The Knoxville News Sentinel reports that photographer Ed Westcott (left) has been nominated for the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Westcott, who turned 96 earlier this year, was the official US Army photographer at Oak Ridge, TN during the Manhattan Project.
Westcott was one of the first people hired to join the Manhattan Project at Oak Ridge. In thousands of photographs, he documented the construction, operations, and people of the “Secret City.” Westcott’s images captured life in Oak Ridge during World War II, depicting everything from women welders to baseball games. Many 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). He was transferred to AEC headquarters in 1966 and retired in 1977.
The nomination was officially submitted by U.S. Representative Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN), whose district includes Oak Ridge, in 2017. Oak Ridge historian and AHF Board member D. Ray Smith comments, “I think we in Oak Ridge should do all we can to get Ed recognized at the highest level in our land because of his great artistic and historic contribution to the world-changing Manhattan Project. He far surpasses any other photographer who has documented the history of the Nuclear Age.”
The United States’ highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom was established in 1963 by President John F. Kennedy in Executive Order 11085. It recognizes individuals who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to (1) the security or national interests of the United States, or (2) world peace, or (3) cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”
As the News Sentinel notes, only three other photographers have received the award: Edwin Land, Edward Steichen, and Ansel Adams. It remains unclear when the next Presidential Medal of Freedom awardees will be announced. A number of people involved in the Manhattan Project or nuclear technology have received the Medal, including James B. Conant, George Kistiakowsky, Edward Teller, Admiral Hyman Rickover, and Richard Garwin.
Westcott’s nomination was also covered by WBIR. In 2016, AHF met Ed and other Oak Ridge Manhattan Project veterans who participated in an HonorAir Knoxville program in Washington, DC. To read about Westcott’s 96th birthday celebration earlier this year, click here.