of her needs for the next year. When she graduated at Swarthmore, I was there on a furlough pass, and I can remember her graduation. Her immediate family was her father, her mother, a younger sister, Helen, and her Uncle David, and her grandfather, Samuel Becker. Samuel Becker was, he was a very nice old man, looked like he weighed 110 pounds, thin as a rail. I was joking with him.
I said, “Grandpa, what about your Schnapps?”
He said, “Don’t worry.”
He had a cane; this cane included an enclosed glass tube, which was filled with Schnapps. So, he had his Schnapps, and I forgot whether we went to dinner or whether it was in the station. But, he was prepared.
After graduation, then Joan came out to Dayton and we had an apartment on Central Avenue, which was a very nice location in Dayton, Ohio. We lived there until the end of the war. And, then when the war was over, I was still—the war was over in August, 1945—but, I wasn’t discharged until May, 1946. I had not been overseas, I had not seen combat. I had not had special acknowledged assignments. I had no points, so I was one of the last people out of the service, discharged from service. But, I was discharged in May ’46, and then I went back to Harvard, took a Master’s and a doctorate in chemistry. We had our first child in June of ’48.
Well, back in Dayton, at Dayton, I got there in March, got reassigned in May. During the first approximately year I was in Dayton, I worked on chemical research. What Henry [Kuivila] and I were trying to do was isolate polonium from radium residues, which were shipped down from Canada. We developed a process which was accepted, and when Unit Four was made, the process for isolating polonium involved getting it in a solution from these ore residues, putting it into large tanks, what we called milking the tanks for the autoclave.
The polonium was then being produced, if I remember correctly, as a product of radium-D. Radium-D, if it shot out alpha particles, it went from its, up its mass by four and its atomic number by two. That would be about right. So, the radium-D, had a lot of radium-D, and its half-life was short enough that periodically we could isolate the polonium and then go back some time later and re-milk it, and we’d do that.
Then the next year, well, while I was at Dayton that first year, we were housed in a building called—well, I forget the name, but I’ll think of it. We were housed at a seminary school, Bonebrake Seminary School. It was built like a classical turn of the nineteenth century schoolhouse, with the center well and the rooms off to the sides from the center well. It was very much like the school I went to when I was in elementary school, except it was surrounded by barbed wire.
It was situated off 3rd Avenue in Dayton, in the middle of a white class, working class residential area. Well, so everybody in the neighborhood just figured, it’s another Army war project. There was never any signs of Army. There were never any signs of Army personnel going in and out. It was later called Unit Three. Unit One was the original Thomas-Hochwalt Lab. Unit Two was the place where they made picric acid for explosives.
Unit Three was the Manhattan Project. While we working at Unit Three, Unit Four was built. Unit Four was inside Hochwalt’s family sports playhouse. This is the building which housed basketball courts, squash courts, exercise courts, whatever. It was a classical gym, had an office with a glass window, which anybody in the office could look down on the floor and see what was going on.
Well, this was converted into a factory, had something like ten of these, 10 or 20,000-gallon tanks where the radium-D and the polonium were held. Well, part of why I was there was trying to develop the process for isolating with hydrochloric acid. But, that didn’t work out as well as the nitric acid process, I guess it was the sulfuric acid process.
Anyway, during my second year on the project, I was assigned to Unit Four and part of my, first part of my time working on process. The second, the latter part of my time, particularly from around May or June on was in the final purification of polonium for pits. I didn’t know what they were called at the time. All I knew was we had these small objects that we were to electroplate polonium onto. And, we used to joke about them. One time we had an order for fifty by a certain time. We’d joke and say, “Well, they’re going to General Groves so he can light up his desk at night.”
Kelly: Can you tell us a little bit about polonium, for people who don’t know anything about it?
Yalman: Well, polonium, I don’t remember much about polonium any more. But, polonium is in the periodic table with oxygen, sulfur, selenium, tellurium, polonium, in that group. Polonium was an alpha-emitter, so the alpha-emitters, I guess the lit the beryllium and knocked out the neutrons, and so they were a starter for the bomb. They were, the problem of condensation and emphasis and so it was worked out, part of that was worked out by a man, thermodynamics was by name of [George] Kistiakowsky. Well, I later learned that Kistiakowsky had been at Los Alamos, I didn’t know that at the time. He was later on my examining committee at Harvard. That was just coincidence. We didn’t talk about the Manhattan Project.
In fact, I never talked about what I did at the Manhattan Project until more recently when I went out with a man by the name of Truel West. We went out for breakfast one day and Truel said, “Well, where were you during the war?”
I said, “I was in Dayton.”
“Oh” he said, “You worked on the pits?”
I said, “Truel—”
Secrecy was put into us in such detail, or such a way that the typical person never talked about what went on at the laboratories. It was only until I was in contact with the [Atomic] Heritage [Foundation], that I even learned there had been a spy at the laboratories during the summer of 1945. I just had, I learned that about a month ago.
Kelly: George Koval?
Yalman: Yes. And, I didn’t know him. He apparently was in the medical corps. Let me go back and say where Unit Four was. Unit Four was at the top of a hill going into Oakwood, which was a suburb of Dayton, Ohio. At the top of the hill were exclusive homes of people who had worked for National Cash and worked for Kettering and so forth.
