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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Robert Schwerin’s Interview

Manhattan Project Locations:

Robert Schwerin arrived at Los Alamos in June of 1945 and worked as a security guard for the Manhattan Project, often guarding plutonium. He provided security detail for the “black” government vehicles carrying the precious plutonium from the railway stations in New Mexico to Los Alamos and offers valuable insight into the Army’s emphasis on secrecy and security. He also recalls his brief encounter with General Leslie Groves, to whom he hand-delivered a top-secret message regarding the 1947 nuclear tests in the South Pacific.

Date of Interview:
September 12, 2022
Location of the Interview:


Bob Schwerin: Hello.

Michael Vickio: Hi, Bob?

Schwerin: Yes.

Vickio: Michael Vickio, how are you doing?

Schwerin: Pretty good.

Vickio: Were you expecting my call?

Schwerin: Yes.

Vickio: Okay. Didn’t want to interrupt anything that was going on.  How you been doing?

Schwerin: Hold on just a minute, I want to move a comfortable chair near the telephone.

Vickio: So what I wanted to do, Bob, is to take maybe thirty minutes.  I’ve got a list of questions that I wanted to walk down through, if that’s all right with you.

Schwerin: That’ll be fine.

Vickio: And these are questions that we’ve set up for this veteran history project so I think most of them apply, but there may be a couple that, you know, maybe don’t have quite the same pertinence with the security guard role there that you were in. But let me start just with a basic— as to when you first joined the Army. I know you went to Aberdeen, but is that where you first entered the Army?

Schwerin: No, I was drafted in June of 1945.

Vickio: I see.

Schwerin: Just out of high school.

Vickio: So the war wasn’t over yet, huh?

Schwerin: No. My birthday is in February and I went to the draft board and asked for a deferment to finish the twelfth grade, and they said that—I was sent to Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, just south of Chattanooga, and they gave me a pre-induction physical and a mental test. And that was in April of ‘45.  When I came home, they said that they would grant the deferment until I finished high school. And then around the first of June, they sent me a letter telling me on what date I was to leave for Fort Oglethorpe, again to be inducted. So that arrived about a little before the time I graduated. And most of the boys in our class, those of us who were eighteen, went to Oglethorpe together. 

Vickio: Oh really? And how long were you there?

Schwerin: Well, we were there only for a few days when we got inducted. I tell the kids a story about my being inducted into the Army. You know, you have to take an oath. Military oath. Anyway, they ran us through more tests and everything. And then they walked us over to this little white chapel, and the chaplain, he prayed over us. And then an officer got up at the podium and he said, “I’m going to, you know, administer the military oath.”  And he said, “I want you to raise your hand and repeat after me.” And then he said, “And I don’t care whether you raise your right hand or say a word, when you walk out that door, you’re in the Army!” 

Vickio: Any which way you want to look at it, huh?

Schwerin: That’s right. [Laughter.] It doesn’t matter to him! [Laughter.]

Vickio: That’s pretty good. That’s a straight shooter, they call it. So where did you end up going from there?

Schwerin: I went to what they called an IRTC—Infantry Replacement Training Center. And that was at Camp Wheeler, which was just outside Macon, Georgia.

Vickio: And what date—was this still in June?

Schwerin: Yes.

Vickio: So at that time I’m assuming that you still had—at least in the back of your mind—that you might end up going to the Pacific?

Schwerin: Yes, because war in Europe ended in May.

Vickio: That’s right.

Schwerin: And all of our training was for Japanese. And they had a little Jap village that they assaulted and that was toward the end of your basic training. When you went through the infiltration course. And then over the next few days then, you had to assault this Japanese village. And they had little—well, what we thought were Japanese-looking villages. And so when I finished basic training, they—by that time they were looking for brains. I had scored fairly high on this intelligence test that they gave us, and when we finished basic training there was another boy from our battalion, he and I shipped out together to Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana. 

Vickio: Boy, all over the place.

Schwerin: They trained us to be officer finance clerks, because they were anticipating, you know, a lot of officers being discharged. So they sent me down to Camp Butner, North Carolina to work in the finance office. And after a month I knew that wasn’t for me. I enjoyed being, you know, outdoors too much. And so I went to them and asked how I could get transferred, and they said, “Well, there’s no way you’re going to be transferred out of here, we need you.” And somebody said, “Well, you can always re-enlist.” [Laughter.] And I mulled it over for a few days, and I went to them I told them I wanted a discharge so I could reenlist in the ordnance department. 

