The Manhattan Project Roger Veach

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IN 1944, ROGER VEACH WAS A 20 YEAR OLD COLLEGE
STUDENT, LIVING IN CHICAGO. THE WAR WAS GOING STRONG IN EUROPE AND ASIA
AND VEACH KNEW HE WOULD BE CALLED TO FIGHT. VEACH ORIGINALLY WANTED TO SIGN UP FOR THE
NAVY BUT HE HAD A NOT SO SMALL PROBLEM. HIS HEIGHT. AT 6’5’94, WHICH WAS TO TALL FOR THE NAVY,
THE DRAFT BOARD WOULD ONLY FIT HIM IN THE ARMY. JUNE 26, 1944, I LEFT FOR ARMY TRAINING IN
FLORIDA.
VEACH QUICKLY IMPRESSED HIS SUPERIORS WITH HIS SHOOTING SKILLS.

I WAS OUT ON THE RIFLE RANGE, AND I WAS PROUD OF THIS BECAUSE I HAD NEVER FIRED A WEAPON
IN ANGER IN MY LIFE, I HAD NEVER FIRED A WEAPON, SO I BECAME AN EXPERT RIFLEMEN. WHICH I THOUGHT WAS GOOD FOR ME.
IN ADDITION TO HIS ABILITIES ON THE RANGE,
THE ARMY WAS INTERESTED IN VEACH’S MENTAL SKILLS AS WELL.
I WAS CALLED INTO THE ORDERLY ROOM AND TOLD,
VEACH, YOU ARE GOING TO BE TAKING THREE OR FOUR TESTS TONIGHT. SO I CAME INTO THE MESS HALL AND THERE WERE
SOME FELLOWS FROM MY COMPANY AND WE WERE GIVEN EXAMS IN PHYSICS, ADVANCED MATH, CALCULUS,
AND ENGLISH COMPREHENSIVE, AND THAT WAS AFTER 8 WEEKS. THIS IS A SEVENTEEN WEEK CYCLE, SO WE DIDN’T
HEAR ANYTHING ABOUT IT AND SO I THOUGHT, WELL THAT IS PAST, FORGET ABOUT IT. SO AT THIRTEEN WEEKS, I WAS CALLED INTO THE
ORDERLY ROOM AND THE SERGEANT SAID YOU ARE GOING TO SCHOOL.
VEACH WAS GIVEN A CHOICE OF RUTGERS OR VIRGINIA
POLY TECHNICAL INSTITUTE FOR HIS ADDITIONAL SCHOOLING. HE CHOSE VIRGINIA TECH TO STUDY ELECTRICAL
ENGINEERING, WHICH WAS A BIT DIFFERENT FROM WHAT HE HAD STUDIED BEFORE THE ARMY.
FOR ME IT WAS A BIT OF A DRAG BECAUSE AS A
CHEM MAJOR, I WASN’T INTERESTED IN THESE COURSES. BUT I DID WELL ENOUGH TO STAY THERE BECAUSE
I DIDN’T WANT TO GO BACK TO THE INFANTRY. SO AFTER BEING THERE FOR SEVERAL MONTHS, WE
WERE INTERVIEWED BY SOMEONE FROM WASHINGTON AND NOT THE MILITARY PERSON, HE DIDN’T SAY
WHO HE WAS WITH BUT HE SAID HE WANTED TO PICK PEOPLE WITH A CHEMISTRY BACKGROUND, AND I
HAD HAD THREE AND A HALF YEARS OF CHEMISTRY IN MY MAJOR AT ILLINOIS TECH IN CHICAGO, SO
WITH THAT, THEY DECIDED THAT I, ALONG WITH FOUR OTHERS WOULD GO TO OAK RIDGE TENNESSEE. THE K-28 PLANT THERE WAS PURIFYING URANIUM.
EVENTULY THE PROGRAM TOOK VEACH TO LOS ALAMOS
NEW MEXICO TO WORK ON A SECRET PROGRAM KNOWN AS THE MANHATTAN PROJECT. LEARNING FROM SOME OF THE MORE RENOWNED NUCLEAR
PHYSICISTS OF THE AGE, INCLUDING DIRECTOR, ROBERT OPPENHEIMER, VEACH WORKED IN A LAB
WITH HIGH EXPLOSIVES, DESIGNED TO PROVIDE AN IMPLOSION. THIS IMPLOSION ALLOWS PLUTONIUM TO PRODUCE
A NEUTRON FLUX WHICH CREATES AN ATOMIC EXPLOSION.
THE PROJECT ITSELF WAS INSTIGATED BY ALBERT
EINSTEIN. HE WROTE A LETTER TO PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT IN
1942 IN WHICH HE SAID THE GERMANS WERE LIKELY TO HAVE NUCLEAR WEAPONS. AND SO THAT CREATED A FLURRY OF PLANNING AND
SO THAT IS HOW THE MANHATTAN DISTRICT CORE OF ENGINEERS WAS DEVELOPED AND WHY THE PROJECT