This is where the [Charles A.] Thomas, where the Hochwalt schoolhouse was. You go into this building and sure enough, it was just like a big gymnasium, a multi-purpose gymnasium. And, Joe Burbage was a man who became in charge of the, of Unit Four as it was called. Burbage is spelled B-U-R-B-A-G-E.
He had been a high school chemistry teacher prior to the war. He was a big fellow, very affable, got along well with people, and clearly was a very capable person. So, I was at Unit Four then doing a combination of research, process development and final material development of polonium.
We had a visit one time, Thomas, Charlie Thomas must have been one of the visitors, and one of the Compton brothers, and that was Arthur Compton. I don’t remember who the other two or three men were. But, I remember the only remark I overheard was one of them saying, “Well, that amount of polonium, that corresponds with so many curies of radium.” They were impressed by—I don’t know, we had something like fifteen curies of polonium per batch of radium. A curie was a measure of the amount of radiation, I think, that corresponds, radiation produced by a gram of radium. And, that was a measure of degree of radiation.
So, after the war, I was still in civilian clothes until October.
Kelly: Can I just interrupt? So, they were impressed that that was a lot of radiation?
Yalman: Fifteen curies was a lot of radiation. That was probably the world’s supply of radiation, and it was a lot of radiation. We were, worked behind a glass barrier with what were called, well, that was gloves—
Kelly: Glove-box, it was kind of a glove-box.
Yalman: Yeah, glove-box. People say that my memory’s pretty good, but it’s slipping. I can’t remember words occasionally. But, yeah, we worked behind a glove-box. Apparently, we never had radiation, personal radiation problems. Polonium had a very peculiar, we had a peculiar problem with polonium.
As an alpha-emitter, it had recoil, because if the energy goes out, you have to have energy going back so that the total net energy is zero. So, just like a gun being fired, there’s recoil. The recoil then from polonium— if you have polonium recoil, other surrounding atoms would essentially jump. So, it would be called creep. So, if you put polonium in a beaker, next and you come later on, around the beaker there would be radiation effects.
So, it was very difficult to keep things clean—constantly cleaning up and trying to decontaminate the areas around the polonium. In the normal research we worked with very low amounts, just literally detectable amounts for health reasons, obviously, and also to preserve what polonium we had.
Kelly: So, all this time, even with low amounts, you were behind a glass shield?
Yalman: Well, I wasn’t behind, in the glove-box, until we started making the pits. Prior to that, we worked in the open, but we worked with—firstly, the alpha particles did not have a long distance of travel. In any case, we did not work in the glove-boxes literally for the first year and a half, two years I was there. It was not until I got into the final stages where there was very large amounts of polonium that I got to the glove-box state.
Kelly: So, did you wear a dosimeter?
Yalman: I wore dosimeters. I don’t remember anything about the dosimeters the second year. The first year, we were very conscious of it, because it was all new to us, and the whole concept of what radiation might do was novel to everybody. I can remember constantly having a dosimeter clipped to my pocket. Weekends, we would take large flasks home, get twenty-four or forty-eight hour urine samples.
To show you how secret it was, the first weekend that my wife lived with me, or that I had to get a specimen, she said, “What’s that for?”
I said, “Oh, they want to see that I don’t have any chemicals in me.”
Well, this was over the weekend. Monday night I came home and she says to me, “Are you working with radium?”
She had gone to the library and looked up what might be required, might require an overnight specimen. So, she said, “Are you working with radium?”
Well, that’s how secret things were.
Another time, in the summer, after I had changed clothes out some place in a farmyard, I still had my suntans on. And, we lived in a four-family house and one of the other families was at Wright Patterson [Air Force Base], and the wife said to Joan, “I see your husband wore his suntans today. Is he in intelligence?”
My wife said yes. She was clearly clever enough to pick up on that and said, “Yes, he’s in intelligence. No one’s supposed to know he’s around.”
And I never heard anything else about that.
Kelly: When you use the term suntans, that’s sort of like a khaki color?
Yalman: The khaki suntans, they were the summer pants, the uniform. Another time, in the middle of winter when I was still at Unit Four, a very bad day, a slushy, icy, and I wore my Army boots instead of wearing regular shoes. I used to hitchhike, because the bus would take forty-five minutes to an hour. But, I would hitchhike from where I lived to Unit Four.
One day I got picked up by a fellow and I said, “Well, just let me off at the top of the hill,” and he did.
He said, when I got out of the car, “Look, I know where you’re going. Don’t wear those boots again.”
Turned out he was in charge of security for the Dayton area.
He said, “I don’t care how bad the weather is, don’t wear those boots again.”
On the corner where I caught the bus, of course, there were other Army personnel, and one was a major. I was in the civilian clothes, but in October of 1945, we were all told to go back into uniform. The war had been over two months and I guess by then reports began to come out and so forth.
Well, I go back to my usual corner and I’m now in uniform. I don’t know what my major thought, but I know I didn’t salute him. He probably thought I should, because I was still an enlisted man. So, those are typical of personnel incidents, and a lot of little things like that.
Kelly: So, in terms of these plutonium pits, you weren’t told they were for an atomic bomb? What did you know?