In high school ROTC I’d been on the rifle team. And I always liked firearms anyway, so I thought I’d get a chance to work with firearms. So I reenlisted for three years in January of ‘46 to go to Europe as part of the ordnance department. When I got to Aberdeen, they assigned the job—I went to school—started in school as a parch clerk for the ordnance department.

Vickio: When was that?

Schwerin: That was January and part of February. And then they came around, and I guess there were maybe twenty-five, thirty of us they called in one day, told us about this project they wanted us to volunteer for. So, since I was going to be a parch clerk instead on working on guns and things I said, “Well hell, might as well.”

Vickio: That’s what Dick Skancke had said, that he was involved in some kind of inventory.  He didn’t like that either.

Schwerin: You know, dead-end type job, you really weren’t interested in. I mean, the people with brains were the ones they wanted to keep booked. Anyway, I guess maybe one or two declined, but not very many. And then we hung around together for a few days, and then they shipped us out to Los Alamos.

Vickio: Did you go all on the same train?

Schwerin: Yes, we went out on a troop train. And that’s when I first met Cleary, while we were hanging around together not doing anything waiting to be shipped out. I was a PFC [Private First Class] and he was a PFC [Private First Class], so of that group he and I were the ones that had the longer service. I don’t know much about his previous service, but he mentioned one time that he had been in Iceland. So it could have been that he was in Iceland and shipped back to the states you know, when the war ended in Europe.

Vickio: That’s something, yes. Did the two of you stay pretty close while you were there?

Schwerin: Yeah, we stayed fairly close the whole time.  The last time I saw him was in January of ‘49 when I was discharged. But he stayed at—

Vickio: Of course, he ended up going to Korea, right? That’s where—he was killed over there.

Schwerin: We all shipped out at Los Alamos about the same time, toward the end of 1947. And then they assembled a group of us to go down to Camp Hood, Texas to sort of open up the bomb dump down there. And then we turned it over to another group, and it was called Army Airbase. I’ll think of the name probably sometime in this conversation. But it’s on the map. It’s Gray Army Air Force Base.

Vickio: Huh. But it was right next to Fort Hood?

Schwerin: I don’t know who it was named after, but they named it after we left.

Vickio: I see. Let me ask you something. You know, obviously when you were in the Army—this is before you went to Los Alamos, I’m talking about in ’45—you know, back in the time when you were envisioning that you might be over in the Pacific.

Schwerin: Yes. We were being trained as infantry replacement.

Vickio: Right. How did you first hear about the atomic bomb? Do you recall that?

Schwerin: No, but I can recall we were going—we were coming back to—we’d been out in the field for a few days and we were coming back, and down there we always walked like you see GIs walking, a column on each side of the road. And our arms, you know, sling arms. And an old farmer in a pickup truck came down the road. And every once in a while he would slow down and he’d holler: “War’s over! You boys can go home.” 

And then, as soon as we got back to camp, you know, they said, you know, atomic bomb and all this. And so it wasn’t until the Atlantic Journal, the Atlantic—Atlanta Journal came out and we were able to get hold of a newspaper that we, you know, read about the atomic bomb and Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, and some of those things, but—

Vickio: Now when you heard—I mean—so you know, you knew about that—I guess what I’m getting at, Bob, is that so when you’re on the train—this is after you were at Aberdeen—and you’re on the train with a group going to Los Alamos, that you knew what Los Alamos was all about?

Schwerin: They didn’t tell us where we were going.

Vickio: I see. You didn’t know it at that time?

Schwerin: No. They did not tell us. They said it was a secret base and they had an important job they wanted us to do.

Vickio: I see. I thought they’d briefed you on that, so—

Schwerin: No, we did not know we were going to Los Alamos.

Vickio: So did the train—did it end up going to Lamy, New Mexico? You know, that ¬¬siting outside Santa Fe.

Schwerin: Well, the car we were on developed a flat wheel. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of flat—

Vickio: I think I have heard it. Yeah, where it’ll get a flat piece on it.

Schwerin: So anyway, they pulled us into St. Louis—the yards at St. Louis—and they switched us around and we went over to the shop area. So anyway, Cleary and I were just hanging out together. Anyway, he hollered out the door and said, you know, “How long’s it going to take to change this wheel?” 

