As Hitler and the Third Reich ravaged Europe, Japan waged war in the Pacific, and American soldiers fought on foreign soil, a different kind of army was located stateside in remote, sparsely populated regions of Tennessee, New Mexico, and Washington. In each of these states, small cities were built, practically overnight. August 2015 marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, an end that would not be possible without the efforts of the men and women who worked tirelessly in America’s Secret Cities.
Oak Ridge, Tennessee:
Built during World War II as headquarters of the top-secret Manhattan Project, Oak Ridge was a town of 75,000 residents at the height of the war. Just outside of Knoxville, the town is less than two hours from Chattanooga and about two and a half hours from Nashville. The purpose of “America’s Secret City” was to develop the fuel for a bomb unlike any the world had ever seen – an atomic bomb.
Visitors to modern day Oak Ridge can get a wealth of information, view historic photographs, and even take a tour of an original “Flattop” house when they visit the American Museum of Science and Energy (AMSE).
One of the highlights of the museum is the photography of Ed Westcott. Westcott was the official photographer of the Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge, documenting everything about the town – from the citizens tending their Victory Gardens to the women working the Y-12 Calutrons.
Bus Tours of Oak Ridge and its original sites, including the Graphite Reactor, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, are offered from March through November. The tours, offered on a first come basis, are free with admission to AMSE and depart from the museum parking lot on weekdays at noon, returning at 3 pm.
Coming up on August 29, the 70th Anniversary of the End of World War II Celebration will take place at the Historic Grove Theatre. A special showing of the 1947 film “The Beginning or The End” will take place at the Grove Theatre. The program, which is free and open to the public, will also include special music, a flag presentation by the Volunteer State Honor Guard, recognition of veterans, and a special proclamation presentation to the Y-12 National Security Complex recognizing their role in our nation’s continued security over the past 70 years.
Manhattan Project Mission: The X-10 Graphite Reactor was built as a prototype for the Hanford reactors. The K-25 and Y-12 plants were built to separate the uranium 235 isotope from the natural 238 uranium.
The city of Richland, located just 25 miles from Hanford, is fortunate to have a wonderful museum dedicated to telling the stories of Manhattan Project, as well as many other historically important sites and events of the region. According to CEO Lisa Toomey, “The REACH is a hybrid museum [that] serves as a gateway to the Manhattan Project, Hanford Reach National Monument, Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail, Grand Coulee Dam and the Columbia Basin Project, the Columbia River, and Renewable Energy.”
A special exhibit called “Daughters of Hanford” opened on August 1. This interactive art exhibition features the work of public radio correspondent Anna King, photographer Kai-Huei Yau, and artist Doug Gast. The purpose of this exhibit is to tell the compelling stories of 12 featured “Daughters” who have impacted Hanford over the past 70 years. Their stories are told through a special radio series, website, and complementary portraits.
A special Jet Boat and B-Reactor Tour will take place on August 22. Tickets for the 8-hour tour are $145 and must be confirmed by August 17. The tour includes a boat trip up the Columbia River where visitors will learn the history of the Hanford Reach and see the B-Reactor from the water as a tour guide goes over the site’s history.
Manhattan Project Mission: The B-Reactor was the first full-scale, nuclear reactor. A total of nine reactors were built in Hanford to produce plutonium.
About an hour and a half from Albuquerque and 30 minutes from Bandelier National Monument, Los Alamos is another secret city steeped in history.
In 1943, the Army Corps of Engineers took over land that once belonged to the Los Alamos Ranch School. On the property stood the Fuller Lodge, used as a dining hall during its school days and a hotel after WWII ended. Currently, the structure houses the Los Alamos Historical Museum, a free attraction offering self-guided museum tours and historic walking tour brochures of the town. A free copy of the brochure can also be downloaded from the website.
While visitors are not permitted inside the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s technical areas, the lab does operate a visitor-friendly museum that is open to the public year-round, offering free admission. The Bradbury Science Museum features 40 interactive exhibits on the area’s history, the lab’s research, and national defense.
Manhattan Project Mission: All bomb assembly took place at Los Alamos.
The War Ends:
Roughly 3% of the global population died during World War II, including more than 400,000 American soldiers. The Japanese surrendered to the United States on August 15, 1945. Japan’s Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu and General Yoshijiro Umezu signed surrender documents, which were accepted and signed by U.S. General Douglas MacArthur on behalf of the United Nations, on September 2, 1945 aboard the USS Missouri.