Yalman: Well, I knew it was part, I didn’t know which part, I didn’t know. They isolated Dayton very well, both information out and information in. This is a period, 1944, 1946, I knew about Oak Ridge. I don’t know if I knew about Hanford. I don’t know if I knew about Los Alamos. I did know about Chicago, of course, because the work at Chicago had been known during the war and during the early part of the war.
Kelly: Had been, was known publicly?
Kelly: Was it public that Chicago Pile One happened?
Yalman: Well, we knew about cyclotrons, we knew about piles. There was a book published—I took a course in atomic physics in 1942 or three, probably ’42 or three. The instructor’s name was [Claes] Oldenburg. Clearly, he was a man who had been in atomic physics work in Germany, gotten out. We used a book called Atomic Physics.
In the book, the next to last chapter, perenium chapter was concerned with fission and the amount of energy, the Meitner experiments, the Meitner interpretation of the amount of energy that was obtained when fission occurred. So, that was public information. It was published by a well-known book company and so forth. This is one of those peculiar things. During the war, the second edition of the book, in the second edition, which came out shortly after the first edition, the second edition was published probably in ’43 or ’44. That chapter was omitted in the second edition.
Kelly: So, the first edition, I think you said ’32 or ’33, you meant ’39?
Yalman: The first edition, the Meitner, contained the Meitner interpretation on the fission, and it talked about the work at Berkeley, I don’t know, I don’t think it mentioned Chicago, but it certainly talked about the cyclotrons, what have you. The second edition excluded the Meitner interpretation. They were probably still talked about the cyclotrons, because that was pretty public. But, the second edition had the chapter on fission and energy omitted.
Another book which I used, which was somewhat like that, the separation process for polonium from radium pretty much followed qualitative analysis in inorganic chemistry. There was a book by [Arthur A. Noyes] and [William A.] Bray entitled Qualitative Analysis, which I used as a textbook and essentially as a bible for inorganic solution chemistry during my first year of graduate school in 1943/4, before I went to the project.
That book was published, I think it was in 1929. But, by 1944, that book was no longer available, because the material it contained were the types of laboratory procedures which were used for separation processes for radioactive elements. So, things like would happen. There would be that kind of censorship. Well, that was silly, because if you’re really interested and you got two books and this chapter, the chapter’s omitted in the second edition, but it’s there in the first edition, that must be an important chapter. Censors, they did not think, the censor.
But, anyway, that was, but I didn’t know anything. I knew that Oak Ridge was active. Well, let me say this, after graduate school, my first job was with the Atomic Energy Commission, and I was on radioactive waste. In particular, we were concerned with how do you clean up the Hanford, Washington, mess. That was a major mess. I had a couple of trips out to Hanford. So, sometimes I find that I merge in my mind the periods, what did I know when. So, when did I first learn about Hanford? I don’t remember when I first learned, or when did I first learn details about Oak Ridge. I don’t remember, because it’s merged with all the other information I have.
Kelly: Can you think why you might’ve known about Oak Ridge? What was the relationship between Oak Ridge and Dayton?
Yalman: Well, we knew that our materials—I don’t know how I knew that—I knew our materials went to Oak Ridge first. But, what they did with them, I didn’t know. I just knew that we sent this material down to Oak Ridge, and we knew it went down by courier, guarded courier, and we’d joke about it. But, we didn’t know what it was actually, how it was used at Oak Ridge. So, clearly, I didn’t know much about Oak Ridge at the time.
Kelly: I interviewed one of those couriers about a month ago.
Yalman: One of their—
Kelly: I interviewed someone who was a courier [Tom Forkner].
Yalman: Oh, really?
Kelly: Yes. He drove the special material from Oak Ridge to Los Alamos.
Yalman: That’s interesting.
Yalman: That’s very interesting.
Kelly: Yes. He later went on to found Waffle House.
Yalman: Oh, really.
Kelly: So, you never know.
Yalman: Never know.
Kelly: Never know. But, he said that going to Dayton was very high security around Dayton. So, and you’ve told us a lot about how they tried to keep things secret. Do you remember any other things about your experience with Dayton that would’ve made it very secret?
Yalman: Well, I told you about never saying that [Sergio] deBenedetti was there. We just didn’t talk about it. I remember being chewed out once. I had put a solution in a large glass container, and I was told, “Dick, you should’ve done that, because that container is to go back eventually to the manufacturer, and it will have radioactive—even though we tried to scrub it—it might have vestiges of radioactive material in it.”
I remember being chewed out for that.
But, other than just the emphasis on security, you know, we had barbed wire and the guards and what have you. But, never any mention of Army association. I never encountered anyone who said to me on the street, for example, “You’re a healthy looking young man. How come you’re not in the Army?”
I never had that experience. Sam Jones had, and he went rowing in uniform one time and got picked up and got busted back to private. But, I lived off base. For the year Joan was back in school, I lived in rooms that I rented, something like $10 a week, probably included breakfast. There was no, I have no real recollection of, other than the emphasis on security, no incidents related to security.
Kelly: One of the things I was going to ask you as to whether there were billboards or signs. It seems that they wouldn’t have been, because your sites in Dayton were sort of in the middle of residential communities, right?