And they said, “A couple hours.”  

And we could see the railway station over in the distance, so he and I hopped off the train and we went over to the railway station [laughter] and we had a beer or two, then walked around a little bit, and came back. Well just as we were getting on the train some officer spotted us, so they chewed us out, and they put him out on KP [Kitchen Patrol] out to Lamy.

Vickio: Oh really? Oh my gosh.

Schwerin: Out to Lamy. I don’t know what was being shipped out to Los Alamos or what, but our car and one or two freight cars, then were on the switch engine from Lamy all the way into Santa Fe. And then we were picked up by a bus and sent up to Los Alamos, and it was a moonlit night and you could look over the side of the road, but man you couldn’t see nothing but black down in there, and—

Vickio: Had you ever seen any train like that before?

Schwerin: No, no. I had never really been west of the Mississippi before that time. But that—

Vickio: It must have looked like on the moon or something.

Schwerin: I enjoyed the mountains out there; in fact, that’s still my favorite part of—

Vickio: Everybody says that and I’ve been out there several times and they’re really—yeah, if I had my druthers, I would like to live there sometime.  I can understand why so many people decided to stay out there once they got there. So that was a—you weren’t married at the time at all, were you, Bob?

Schwerin: No no, no.

Vickio: So what age were you? About eighteen? I guess you would’ve been, since you just got out of school, yeah.

Schwerin: At that point I was nineteen.

Vickio: Huh. I guess, when did it first enter your mind that you were headed to the place where they had developed the atomic bomb?

Schwerin: It wasn’t until that—when we arrived at Santa Fe.

Vickio: And how did you first—is that where somebody first told you were going to Los Alamos?

Schwerin: Yeah, the bus driver told us that’s where we were going.

Vickio: What was your impression? Did you care one way or the other? Or did it mean that much?

Schwerin: It didn’t mean that much to me, no.

Vickio: Just being a young whippersnapper at that time—

Schwerin: You can’t grasp until you experience it. You didn’t know what to imagine that it was up there.

Vickio: When you first—so you got there in the middle of the night?

Schwerin: Yeah, the Army always make sure you get somewhere in the middle of the night. Damned if know how they figure this out, but they have always done good.

Vickio: [Laughter] How was the first couple three days there? Can you tell me a little bit about, in other words, how did you first get kind of indoctrinated to the area?

Schwerin: Well, not so much to the area, but our duties. They, you know, explained that you were to take the precautions that—

Vickio: Did they tell you about the—I mean, was it pretty heavy security and all that?

Schwerin: Yes. We thought so, because we had never, you know, had any type of security at the—the only guard post that we ever pulled was fire guard to, you know, keep anybody from being trapped in a burning building, but they had a few posts that were manned around the clock. And they were places where there was radioactive material. One of them was in the Tech Area. 

Vickio: Was that where the vault was?

Schwerin: No, no. In the Tech Area, it was minute amounts, but all these building were old, temporary Army buildings, and they had experienced a fire in the Tech Area. They were afraid that, you know, any radioactive material, it would be dispersed with the—

Vickio: In a fire.

Schwerin: So you had minute amounts in these various offices or labs—

Vickio: Where they were doing tests and so forth, yeah.

Schwerin: So if you didn’t bother anything—it’s just that if there was a fire, you were to remove as much radioactive material as you could.

Vickio: And how was it kept in these offices?

Schwerin: Well, usually it was in a small amount that they would, you know, analyze and check.  Some of it was in—

Vickio: You talking about like microscopic quantities?

Schwerin: Yes, very small.

Vickio: Very small quantities.

Schwerin: It was in test tubes. But this was just a laboratory-type thing, not a production-type. Now the production went on at a place called DP, which stood for D-Prime. And it was within the barbed wires fences, cyclone fences there that the vault was located.

Vickio: Oh, that’s where the vault was?  

Schwerin: Yes.

Vickio: I see.

Schwerin: The end product at DP—the product that was hauled in from Hanford was in the form of a slurry, highly acidic slurry, in stainless steel tubes. They would haul that in then, they would dry it out and put it through an electric furnace and form it into hemispheres.

Vickio: So in other words they were actually isolating the pure plutonium and putting it into a metal form there?

