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SED - Oak Ridge

"I would like to convey to each member of the Special Engineer Detachment my personal commendation and expression of appreciation for your very able assistance in the successful accomplishment of the Atomic Bomb Project.  You are a unique organization, consisting of a group with specialized talents which has no parallel in any Army unit.  You were selected from units scattered throughout the country for the purpose of manning essential jobs on this Project for which qualified civilian personnel could not be secured.  The success of the Atomic Bomb Project is sufficient proof of the very splendid manner in which you discharged your assignments.  Many of you would have preferred duty with troops overseas.  However, I am confident that as you may reflect back upon the accomplishments of the Special Engineer Detachment, you will realize that your contribution towards the winning of the war as a member of the detachment was of far greater value than any service which you might have rendered in a normal Army unit.  The Manhattan District and the War Department are both proud and grateful for your very loyal and able services."  Col. Kenneth D. Nichols - District Engineer - Manhattan Engineer District

History of the Detachment at Oak Ridge

In 1943, the Manhattan District was having difficulty in obtaining enough technically trained persons to help construct and operate the various plants at Oak Ridge.  Therefore, on May 22, 1943, the Commanding General of the Army Services Forces authorized the establishment of a Special Engineer Detachment, so that essential technical personnel then working in the district could be assigned back to the district upon their induction into the Army.  The first district roster consisted of 334 enlisted men.

In the Fall of 1943, with technical men still scarce, the district began a program of recruiting among universities and colleges to line up draftable men who might be assigned to the district.  As this program still did not fill the need, authority was obtained to recruit men from Replacement Training Centers.  Allotments to the district were increased progressively as the size of the plants grew, and the recruiting drive was extended to include men in the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP).  The National Scientific Roster was also combed. and requests were sent to colleges for the names of graduates who had been drafted. (no stone was left unturned).

The first enlisted man assigned to the Oak Ridge Special Engineer Detachment was Perry R. Gershon, who arrived on July 19, 1943.  The first commanding officer of the detachment, Capt. William A. Fogg, took over in May 1943.  He was succeeded by Capt. William A. Barger in March 1944.

The first men to be assigned to Oak Ridge lived in dormitories with civilians, but as the detachment grew, it was decided to move them into the barracks.  This move came in February, 1944.  In December, 1945, the detachment returned to the dormitories, this taking over the complete buildings. 

The detachment reached its top strength in September, 1945, at which time the roster included 1,257 enlisted men.  The men of the detachment came from every state in the union, and represent three hundred institutions of higher learning.  Approximately two-thirds of the men hold college degrees.  The average Army General Classification Test Score for the detachment is 133, the highest for any single unit in the Army.

SED at K-25

"In a letter of October 12, 1945, the Hon. Robert P. Patterson expressed the appreciation of the War Department to the young scientists and other technically-trained men who contributed so greatly to the victory of the Allies in the production of the Atomic Bomb.  Included in this group were those enlisted men of the Special Engineer Detachment who, since the beginning of the Manhattan Engineer District, have so generously and efficiently contributed their best efforts to the successful completion of the task assigned to the Carbide and Carbon Chemicals Corporation by the War Department.

Late in 1944 and early in 1945, a much larger number of scientific personnel were needed. and a large portion of this number was supplied from the Army.  Without the Special Engineer Detachment men who were assigned to the various departments of K-25, it is not too much to say that production would have been delayed considerably.  Carbide and Carbon Chemicals Corporation is therefore very grateful for the assistance given us by the enlisted men assigned to our staff.

On behalf of the Carbide and Carbon Chemicals Corporation and the supervisory staff of the Oak Ridge plant, this opportunity is taken to thank these men, and to wish them great success in their future activities." - George T. Felbeck; Vice-President; Carbide and Carbon Chemicals Corporation; Oak Ridge, TN; 1945

SED at X-10

"I welcome this opportunity to express the appreciation of Clinton Laboratories, the University of Chicago, and the Monsanto Chemical Company for the great assistance given by the members of the Special Engineer Detachment in the carrying out of our part of the atomic energy program.  A large share of the credit for the successful completion of our tasks belongs to these young men. 

At a time when it seemed impossible to recruit enough civilians having the proper qualifications for the exacting work to be done, these carefully selected men from the armed forces were brought in and asked to work side by side with the engineers, physicists, and chemists.  They rapidly adjusted themselves to their new environment and cheerfully worked the long hours demanded by our tight time schedules. It is difficult to see how we could have completed the war tasks assigned to us in the time allotted for their completion without the assistance of this special detachment.

These Special Engineer Detachment men have fitted into the Clinton Laboratories organization in all technical fields and in all levels including those requiring high supervisory skill and responsibility and have discharged their obligations admirably.  Soldier has supervised civilian, civilian has supervised soldier, and probably even Pfc has supervised a sergeant with no thought as to what kind of clothes or how many stripes were worn by themselves and others.  They have devoted themselves whole heartedly and well beyond the line of duty to satisfactorily complete the job.  These men are to be congratulated on the remarkable way in which they have taken hold of the work here and helped us carry each task through to its successful completion." - Dr. Martin D. Whitaker, Director; Clinton Laboratories; Oak Ridge, TN; 1945

SED at Y-12

"Early in 1943 when Tennessee Eastman Corporation entered into a contract with the government to operate the Y-12 plant, there was a serious shortage of manpower in this area.  This shortage was essentially critical insofar as scientific and technical people were concerned.

In order to aid us in overcoming this obstacle, the Army made it possible for us to secure the services of a limited number of enlisted men, who had specialized training in scientific fields, and who were willing to work on this project.  These men were carefully selected, and were assigned to a variety of jobs in which their technical competence could be of the greatest assistance to the overall program.  Not only was their work of consistently high caliber, but their attitude of cheerful cooperation was a fine example to the remainder of the organization.

The Special Engineer Detachment has every reason to be proud of the contribution it has made to the success of this project.  Every member has earned our sincere gratitude, and will take with them our best wishes for success in his future endeavors." - Dr. Frederick R. Conklin; Works Manager; Tennessee Eastman Corporation; Oak Ridge, TN; 1945

Other Resources

Oak Ridge In Their Own Words (Oak Ridge SED veterans' testimonies)

Oak Ridge Document Directory

Oak Ridge SED Yearbook (150 pages)

 
 
 
 

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