Yalman: That was in the middle of the community, there was nothing pointing to it, nothing. Well, there was—remember, outside of Dayton, ten miles out at Fairborn, which is this huge Wright Patterson Air Force Base. This remember, was one of the bases for B-22s. There were, or B-2, for big bomber base, whatever they were at that time.
So, this was the thing in Dayton, was the Wright Patterson. All the military in Dayton worked at Wright Patterson. So that we were small peanuts as a—there was no reason to emphasize it. If they thought anything, maybe they thought this was something connected to Wright Patterson, the Air Force, not Army. But, I don’t think, I don’t know if people, you know, you get used to things. I don’t know that people, local people, really paid any attention to us. I would walk from the streetcar line, about a block, two blocks to this place. I never remember, never having anybody on the street say anything. It was just another government building, working clearly on some war project.
To my knowledge, the only security I ran into was a few incidents like having the wrong shoes in the winter time and wearing suntans. One boy got picked up at the grocery store wearing suntans, partially in uniform, and reprimanded. But, the security that existed, we were indoctrinated not to talk about it.
Oh yeah, one, the one boy whose wife says he has a very important job, that was it. He was told to shut her up, whatever she did. That was Lee Hamilton’s wife. But, there was no visual emphasis on security, no. There was no indoctrination in the sense that you go into a room and somebody does a point process and talk about it. It was just word of mouth. Fernelius said when I got there, “Now, Dick, don’t talk about this.” And, it was clear that no one did.
Now four of the older men, four of the men, they got pretty bored with, or not bored, but they felt that they were getting away from what their first love was, in inorganic chemistry. So, Fernelius, Carl Rawlinson, Ed Larson, Lou Marchi, they formed a group to study inorganic nomenclature, and they would meet weekly in the evenings and talk about inorganic nomenclature of a series of compounds called coordination compounds.
This was published two or three years after the war was over. At my oral exam for my Ph.D., this article had just been published, and here I knew about this article, I knew the people who authored it, and the question was asked [George] Kistiakowsky, who clearly I knew, had met Fernelius. So, but this had nothing to do with security. This was three years later.
So, you ask about security, we were indoctrinated, we didn’t talk. As far as I know, the local people, the people who actually worked on the process never talked about it, and we never about it socially. If we were out with another couple, we never, we never made a reference to it.
And, so it came as a complete surprise to me to learn that there had been a spy there. I didn’t know that. I didn’t know the person, and he was undoubtedly in Unit Three, where he would see all the records and all the reports. I was over in Unit Four. And, he was in the medical division. I can’t remember anything about the medical relationship from the time when I went to Unit Four. Unit Three, I do, but not Unit Four.
So, you’re asking about security and all I can say is they must’ve picked a group of very honorable people, and we didn’t talk about it. We had these minor, little incidents from time to time. We were kids. I was twenty when I went into the program. Older men were maybe twenty-five or six.
Fernelius must have been late thirties, maybe forty by then, an old man. [James] Lum was a real old man, he was in his forties. Ralph Meints was an engineer in charge of the plant, the process plant development. He was an old man, big fellow, great big man. He was married and had children, he must have been forty, old man, forty-five, golly.
Unit One was Thomas Hochwalt Laboratory. That’s Charles Thomas and Hochwalt’s name, first name, I forget. But a very interesting thing about it, when I was at Unit Three, after a while—I forget how we had our lunches. I do know that there was a period when like a Subaru or little bus would pick up people from Unit Three and take us over to Unit One where they had a cafeteria. We’d get our lunch over at Unit One and then they’d drive us back to Unit Three.
Well Unit One was the Thomas Hochwalt Laboratories, and I remember I wasn’t supposed to, but I’d visit people in the laboratories over there, got to know a man by the name of Harris. Well, Harris was working on the equivalent of Tide at the time. I think Monsanto later on got in the business of making Tide, and that was based on research during the war over at Unit One.
So, Unit One was a non-government laboratory, it was still a private laboratory. Units Two and Three and Four, those were under government contract, they did government work. So, I knew of Charles Thomas early on, and I’d seen him. I may have met him a couple of times, but only as passing by. I know he came to the laboratory in ’45 when we were doing electrochemistry of polonium; he came with that group. But, that may have been the only time I actually saw him personally.
Kelly: Did General Groves ever visit Dayton?
Yalman: Oh, if he did, he didn’t come down to my level, may have visited Lum or [Joe] Burbage or [W. Conrad] Fernelius. I don’t think he was with the group who came to the lab, but he might have. We were introduced to five people. I remember, I only remember Compton. I think Thomas was there, I recognized Thomas, so clearly I’d seen him before. Whether Groves was one of the five, I don’t know.
We were pretty far down this, down the ladder. So, I remember when I first went to Dayton in the Spring of ’44, there were only seven G.I.s there. Later on, by the time of the atom bomb in August ’45, the number crept up to thirty.
One of the persons I don’t think I mentioned that company headquarters was in Chicago, that was our company I was with. One time a lieutenant and a master sergeant or a warrant office came down from Chicago and brought us all civilian clothes, equivalent in value to what our uniform would’ve cost because we weren’t issued uniforms. I didn’t have a uniform. I had whatever I had during basic, but nothing else. We went to a store called the Metropolitan, which was a men’s store. It was on the corner of 5th & Main in Dayton, Ohio.