Schwerin: Yes, enriched plutonium. And then, without leaving the confines of that place, then they could put it into the vault.

Vickio: Do you know if most of the plutonium at that point in time at DP site, was that being made into those hemispheres?

Schwerin: Yes. Now I did see some of it, only on one occasion, in the form of a bolt. No threads on it, but—

Vickio: Shaped like a bolt.

Schwerin: Yes, it had a round head on it and was about an inch in diameter, and they called that a bolt, but—

Vickio: Any idea what that was used for?

Schwerin: Evidently that could have been something that might have gone with the gun-type bomb, I don’t know, but after that the only things we had were the hemispheres.

Vickio: I was just writing something. Now I know that the—so the vault was at the DP site?

Schwerin: Yeah.

Vickio: I know they were still, of course you know the Slotin accident where Cleary was, when they were doing the criticality test or that—the tail of the dragon there. Now that type of duty that Cleary had there at the desk, was that a typical type of duty for all of the security guards would be to man while experiments were going on of some type, would be to man a desk like that?

Schwerin: Yes, you were always supposed to keep the radioactive material within view. That’s why he was in the room. I mean he could’ve just, you know, dropped it off, but that wasn’t, you know, part of what we did.

Vickio: So it always had to—in other words, if it was in a room and being worked on, there was supposed to be a security guard in there with it.

Schwerin: Yes. The rough castings had to be milled and turned with a lathe to get the exact dimensions that they wanted. We would go to a vault, then we had to take that rough casting up to the Tech Area, and they had an area there that they worked on—

Vickio: That was that C Shop, wasn’t it?

Schwerin: To get down to the exact—

Vickio: Bob, wasn’t that called the C Shop? C for Charlie.

Schwerin: That kind of rings a bell.

Vickio: I think at C is where they did that machining of the hemispheres there, yeah.

Schwerin: And if any operation, you know, went on overnight, then somebody had to be there.

Vickio: The whole time?

Schwerin: The whole time. And what we would do when meal time came, we would just relieve whoever was there, and then we would stay until the next—until they were through that day, or until supper time and then six o’clock and twelve o’clock and six o’clock were the times that we would be relieved.

Vickio: Okay. I see, yeah. I think you had said once before, when they were machining this plutonium all of the shavings and everything had to be accounted for right?

Schwerin: Yes.

Vickio: And did that end up going back to Hanford?

Schwerin: No, I think that went back to DP—

Vickio: Went back to DP site for, I see, more refining?

Schwerin: Well they would go back, melt it down, and use it in another casting I imagine. 

Vickio: I think the reason I was asking that—and I’m just interjecting this Bob—because it seemed like Dick Skancke—he was mentioning that a lot of times they would have some kind of a load that would be going back from Los Alamos to Hanford when they’d go out there.  Do you know what—?

Schwerin: Well they had to take the—

Vickio: What would be going the other direction?

Schwerin: They had to take those long tubes back there. To be refilled.Yeah, they had these black panel trucks. They had racks in there for these canisters to go back up there. 

Vickio: Yeah. And they were bolted in place I think in those—

Schwerin: Yeah.

Vickio: In those trucks. 

Schwerin: To keep them in place, lest they rolled over.

Vickio: Listen, besides the DP site, and I think where the Slotin was, that was what Omega Canyon.

Schwerin: No.

Vickio: No?

Schwerin: No.

Vickio: What was that?

Schwerin: They called it Omega Laboratory. But we didn’t call it that, we just called it Pajarito Canyon. And now the road that goes right by Pajarito is one of the main roads to get up the hill now. It’s much less dangerous than the original road. You don’t have the inclines and the curves that you had on the original road, even after they—

Vickio: I’ve probably been by there, because I’ve been up and down all those roads. 

Schwerin: But we just called it Pajarito Canyon and Omega Canyon. And the fellow that was killed in either ‘43 of ’44, had his accident in—

Vickio: No.

Schwerin: Omega Canyon.

Vickio: That was ‘45.

Schwerin: Was it ‘45? 

Vickio: Yeah, because that was Harry Daghlian. Because my mother was a nurse at the hospital, that happened in August of ‘45. And then Slotin’s was the next year.

Schwerin: They hushed that up. I’d never heard of that until after I got away from Los Alamos.

Vickio: Oh really?

