Two Manhattan Project veterans recently celebrated milestone birthdays.
On January 21, Oak Ridgers celebrated the 95th birthday of famed Manhattan Project photographer Ed Westcott. Westcott was the official US Army photographer for the Oak Ridge, Tennessee site during the Manhattan Project. In thousands of photographs, he documented the construction and operations of the "Secret City." He also captured the lives of Oak Ridgers, from the Y-12 "calutron girls" to young people socializing at the Wildcat Den. More than 5,000 of Westcott's early negatives are now in the National Archives.
After the war, Westcott stayed in Oak Ridge as an employee of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). Westcott retired in 1977 after a phenomenal career as a photographer. As city historian D. Ray Smith told attendees at his birthday celebration, "Ed is a hero of mine. If I didn't have Ed's photographs, I could not tell the history of Oak Ridge."
In October 2016, AHF met Ed when he visited Washington, DC on an HonorAir Knoxville flight. You can see some of Westcott's photographs on the Photography of Ed Westcott Tumblr. Oak Ridge Today and WBIR also covered his birthday celebration.
James Forde, one of the youngest Manhattan Project veterans, turned 90 on January 23. He was just 17 when he was hired by the Union Carbide and Carbon Company as a lab assistant in 1944. He worked at the Nash Garage Building at Columbia University, where scientists worked on developing the gaseous diffusion process. Forde recalled being the lone African-American in the midst of many Ph.D. scientists.
Forde was unaware that he was contributing to the development of an atomic bomb. "The main job that I had was cleaning tubes in a sulfuric acid bath. I did not know what the tubes were for or anything about the purpose of the research. When I saw the headline that we had dropped an atomic bomb, I said, "'Oh, my God. That is what I was working on!'"
After the war, Forde worked for CBS and later became Director of Health Services for the county of San Diego. He has spent many years working with state and local organizations to improve healthcare for minorities and the poor. To watch Forde's oral history interview with AHF, click here.
The Atomic Heritage Foundation wishes Ed and Jim a very happy birthday!