There was another man, about my age and size. I can’t remember his name. But, my wife was with me, so she picked out the clothes for me. His name was Gunther. I can’t remember his name, I’ll eventually remember, Gunther [Mohr].
Anyway, she said, “You got the two best suits. Gunther got what’s left.” So, I had two suits, a topcoat, shoes and a hat for $125. And, that was my total connection with Chicago, with the officers in Chicago. I never saw them again, never heard from them again, never had any relationship to them again. Because they were not involved in the science. They were strictly officers, and they had their own company up in Chicago. They never came down again.
By the end of the war, there were maybe a total of thirty of us. At the time of this incident I’m telling you about, I think there was still only seven of us who were originally there. That was, again, one of those peculiar things that happened, curious service.
Kelly: So, we talked about the Smyth report. Tell us about that.
Yalman: Well, when I got out of the service, I never talked about what I did. I never even mentioned the word polonium until fairly recently. The Smyth report said, and I’m paraphrasing, that polonium was made in Dayton. That’s all it said, that there was polonium, polonium in Dayton, Ohio. Maybe it said—I don’t know if they used the word production or not. And, just associated polonium with Dayton, and that was it in the Smyth report. It wasn’t even a complete sentence as I remember right.
In one of the journals, I think it was Journal of American Chemist Society, one of the journals mentioned bismuth. I think one of the sources of polonium was the irradiation of bismuth in a pile. The bismuth had to be very pure, or we knew it was made by a company in New Jersey. And, I our spent business went back to the company in New Jersey. We never knew how they got rid of any radiation in the spent bismuth. That was company secret, and I think, that makes sense that they, that the bismuth got hit by a neutron and ejected an electron, that would be converted to polonium. So, maybe that became a source of polonium, too, of polonium, also.
But, people say, “Where were you during the war?”
I’d say, “I worked in the Manhattan District,” and then they look at me.
And, I’d say, “Atom bomb.”
They’d say, “Where?”
Or they would say, “You were at Los Alamos?”
That was always the response.
I’d say, “No, at a place in Dayton, Ohio.”
I said, “One of those small places that the Army had.”
And, that’s all I said for years. Whether others talked about it or not, I don’t know. But, it was indoctrinated into us not to talk about it and I never did for years and years and years, up until Truel [West]. This was about a year and a half ago, or two, a year ago or two years. We were at lunch, Truel, I said, “No, I was in Dayton.”
Truel says, “Oh, you were working on pits?”
Well, who was Truel? Truel was at Los Alamos for a while and he worked on non-proliferation programs, so he knew a lot of the history of the project.
Kelly: Wow. So, how many were, if there, at the end of the war, thirty who were in the Manhattan District, how many were non-government?
Yalman: Well, there couldn’t have been very many more. The first group of civilians that were there when I came in March, I don’t think they added any more civilians, or very few. The Army, we were reassigned, the people reassigned by the Army all had technical training one way or another.
So, instead of adding civilians, they would reassign Army personnel. I can’t remember knowing—oh, a man by the name of Warner [Dr. Harry R. Weimer] was in it. What was Warner’s first name? He was a very nice man. I roomed with him at one point. He was an older man, he was in his late 30s, he was a very old man, had a wife and family over around Muncie, Indiana. I remember he took two weeks off one summer, because they raised corn and he had to go over and help in the corn can, corn cannery factory.
Kelly: So, if there, would you guess sixty people all together or one hundred?
Yalman: Oh, there must have been sixty at the most.
Kelly: sixty at the most?
Yalman: It was a small.
Kelly: Including your thirty Army people?
Yalman: Yeah, it was a small, it was a small unit. It was, I mean, you think of thousands, no, we were a small unit, and that’s why, I mean, it’s Bonebrake, we only these two buildings. Bonebrake Seminary, which was the size of a typical elementary schoolhouse at the turn of the century, and the playhouse, which was a free-standing building, and nothing else.
There was no Unit Five, there was no additions to any of these buildings. These were, this was done in, this very important work was done in a extremely confined area, and yet it didn’t seem crowded. There were very few of us. Maybe there weren’t even thirty. I used the word thirty, I don’t know why I use the word thirty. I can’t identify more than ten or so.
There was, Gunther-Mohr. Mohr was his last name, Gunther’s last name was Mohr. He was a soldier, one of the original seven. Sam Jones was one of the original seven. A fellow by the name of Ben, he had the car, and he’d take us out and we’d change our clothes. One time I called him Sam by mistake, and he didn’t like Sam Jones. Sam Jones was really, Sam Jones was the pits. He didn’t like Sam for some reason.
When I called him Sam inadvertently, he was really irritated with me. There was Sam and there was Ben, there were two handsome engineers, tall, handsome fellows, and I don’t remember their names. They came after I did, they were—that was the original seven, then they came.
It was small. That will give you an idea, it was not big. The elementary school up there, that’s much, that’s much bigger than these places were. These were small, and when Meints got ten tanks in there, got the filter, that must have taken two-thirds of the space. Then probably something went on in the—this was in the major basketball court. Then, I forget how the squash court was used.