Schwerin: I didn’t know anybody had been—

Vickio: You know, Dick Skancke was telling me when I talked to him, Bob, and I think you’d verify probably the same thing, that you were—it wasn’t until after you had left there, or at least pretty late in the game, that you knew how dangerous some of the stuff was that you were handling.

Schwerin: Well, when my hair started falling out, yes.

Vickio: Is that a true story?  

Schwerin: What?

Vickio: Your hair started falling out?

Schwerin: Yeah.

Vickio: When?

Schwerin: In early 1947.

Vickio: Is that right? I didn’t know that.

Schwerin: I visited my aunt and uncle out on the west coast near San Diego. And he was a doctor and I went out there and stayed a couple of days with them, because it took a day to go out there and a day to come back. Anyway, he and I were talking about it and of course, him being a doctor he knew a little bit about X-rays and some of the harm that could come from that. And he was a little bit concerned, but all my aunt could talk about was those ugly Army boots. She wasn’t the least bit concerned about my hair falling out. [Laughter] I believe that is the reason they eventually pulled me away from the radioactive material and put me on a as a courier between Los Alamos and Sandia, because another Staff Sergeant and I were assigned the courier duty. And I took it one week and then he took it one week, so that, you know, limited my exposure.

Vickio: Did you wear the radiation badges and everything?

Schwerin: Yeah, we had film badges, but most places they just used nose swabs. But only in an extremely hot area they would have the film badge.

Vickio: Dick Skancke was telling me that—you may have heard this story, I don’t know—but he was telling me there was an apple in one of the offices. And he was eating the apple, and he though just as a lark he’d run it by the Geiger counter because it’d been in one of the hot areas. And he said that needle just started going crazy with that damn apple. Did you ever hear anything like that?

Schwerin: I do know this: that if you had any kind of an open cut, they did not want you near radioactive material.

Vickio: Is that right? Huh. 

Schwerin: Yeah, if you had any, you know, any kind of—

Vickio: Yep, open sores, cuts, or—

Schwerin: They were afraid that radioactive dust would get in it that might, you know, prove detrimental, so I know—

Vickio: But did you actually have any fear of that then, when you were there?

Schwerin: No, that didn’t seem to bother me all that much, that my hair was falling out.

Vickio: Boy, that’s something. I hadn’t heard of that. You know, I remember in the early days, when I say early days I’m talking about the ‘43, ‘44, ’45, there was a lot of testing and so forth at the S Site. Did any of the security guards go there?

Schwerin: Only when they had a trial assembly. The assembly building was out at S Site. And it’s an old, wooden building. And the last time we were there in ‘95 on reunion there was some talk about trying to declare that a historical—

Vickio: I’ve got some information on that, that’s right, yeah.

Schwerin: Too rotten—

Vickio: Yeah, it was just a piece of—

Schwerin: To save it. So I guess it’s been torn down by now. But that’s where, you know, they would do a trial assembly. And then they would, you know, label everything and take it on the plane.

Vickio: Were there any other locations at least right near Los Alamos that was also part of the guard duty?

Schwerin: Yes, Bajo Canyon.

Vickio: What was it?

Schwerin: B-A-J-O. You had to go out the front gate and down the hill a few miles, and then you came to a road that turned very sharp back to the left. And you went back up in that canyon and that’s where they did the explosive charges to see if they were getting the proper amount of compression—

Vickio: Yeah, in the implosion?

Schwerin: In the implosion. They would set it up, and then that night security guards would go down there and guard it all night. And they had a car with a radio and every half hour you were supposed to radio back to the officer to let them know everything was okay. They put two men down there and they would go down about six in the evening and then get relieved about six in the morning.

Vickio: That was lonely duty.

Schwerin: The coyotes kept you company down there. [Laughter] We were about half asleep one night when those coyotes sounded out. Man, I thought, “The world’s coming to an end.” I’d never heard a scream like that in my life.

Vickio: How often did you do that kind of duty?

Schwerin: I did it twice. And I guess every few months they would do that, but when they were setting one of those off you knew about it because it would shake the ground up there on the hill. They had periodic explosions where they would test different batches that they made out of that site, but they were minor explosions. You could hear them, but they didn’t rattle the ground. But when they set off one of those, you know, to check for the implosion, it was something. They would do that every few months.

