Conducting research during a pandemic is tricky. My scheduled research trip was for the last week of April 2020 to the National Archives in Atlanta. My intention was two-fold, to learn as much about the project as possible in five days and to see if I found any records specifically talking about my grandfather or were authored by him. You see, my grandfather was an engineer who worked first for Stone and Webster in Boston, and then in August of 1944 he transferred to the Tennessee Eastman Corporation and lived in Oak Ridge from August of 1944 to July of 1945, when he died in the McGhee Tyson airport in Knoxville, TN. His passing, at the age of 48, was a shock to his family and his co-workers. Unlike many associated with Oak Ridge, his wife and youngest son remained in the Boston area and his older son was serving in the 10th Mountain Division.
By February, the plane ticket had been purchased and the hotel booked. I had researched the route from the hotel to the Archives in case I wanted to walk between the two and I was debating between renting a car and relying on ride hailing services. Since I planned to be at the Archives every day between the time they opened and the time they closed, a rental car seemed unnecessary but I hadn’t made a final decision yet.
An archivist in Atlanta had sent me the annotated list for a series titled “Formerly Classified Correspondence Files, 1942-1947” that identified a fair number of the Manhattan Project files related to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, that are available for review. I had dutifully saved several electronic copies of the file in more than one location (just in case I had a hard-drive failure), highlighted the files I most wanted to review, and then printed out a hard copy (which turned out to be over 100 pages), to make sure I had the information in as many formats as possible. I find that the paper copy prompts me in ways that the electronic version doesn’t, while the electronic version is searchable which the paper copy isn’t able to do. Plus I had something to refer to if my computer died. So there I was, fairly well organized and all ready to go when everything, including the National Archives down.
By early July I knew that my research would have to be pushed off until 2021. I reached out to the archivist I had been corresponding with to provide an overview of my research goals just in case there was anything available for review. I’m glad that I did, the archivist was able to access information regarding the various “contractor employees that were provided to the Army Corps of Engineers for the purpose of distributing the ‘A’ Awards, or Atomic Pin awards, for service during the Manhattan Project era. These awards consisted of a certificate and metal lapel pin sent to employees who worked for at least six months on the project.” After some back and forth, the archivist found my grandfather on a list provided by the Tennessee Eastman Corporation.
Although we didn’t know what it was or what it represented, my father kept the “A” pin on his dresser when my siblings and I were growing up. It was awarded posthumosly and sent to my grandmother. Unfortunately, I have no idea where the pin might be today.
Since my grandfather died at the end of the project, just before the bombs were dropped, the family was never able to put together much about what he had done. While my father worked for project as a teenage courier in the Boston office, he never talked much about what his father had done for the project. While he many not have known, I suspect he knew more than he ever revealed. What he did reveal was that his father had two jobs, one a typical engineering role and the other was working to ensure that product (enriched uranium) would be transported from Oak Ridge to the various other facilities (Los Alamos, Hanford, UC Berkeley) in such a way that the transport would not be traceable scheduling train travel via indirect routes to its destination.
I’m excited to see what I find when I’m able to get to the National Archives in Atlanta, which I think will be sometime between October and January.