Meints had an assistant engineer, he’s an engineer, or Burbage, yeah, Meints had an engineer. I forget his name. There was a man by the name of Martin, I think his first name was Don. He was a researcher and a chemist. He must have worked on the volatilization. I remember his locker; his was next to mine. Then there was—you know, I haven’t thought about most of these people in seventy years.
Kelly: How did you experience on the Manhattan Project influence the rest of your life? What did you do after the Manhattan Project experience?
Yalman: Well, I went, finished graduate school in chemistry, then I worked for the Atomic Energy Commission. Oddly enough, at the Mound Laboratory, which is down at Miamisburg, Ohio, which is also about ten miles from Dayton. I worked on radioactive waste, and I worked there two years. We had a very nice garden apartment in Miamisburg. But, my wife had a baby by then.
So the radioactive waste project— the material that we had to work with was saturated sodium nitrate solution, the same nitrate that’s in the drums that got used down in Carlsbad. There were five radioactive elements spread across all the chemical processes. To get any one out of there would still leave the other four behind. No single process.
What you’re trying to do is remove material, which from a chemist’s point of view, it’s already in extremely small amounts. It may be large from a health point of view, but not from a chemistry point of view. And, in 1950, the job was impossible. This is 2015, and we’re only talking about sixty-five years later, and there has been no further development, chemically, beyond what we did in 1950.
I wanted to go into teaching, and one of the reasons I didn’t initially was that the differences in salary between what I was offered at the Atomic Energy Commission and a teaching job was tremendous. But, after two years at Miamisburg, I then decided to go back to teaching, to try teaching.
I heard there was an Antioch opening and I knew about the work-study program at Antioch. I’d had several years in the Army, which was essentially in industrial chemistry, and I thought this is a very important part of education. I looked at it from an industrial point of view as well as the classroom point of view. So, I went to Antioch to teach, and I taught there for thirty-three years.
In the summer, when I announced I was going to resign, I had something like a leave for thirty days or end of the month, whatever the period was, at which point I was taken off all the chemistry I’d been working on, sat down in the library and told that I no longer had clearance.
Before that happened, Consumers Reports was trying to get a foothold into the public. They had a sale. If five people joined and took Consumers Reports, they got a 40% reduction in cost. So I put a notice on a bulletin board.
Now, you asked about size. Miami Laboratory was nine hundred. It was tremendous compared to Dayton, nine hundred. Well, they did all sorts of things, radioactive waste, which is one part. But, anyway, I put a notice on the bulletin board to try to get four other people. Out of nine hundred, I got two others. Of the two, one had a talking-to by whoever was in charge of security at the Mound Laboratory. He backed off. I ended up with only one other person. So, I couldn’t get a reduction in price.
When I went to Antioch, security said to me, “Could you inform us on the people at Antioch? They might be communists over there.”
That was the, this is 1950, the beginning of the McCarthy Era. This tells you something about the mentality of security at the Mound Laboratory in 1950. We had none of that at the laboratories in Dayton during the war. Of course, Russia was an ally at that time. But, even then, we never even talked about politics. We were all there to work; we knew we working on the atom bomb.
People say, “Did you know what you were working on?”
Oh yeah, we knew we were working on an atom bomb, we knew that much. We just didn’t know, have information about the other part, other installations. We were all pretty dedicated, because, remember, 1943, ’44, this is just before, well, in June, what June 4th, 1944, we had Normandy. Well, this was pretty crucial. We all knew about German physicists and their capabilities. We were all concerned about can we get there first. If Germany got a bomb before we did, that would be terrible. So, we were all concerned about the historical importance, the war importance of what we were doing.
In ’45, people say, “Do you regret dropping a bomb on Japan?”
Well, in ’45, we knew about Guadalcanal, we knew about Iwo Jima, we knew about Okinawa, we knew that if you try to land on the beaches of Japan, it would be worse than Normandy. Those people are going to do kamikaze, every one of them is going to be a kamikaze. We knew that, and it would be just terrible. So, we had no compunction about that; ending the war was more important than landing on a beachhead in Japan.
People that I knew, afterward, I never heard a word of regret. None of the people that I knew in Dayton ever said, “We’ll work for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.” They may have, but I didn’t know about it. I never heard anybody talk about regrets.
Later, I’ve had people come up to me when they heard that I worked in Manhattan District, and thanked me, and say, “We were just ready to disembark, and you probably saved my life.” I have had that happen. So, you can’t foresee the future very well, and even then other things have happened that are unforeseen and I have no regrets.
I was going to tell you, a guy by the name of Warner, he worked there. Another man was Don, I think his name was Don Martin. He was a very old man. He must have been middle forties. He was an inorganic chemist. I think he worked on the volatility of polonium. A man by the name of [Cameron B.] Satterthwaite, he worked in the lab where I worked on the electrochemistry.
We had a group leader, whose name I cannot remember, he had a Ph.D. He was in the Army. He was probably a sergeant and already had his doctorate, but he was drafted.
There was another man who’s name began with “S”—he worked, he also worked on the volatility of polonium compounds. Swible I think was the name of the man who was the medical director at Unit Three at the time I came. There was a woman named Katherine, she was very close to Eichelberger.
Kelly: She was a chemist, Katherine?