Vickio: The security guards, how were they organized? I’m talking about as far as a company.

Schwerin: It was very loose, you had—

Vickio: You said there were about fifty men all together maybe?

Schwerin: Yes, probably a few more than fifty.  Because you had a, kind of, an H-shaped barracks.

Vickio: Is that the double-B and double-A?

Schwerin: Yes, and I guess you could put thirty men in each one of them. Some of them were double bunked, but not many. Then they had another duty that was a little bit strange, I pulled it a couple of times. They would send two cars of men down to a rail yard in Albuquerque, and usually there was either one or two officers that would go with you. And there was a railway express car, one of these cars that had passenger accommodations on one end and an express car on the other end. Have you ever—?

Vickio: No. You mean just a short train?

Schwerin: No, it was just one car.

Vickio: Oh, I see, one car.

Schwerin: One car and it was shaped, you know, like a passenger train, and they had some seats in one end and just an open freight area in the other end. And we get down there a little before dark in the evening and we had carbines and some sub-machine guns and a sidearm and there would be people, you know, guarding it. And they would go out to Sandia or Kirtland or somewhere at night, and we would stay down in that rail yard all night long. And then in the morning they would come back, and then we would go back to the hill. We never knew anything about it.

Vickio: You mean you never knew what was in the car?

Schwerin: No. There were two things that were discouraged up there at Los Alamos: one was a camera and the other was asking questioning. 

Vickio: Exactly. [Laughter]. What they used to always call “need to know,” right?

Schwerin: Right. We didn’t need to know nothing. And some of the scientists were rather aloof. I mean, they wouldn’t acknowledge your presence even, and others were just as nice as they could be. I remember one cold day, and very few of these labs were—you know, out in the boondocks, they had no heat in most of them.  And we delivered a hemisphere and this fellow said, “Have you ever felt this stuff?” 

And I said, “No.” 

And he said, “Here.” And he handed me a hemisphere. And it was cold that day.

Vickio: But the hemisphere was warm?

Schwerin: The hemisphere—the molecular motion in that thing warmed it up, at least ten degrees. But it felt warm.

Vickio: I think one thing is that most people and you’ve hit on something that—in fact, today most people think that plutonium is deadly radioactive, but it really isn’t. You know what I’m saying? The process of manufacturing it is highly radioactive, but the end product isn’t, which is why you could touch it. That’s something. I was writing something down on this express train because I wanted to follow up and ask: how many times did you make that trip down to Albuquerque with that siding?

Schwerin: Well, I did that twice. And put that in your questions to the other men.

Vickio: That’s what I was going to do.

Schwerin: And ask them if they knew what was in the car.

Vickio: Was this car sitting by itself, or was it at the end of a train?

Schwerin: Off to itself, nothing else around it. That’s the way they wanted it.

Vickio: I think Dick Skancke had said sometimes that they transferred some stuff, came from Hanford by rail. I wonder if that would have been part of it.

Schwerin: That might have been. If it came to Albuquerque rather than through Lamy. I don’t know what the destination would have been if it was to be hauled to Los Alamos.

Vickio: Why would it come there?

Schwerin: We would have had the black car, black panel trucks there to haul it.  But it was never, it was never, to my knowledge, nothing was ever moved to Los—

Vickio: Oh, I see. You just guarded it? And people came back the next day and you left.

Schwerin: Yeah. Ask if anybody knew if anything was ever put on that car on or taken off that car, and what was in it.

Vickio: Okay. I’ll do that. Dick was telling me that he used to make—they’d make runs to Oklahoma to pick up shipments that were coming from Oak Ridge. That they would meet similar trucks somewhere in eastern Oklahoma and switch cargo. Did you do any of that or did you—?

Schwerin: No, I never went on a road trip.

Vickio: Just to Sandia?

Schwerin: Yes, that’s all—we did that for a few months through spring and summer down there at—on that courier. I was down there for a long time.

Vickio: Was that a daily thing?

Schwerin: Yes, they hauled the mail pouch that originated up at Los Alamos headquarters building and you delivered it to headquarters at Sandia. Then after you would go and eat lunch, and you and the driver—he was a civilian from motor pool—then we would go back and pick up the locked mail pouch at Sandia headquarters and deliver to headquarters back at Los Alamos. One time, during the 1947 test in the Pacific, we went to Albuquerque. And I went in the headquarters to pick up the mail pouch at Sandia and they said, “We’re not ready yet, if you’ll come back in an hour.” So, we just went outside and sat under a tree at headquarters and went back in after an hour, and they said, “We’re still not ready.” So I told her we’d been sitting under a tree and she said: “We’ll call you, whenever we’re ready.” 

