A cadre of brilliant young scientists and an army of “hick girls” from the Oak Ridge, Tenn. area secretly processed uranium-235 used in the first atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima at the close of World War II. Scores of FBI undercover agents watched almost every moved made by 100,000 atomic energy workers who reported to their jobs in a community that over night grew out of two farms, but wasn’t shown on any map during the Second World War.
Art Haug of Emerald Point condominium in Punta Gorda, Fla. was a 23-year-old chemical engineering graduate from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wis. who became involved in the project. Plucked out of obscurity by the federal government he was a shift supervisor at the Y-12 National Security Complex; one of the four plants at Oak Ridge involved in the manufacture U-235, the primary ingredient in the A-Bomb.
“I had just finished my master’s degree in chemistry and engineering at the Institute of Paper Chemistry in Appleton, Wis., after receiving a two year deferment from the military. I was about to go in the Navy,” the 89-year-old local resident explained. “Then I got a call from a man who identified himself as John Rich from Tennessee Eastman Corp. He wanted me to come down to Oak Ridge and go to work for his firm.
“I tried to explain to him that I was scheduled to go in the Navy, but he insisted that I come south. After arriving at Oak Ridge I learned this was an important government project and I would be serving my country well by coming to work at Oak Ridge,” Haug recalled. “That’s all I was told to begin with.”
“Before I arrived in Tennessee Eastman hired hundreds of hick girls from the hills of Tennessee. They were mostly high school kids plus some a little older who had no formal scientific education,” he said. “Our job was to train them how to handle delicate glass laboratory equipment. We also had to train them how to use analytical scales to weight the results we were after to the fourth decimal point.”
While all this training was going on in the Y-12 lab at Oak Ridge a city was being built around them. Many of the unmarried men, like Haug, and women working in the 70-square mile community lived in Army-type two story barracks two to a tiny room. Families were provided wooden homes with flat roofs in various sizes and configurations depending on the number of people in the family.
“For months they were building 30 to 40 homes a day. By the time they finished the job, Oak Ridge was the fifth largest community in Tennessee,” Haug said. “Most all the streets were dirt with boardwalks for sidewalks. There was one bank, one church, one restaurant and one movie house. There were also a few tennis courts Other than that you had to make up your own entertainment.
“You couldn’t go anywhere because gas was rationed and very few people had cars. Within the community itself they furnished free bus transportation 24-7,” he said.
Y-12 National Security Complex was one of our entirely separate facilities within the gates of Oak Ridge refining U-235 for the super bomb no one was sure would work. As it turned out, any one of the four processes would have produced the necessary U-235, but the process Haug was involved with at Y-12 was the most efficient way to obtain the uranium.
“We were doing electromagnetic separation of U-235. This was the process used to make the first Atomic Bomb,” Haug said.
After arriving and getting his feet on the ground he became a workaholic both in the lab but also in the classroom. Because there was severe shortage of teachers needed to teach the children of the Oak Ridge workers Haug volunteered. He thought he would be a science teacher but ended up teaching health to students because it was required in the Tennessee school system and there was an opening.
“I worked the grave yard shift from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. Took an hour off to sleep and then caught a 9 a.m. bus to school. After class I graded papers and studied the curriculum for the next day’s class. If it was basketball season I played on two teams. After the game I took another hour’s rest before taking a bus back to the lab at 10 p.m. and work,” he said.
“During the summer of 1945 when the Atomic Bomb was dropped the Knoxville paper proclaimed in four-inch high letters that the bomb had been produced at Oak Ridge, which wasn’t exactly the truth,” Haug said. “All the girls who had been working with us in the lab were walking around with their mouths handing open. They had no idea this is what they had helped build.”
Sitting in a living room chair 65 years later paging through a folder of documents the long retired scientist said, “It gives me a great deal of personal satisfaction for serving in some small way this great effort that was successful in saving so many American lives. During the war I felt badly that I wasn’t in the service, but in later years I realized what I did at Oak Ridge helped the whole war effort.”
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Corps of Engineers Manhattan District
This is to certify that A. J. Haug, Tennessee Eastman Corp. participated in work essential to the production of the atomic bomb thereby contributing to the successful conclusion of World War II. This certificate is awarded in appreciation of affective service.
Henry L. Simpson, Secretary of War
6 Aug. 1945, Washington, D.C.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Aug. 10, 2009 and is republished with permission.
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