Yalman: She was, no, she was with maybe [Mary Lou] Curtis, I thought, in electronic measurement. We would have a slide like a microscope slide with our material on it for determining radiations, and she was in, she helped measure, in the measurements. Had a little chamber, electronic chamber—Katherine and Mary Lou Curtis.
Then there was a woman who was secretary to Lum, and I don’t remember her name. Her husband was, I don’t know whether he was in the Pacific or what, but he came back, he came back in ’44, he’d lost an arm. She was so thrilled to have him back.
I don’t remember any woman who was in the chemistry. DeBenedetti had a man named John Sopka, that’s S-o-p-k-a. John had, I think, a Master’s degree from Harvard. He was a civilian. I don’t know what he was. I don’t know how he got there. Maybe someone told him about the project. I don’t think he was in military. Then he went back to graduate school at Harvard. DeBenedetti, Sopka, Eichelberger, they were physics and electronics.
Whether, after I went to Unit Four, I remember, by that time, all the available men and women were pretty much technically placed who were available. No one’s going to become available, and after the Battle of the Bulge and around that time, that was ’44, or ’45, no man or woman who was technical would be available.
So, if you gathered them up early on—and remember the only reason they had these people is they were being deferred because they were teachers or research people or some place. So, I think three or four never did get any much larger than what I can really identify. It was small peanuts during all that important work. They were very capable in terms of when you think about it, and we were working with small, highly radioactive amounts—small amounts in terms of mass, large amounts in terms of radiation.
The other people like Hanford and Oak Ridge, they had to start with mass of material and end up with fairly sizable quantities, but in the process, they had to build very huge plants essentially, processing plants.
We had very small process. Imagine our largest tank was ten or 20,000 gallons, something like that, maybe 10,000. So, I think about Hanford and these storage tanks, what were they 50,000 gallons or something, big tanks. We had nothing like that. Maybe 10,000 is too big.
Remember, eight or ten tanks fit into this gymnasium in a family sports center. Couldn’t have been very big in terms of comparative size of Oak Ridge or Hanford. It was right in the middle of Dayton, and there, Unit Four was in the middle of upper crust Dayton, interesting.
Kelly: So, what became of the playhouse when you were done?
Yalman: The playhouse was torn down and of course the dirt got removed and got filled in. I don’t think, that may be a park now, I don’t know what’s there. There was no way; the building was so contaminated. The interesting thing is I never heard of anybody who got contaminated. We may have, but we were very careful in an off-hand way. We took home those over-weekend specimen bottles, flasks, what have you, once a month maybe or whatever. For some reason, the second year, the health conditions elude me. I remember very clearly the first year. By the second, maybe it was so matter of fact we just didn’t pay any attention to it.
Kelly: Were they tanks like Hanford in that you stored waste in tanks or you just used tanks for you experiments, or what were the tanks for?
Yalman: The tanks, they were probably glass-lined tanks for the solutions of radium-D, which are solutions which contain polonium. The polonium was extracted from the solutions in the tanks. I think they used bismuth hydroxide carried down polonium, and then concentrate it, and then the polonium was extracted from the bismuth. Very interesting.
Unit Three, by the time I came back from graduate school, Unit Three was used at that time in polonium research, but also was used to study how to decontaminate waste water containing polonium. The process they developed was very similar to the process which was used for extracting polonium during the war. The name will come to me eventually.
They built a waste water plant at Mound Laboratory, essentially based on the old process, but converted by waste water equipment to the modern process.
Yalman: Frank Mead was in charge of that process, Frank Mead, M-A-A-D. That was, but he was, I don’t know where Frank was during the war. Now, whether he was already at Dayton when I was at Unit Four, I don’t know. He might have been, I don’t know. Frank Mead, M-E-A-D.
Kelly: Yeah. So, the only way you met people from another unit was you went to lunch at Unit One?
Yalman: Yeah, I went to lunch.
Kelly: Did you see people from other units at that lunchtime?
Yalman: No. When I was involved in that, we only went from Unit Three to Unit One. Unit Four was not yet up and going. I remember the first time I saw Unit Four, it was just an empty building. So, I saw it, and then there was some space in one corner, which we converted into a lab, and I think his name was Warner. I forget his first name.
[Arthur] Staniforth was the man who worked on the volatility of polonium. I remember one time he had a tube, which he had heated and got a condensate and he was meticulous about putting all of his observations in a notebook. I can remember signing as a witness to his observation. He had a way of purification of polonium from, in the last stages, by volatility.
Whether or not that was used at some stage and ultimately in the purification process, I don’t know. His name was [R.A.] Staniforth. I don’t know his first name, don’t remember his first name. His lab was down in the basement, so, you can see there wasn’t a lot of space. Physics was up on the third floor. Swible had a corner, Eichelberger had a corner. They, between the two of them, they had half of the second floor.
We had half the second floor in chemistry. But, over us was a room for mockup. The guards must have had a room someplace. So there was not a lot of space in that building—same way with the playhouse. So, maybe thirty altogether—not in a big place.
And I’ll say internal security, local security was very good. I didn’t know about this joker from, who became a spy.
Kelly: George Koval?
Yalman: Yeah. We were very upset having learned about what’s his name out in Los Alamos.