WAS CALLED THE MANHATTAN PROJECT. WELL I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT HE WAS DOING. HE COULD NOT TELL ME.
MARGERY VEACH IS ROGERS WIFE. THE COUPLE LIVE AT PIEDMONT RETIREMENT COMMUNITY
IN THOMASVILLE AND WERE MARRIED IN 1945 JUST BEFORE ROGER STARTED HIS RESEARCH IN LOS ALAMOS. SHE SAID THE WORK HER HUSBAND WAS DOING WORRIED
HER SINCE THE ONLY THING SHE KNEW WAS, HE WORKED WITH HIGH EXPLOSIVES.
I WOULD HEAR EXPLOSIONS AND I WAS SO Frightened. I DID NOT HAVE ANY IDEA OF WHAT TO DO AND
I HAD NO ONE TO CALL.
LUCKILY, THE EXPLOSIONS WERE FROM ROCKS BEING CLEARED FOR HOMES NEARBY. STILL, THE COUPLE KNOWS HOW LUCKY THEY WERE
THAT ROGER WAS CHOSEN TO WORK ON THIS PROJECT INSTEAD OF BEING SENT OVER TO FRANCE WITH
THE REST OF HIS BATTALION HE TRAINED WITH IN FLORIDA. BUT I WAS SO FORTUNATE. I THINK OF ALL OF THE YOUNG MEN WHO SUFFERED
AND DIED IN THAT PERIOD, GOING BACK TO D-DAY, JUST BEFORE I WENT INTO THE SERVICE.
VEACH KNEW THE ATOMIC BOMB WAS WHAT HIS RESEARCH
WAS BEING USED FOR AND HE KNEW THE CONSEQUENCES IF THE ENEMY DESIGNED THE BOMB FIRST.
WELL WE HAD HEARD THAT THIS WAS TO BE USED
BUT WE DIDN’T KNOW WHEN OR WHERE. WE KNEW THAT THIS WAS IN RESPONSE TO THE GERMANS
PRODUCING A WEAPON. THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN TERRIBLE AND TERRIBLY
WORRY SOME.
LARRY WALSER LIVES IN THE SAME RETIREMENT COMMUNITY AS VEACH AND WAS A B-24 PILOT DURING
THE WAR. IN AUGUST, 1945, HE WAS FLYING A MISSION ON
THE EASTERN SIDE OF JAPAN WHEN HE WITNESSED THE IMPACT OF VEACH’S WORK. WE WERE JUST GOING ALONG AND ALL AT ONCE THE
CO PILOT TAPPED ME ON THE SHOULDER AND SAID LOOK OVER THERE. AND I LOOKED AND I SAID SOMEBODY HAS STARTED
ONE HELL OF A FIRE. I REMEMBER THAT AS WELL AS …. THEN WE GOT
BACK TO THE DEBRIEFING AND THEY JUST ASKED US WHAT WE SAW. I TOLD THEM WHAT I SAW AND THEY DIDN’T SAY
ANYTHING.
WHAT WALSER SAW, WAS THE RESULT OF THE ATOMIC BOMB DESTROYING THE CITY OF NAGASAKI.
WHEN WE SAW IT, IT WAS JUST A GREAT BIG PLUME. PEOPLE ASK ME ABOUT THE MUSHROOM. I DON’T RECALL ACTUALLY SEEING THE MUSHROOM. I JUST REMEMBER SEEING THAT TALL PLUME OF
WHITE SMOKE. NORMALLY FROM ONE OF THOSE FIRES IT WOULD
HAVE BEEN BLACK SMOKE. WALSER’S CREW DIDN’T FIND OUT WHAT THEY SAW
WAS THE ATOMIC BOMB UNTIL IT WAS REPORTED IN THE NEWS A FEW DAYS LATER.
VEACH’S WORK ON THE MANHATTAN PROJECT ALLOWED
HIM TO CONTINUE HIS WORK AFTER THE ARMY, WITH THE V-A IN CHICAGO. THERE HE WORKED WITH RADIOACTIVE IODINE IN
A LAB TO CHECK PATIENTS FOR MEDICAL PROBLEMS. HE IS MOST PROUD OF A DYE HE DESIGNED THAT
HELP PINPOINT A PANCREATIC CANCER TUMOR. STILL, VEACH KNOWS THE GLOBAL IMPACT OF HIS
EARLY WORK DURING THE WAR. BUT IT WAS A STRANGE FEELING. WE HAD PARTICIPATED IN SOMETHING THAT REQUIRED
THE USE OF OUR BRAIN, WORKED HARD AT IT FOR A PERIOD, AND THEN IT WAS BEING USED TO KILL
PEOPLE. THAT IS SOMETHING YOU CAN NOT GET AWAY FROM. OPPENHEIMER REMARKED ON IT AND HE SAID, WE
HAVE SEEN DEATH. AND HE WAS TALKING ABOUT THE DEATH OF CIVILIZATION
IF THIS WAS PERUSED.

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