Shift change at Y-12 during the Manhattan project

Shift change at Y-12 during the Manhattan project

Under cover of the night,
in soldiered secrecy
— a fence was raised
Manhattan placed in Tennessee,
farmland woods transformed
to labs and factories.
ex-ten, why-twelve: the defense.
Separating two-three-five
from two-three-eight,
working shifts for little boy
— to end it all
in Hiroshima.

Marian wants us to be inspired by the music by Gillian Welch at toads and her music brought me back to 1990 when I spent 4 months in the city of Oak Ridge Tennessee, doing research. As a place this was probably one of the strangest places I have stayed. Personally I lived in a dormitory that was built for mid-level clerks during the war, when Oak Ridge was sealed of as part of the Manhattan Project to build an Atomic bomb. My work took me to research facilities that where located in the area of X-10 where the worlds oldest reactor was located. I soon learned that the important stuff was done in Y-12 where the Uranium 235 was carefully separated to build “Little Boy” that was built and dropped in Hiroshima. I recall an old man living in the same dorm who looked with contempt on me at the laundromat when he learned that I spent my time at X-10 and not Y-12.

February 27, 2015

24 responses to “Why-twelve?

  1. How very interesting! And the snobbery involved with working in different sections. Everytime I go to TN to visit my mother, I have to go through Oak Ridge. Several years ago, a physicist from there, whose information and application I reviewed and approved for licensure as an engineer in VA told me, if you are ever coming through, call me. I will give you a tour. I think it is one of the most fascinating days I have spent! he gave me some history similar to what you have given us. It is hard to imagine all of that when one looks at the river and surrounding mountains, trees, etc. such a beautiful area and yet, so much there beyond our common knowledge. This poem reminded me of the Manhattan project and little boy. And then of course, Hiroshima. Hiroshima has been beautifully rebuilt. it is incredible. Of course, the Hiroshima Palace was totally destroyed but has been built to its former beauty and the gardens around it. Amazing how people and the earth rebuilds.

  2. “The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II” if you haven’t read that yet you’d enjoy it having been there for a visit.
    “working shifts for little boy
    — to end it all” Hmmmmm, if only it had ended war for all time. We never learn.

  3. what an interesting story of your life bjorn…
    i wonder if they realized what they were really accomplishing until
    tht bomb went off…had to be pretty terrifying…

  4. Hey Bjorn–a very interesting poem–I always think of Los Alomos, Alomogardo–but, of course, Oak Ridge was a main center. Have you ever heard of the opera, Dr. Atomic, by John Adams–I saw it at the Met–not totally successful, I thought, but very interesting–about the Manhattan Project, focusing mainly on Oppenheimer. Breaking all of this down into word numbers is very interesting, like a code.

    It is a fascinating topic generally–I can’t help being rather against the Atomic Bomb–but my parents and their generation felt firmly that Japan would not have surrounded but for at least the first one. I do not know. My dad, having served in Europe, was on a ship for Japan for a land invasion. Terrible events. Thanks. k.

  5. That is quite haunting… the small things like work hours and efforts that lead to massive destruction.
    Thanks for sharing you story… it adds into the depth of the poem. I hope that you are doing good, Bjorn. 🙂

  6. Bjorn! Your post gives me a thrill, really. Your connection to Oak Ridge and looking back at the Manhattan Project is of course fascinating… and all the more, to me, by the path you followed to get to this. The poem is stark and interesting on its own (ex-ten, why-twelve, the defense, such a great line) but in the context of your notes and this music the whole thing soars. I’m tickled. I’m so glad you went down the rabbit hole of Gillian Welch’s music… so rewarding. Wonderful!

  7. I especially like the sound. This is my favorite part:

    “a fence was raised
    Manhattan placed in Tennessee”

    What a chilling close.

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