So, I think maybe we went someplace and got a Coca-Cola or something and sat under a tree, and it was getting pretty late in the afternoon. And finally she came out, so I went in the office to get the mail pouch, and she handed me an envelope, and she said, “You are to deliver this personally to General Groves. He’ll be waiting at headquarters up at Los Alamos.” So I put that in my jacket and we went on back up there. The sun had already gone down behind the mountains and it was getting, I wouldn’t say dark, but you know how it is in the shadow up there. 

He was sitting on headquarters steps. My feet no more than got on that pavement and he said: “Sergeant, do you have a letter for me?” So I gave him my best salute and handed him his letter. And that’s the only time I ever saw General Groves. And there was a clerk, still inside headquarters, waiting for that mail bag. I told him, you know, about the letter, and he said they had to decode it. [Laughter]. So I think it was during the Pacific test about that time. Some kind of results or something—

Vickio: He’d been anxiously waiting for or something.

Schwerin: So when I came out he was engrossed in that letter and I didn’t bother him.

Vickio: You didn’t ask him what was in it, huh? [Laughter]

Schwerin: I didn’t salute him or anything. He probably wouldn’t have retuned it.

Vickio: I was going to say, he probably didn’t even notice you leaving.

Schwerin: Yep.

Vickio: He was so—well listen Bob I’m going to let you go.  

[Tape switch.]

Schwerin: These fellows were always practicing quick draw.

Vickio: Are you saying quick draw?

Schwerin: Yeah. See how fast they could our draw each other.

Vickio: Oh really? Okay, now I’m with you, yeah.

Schwerin: That was the DP site. One man was on one side of the window and one on the other. And they practiced, and one of them shot the other.

Vickio: Shot through the glass?

Schwerin: Yes. One man uses a regular draw and the second man who got shot used the cross-draw. His hand was right about his belt buckle and the shot came through and hit him in the hand, it looked like it got him right in the belly-button! [Laughter]

Vickio: Gee. What happened over that?

Schwerin: Mike Duley was the one that’d shot him, and nobody could remember who it was that got shot. And it may have been before this last group came up there in December of ‘46.  It may have been before they came there. But anyway, nobody can remember.

Vickio: Were these with the .38 pistols that you had?

Schwerin: Yeah, .38 Special. Yeah, we had those on post and then the weapons always stayed in, they probably were hotter than two-dollar pistols, because they stayed in DP all the time.

Vickio: Oh I see. In other words, when you left you left them there?

Schwerin: Yeah.Yeah, all you did was go in there and change clothes, and when you came out you changed back into your fatigues.  For a long time we never wore class A uniform on duty, and it wasn’t until much later that they started insisting we wear a class A uniform and wear a SG red and white arm.

Vickio: Yeah, I’ve got a couple of those pictures which you—yeah, yeah.  So you didn’t wear those armbands all the time?

Schwerin: No.

Vickio: Dick Skancke was telling me about something and maybe you can—he was saying that one of the things that he used to do, at least one of his duties, would be that after hours in the Tech Area would be to go around and check to make sure that there wasn’t any classified material out on desks. They’d have to pick up the paperwork, you know, if they found something that was top secret on a desk they’d take it to the office.

Schwerin: That was stamped?

Vickio: Yeah.

Schwerin: I never had any orders like that when I was up there.

Vickio: But he said that a lot of the scientific people did not like the security guards because they were always kind of looking, you know. But you didn’t experience any of that?

Schwerin: No. I thought that type of thing was outside of our perimeter, because our sole responsibility was for the radioactive material. I may have heard something about that, but I never received— 

Vickio: You didn’t experience it yourself, okay. Well, I’ve got a lot more questions to ask you, but I’m running out of steam. [Laughter]

Schwerin: Well, good to talk to you.

Vickio: All right, it’s good to talk to you too Bob.

Schwerin: All right.

Vickio: Thanks Bob, have a good evening.

Schwerin: Goodnight.

Vickio: Bye bye.


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