Kelly: Klaus Fuchs, the spy?
Yalman: Fuchs, yeah. That upset us, but we didn’t learn about that until after. That devilish buddy system.
But, for a man [George Koval] to have been assigned to Dayton in medical, meant that somebody else had to be in position to make the assignment. I mean, he just can’t pick up and go from Oak Ridge to Dayton. Somebody had to transfer him, and I only read a brief thing in Wikipedia and it didn’t mention that somebody had to transfer him, as I said, or the warrant officer.
I was at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana, for basic [training]. So, the warrant officer’s name was something like Trevantes. Well, he could know that he was placing people around the country, continually placing people in spots. Somebody like that could, who could sign transfers, could assign this guy from, moving him from Oak Ridge to [Dayton]. But it had to be another party who could sign a transfer.
Kelly: Well, you’ve done a fabulous job. This has been excellent, it’s been really, really terrific. So, is there anything that I haven’t asked you that you want to talk about?
Yalman: As a chemist, although I worked in radiation chemistry for two years, when I left it I didn’t want to do radiation chemistry after that. But, one of the things I saw is that, the first year, the measuring equipment was always breaking down. A lot of trouble keeping the equipment going, constantly, constantly breaking down for whatever the technical reasons were. I felt that Eichelberger, that was his name, was constantly repairing so that we could use the equipment.
My thought was, “I’m not an electronics man. I couldn’t, I couldn’t repair. I didn’t want to have anything to do with the equipment.” So, I never did any radiation chemistry after that. The equipment, it was just too much. By then, of course, the equipment was better, and you could begin handling it, but I just shied away from it, because I had a bad experience with the equipment during the war. Never thought it would get to the point where anybody can handle it.
I taught at Antioch thirty-three years, and I did a little research on the side. One of my accomplishments, I synthesized a molecule called porphine, which is a circular, large molecule. It’s found in the hemoglobin and Vitamin B12, and enzyme. It’s found biologically important, and that’s why I studied it. But, I stopped, that was around 1970.
When I left teaching, I came out to Santa Fe, and my wife and I ran a little antique store for twenty-five years. That was, I think we did it more for fun, because as business people we did everything wrong: wrong location, wrong purchasing, wrong items, whatever. But, we enjoyed ourselves together.
Of the people on the project, of course, after the war we literally scattered. Everybody went their own way. The younger people went back to school. The older people had to go around the country hunting for jobs. But, I did keep up with Kuivila’s, the Fernelius’s. I saw Ed Larson occasionally. I can remember Marchi, Louis Marchi and his wife. We saw them once or a few times. But, in general, we scattered pretty much. So, most of the names I’ve given you, I haven’t thought about them in seventy years.
A lot was going on actually right in Dayton that I didn’t know about. You know, you’d get compartmentalized.
Gunther-Mohr, he worked on a process. Andrew Kuivila and I worked on an emission process. We had to make presentations to Ralph Meints, who was the engineer. Ralph selected the process that Andrew and I worked on. I think it was because we talked his language, we talked about the amount of gas that might be produced. We talked about the size of filters, the depth of the precipitate on the filters and so forth. We talked Ralph Meints’ language, whereas the other team, “Oh, yeah, there might be some gas,” but they were off-hand about it.
They didn’t know the amount of precipitate or whatever it was they were working on. So, I think they may have had the better process, but we had the better sales talk. I remember Ralph chose the process Andrew and I were working on.
Henry used to call me Fat Boy. Apparently, I was heavier, so I called him in retaliation Slim Stuff. He was slender, he was a very good-looking Scandinavian Finn, he was Finnish. He had a very lovely wife, Nancy. I knew Marchi’s wife. I met Ed Larson’s wife, Hamilton’s wife. May not have been Lee Hamilton, might have been, Lee Hamilton was a congressman.
Did the guards check us when we came in? I suppose they did, I suppose we had passes of some kind. All I remember is the guards were always very amiable. I don’t remember anything else about them. They had a little place to sit, as guards do, had a little guard house—must have gone claustrophobic.
Kelly: So, you worked a regular five-day week?
Yalman: Yes. We worked regular civilian, it was like a real civilian operation, eight-to-five. Well, I can remember working around the clock one time. We were getting near the end of, we had so many experiments to carry out, the number I remember as twenty-five. And, Sam and I worked on twenty-one and twenty-two. I said to Sam, “Gee, there’s only two to go, let’s do those two.”
We must have worked until early in the morning. But, we were so tired we didn’t do it correctly and we had to redo them. But, it was, we came and went. Essentially, it was an eight-to-five job with an hour lunch, regular civilian operation. I supposed that’s what kept it so secret, it was just, everybody thought it was just another civilian operation, empty buildings so they took it over.
Yalman: You know, a lot of companies had little things going on around the Dayton area. The Dayton area was manufacturing area. There was the picric acid plant that I knew about. There must have been, National Cash must have had a lot of little plants and so forth. Dayton must have been, what, a couple hundred thousand, three hundred thousand. So, it had to be a lot going on, and this was just another plant. That’s probably why nobody’s ever heard of it.
Everybody asks, “Where did you work?”
I say, “Dayton.”
“Dayton? What was in Dayton?”