Co-workers Grandfather worked at Los Alamos

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  1. Thorlifter

    Thorlifter Well-Known Member

    Jun 10, 2004
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    The Norman Transcript - He saw the light

    Norman man recalls witnessing birth of Atomic Age

    By Ed Montgomery

    When 18-year-old Ralph A. Moulton joined the World War II Army he could hardly have guessed he would be assigned to the FBI, part of the security force in the place where some of the world's most brilliant scientists would build the bombs that ended the biggest war this war-prone world has ever endured.

    They also jerked us into the Atomic Age, ready or not.

    "It was an interesting part of my life," he understated in an interview. He also met his future wife there, which made it even more interesting.

    And he almost lost his life there the day he was on duty in a laboratory where two scientists died from radiation exposure.

    "They just washed me out," Moulton said.

    Later he was hospitalized and released after Geiger Counter readings indicated his health was not in danger.

    This adventure started at Aberdeen, Md., where young Ralph and other Engineer Department soldiers spent two weeks being observed and interviewed by FBI agents. Ralph was among 18 shipped to Santa Fe, N.M., and directed to Los Alamos, a town being built by the U.S. Army 35 miles to the northwest over mostly gravel mountain roads.

    It was the most important branch of the Manhattan Project because it was where the atomic bomb was put together. The Manhattan Project may have been the best-protected military secret in history.

    Jennet Conant, author of the 2005 Simon and Schuster book "109 East Place," wrote about Army G-2 (intelligence) agents in three-piece suits who were always visible in the small Santa Fe business district. Moulton says they were really members of his group of soldiers on detached duty to the FBI. He pulled some of that duty.

    (109 Park Place was the small building in Santa Fe where newcomers had to check in before being allowed to enter Los Alamos.)

    J. Robert Oppenheimer, remem-bered as "the man who built the atomic bomb," was director of the Los Alamos project, and Edward Teller, father of the hydrogen bomb, was one of the most famous scientists on the job. They were at odds because Teller wanted to push ahead with the H-bomb research while Oppenheimer wanted work on the A-bomb to have the priority because it was more advanced.

    Moulton, who developed a first-name relationship with Teller, believes Oppenheimer was getting pressure from above. Moulton never met Oppenheimer.

    Both the atomic bombs dropped on Japan went from Los Alamos to California in the trunks of 1942 Chevrolets, Moulton revealed. The drivers had escorts by local law enforcement officers in towns and two-way radios if they should have trouble on the open highways.

    Little Boy, the first atomic bomb to fall on Japan, was carried from Pearl Harbor to Tinian Island by the U.S.S. Indianapolis, a heavy cruiser. Four days later the ship was sunk by a Japanese submarine.

    Moulton learned years later, after he was living in Norman, that a Norman resident, Herbert Hickman, was a radar operator and turret gunner on a Navy patrol plane that sighted survivors of the Indianapolis and started rescue efforts. That saved the lives of 317 men who had managed to stay alive for five days in shark-infested waters. Moulton and Hickman were friends until Hickman died in 1997.

    Moulton was familiar with the story of Rossi Lomanitz, but did not learn until recently that Lomanitz was a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. Lomanitz graduated at the age of 18 in 1940. George Lynn Cross, OU president at the time, said Lomanitz was considered the most brilliant student ever to attend OU up until then.

    Lomanitz had worked for Oppenheimer at the University of California at Berkeley. Lomanitz admitted to being a former Communist, and Oppenheimer's association with him and others with Communist ties contributed to the withdrawal of his security clearance in 1954.

    Moulton was amazed at the advanced technology the scientists had to work with.

    "By closed circuit television," he said, "I have seen robots handling test tubes at a lab miles away." And that was in 1946 when few people had even seen a TV screen.

    Moulton, while he was living at Lawton after the war, met the popular former Oklahoma FBI chief Jelly Bryce of Mountain View and learned that he had charge of security forces for the entire Manhattan Project. They became good friends.

    Moulton's wife grew up in the Seminole area, and that's why Ralph happened to become an Oklahoman. When the Army turned over Los Alamos to the Atomic Energy Commission in 1947, Ralph took an Army discharge. The Moultons moved briefly to his native state, Vermont, but soon came to Oklahoma. He worked as a mechanic in Edmond and then was a service manager in Lawton and in Buick and Pontiac agencies in Norman.

    The Moultons have two sons, both OU graduates, and a daughter who graduated from Oklahoma State. They have seven grandchildren.

    Ralph Moulton has probably thought more than most people about the decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    "They did the right thing," he says. "There were many fewer deaths than there would have been the other way (by invasion)."
  2. RabidAlien

    RabidAlien Active Member

    Apr 27, 2008
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