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Oral history interview with Dale J. Jennerjohn, 2006.

Author: Dale J Jennerjohn; John K Driscoll; Wisconsin Veterans Museum.
Edition/Format:   Archival material : Cassette recording : English
Database:WorldCat
Summary:
Dale Jennerjohn, a Madison, Wisconsin resident, discusses serving as a mechanical engineer in the Army and working with the Manhattan Project during World War II.
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Genre/Form: Personal narratives, American
Named Person: Dale J Jennerjohn; Leslie R Groves
Document Type: Archival Material
All Authors / Contributors: Dale J Jennerjohn; John K Driscoll; Wisconsin Veterans Museum.
OCLC Number: 526673650
Event notes: Interviewed by John Driscoll on September 19, 2006 in Shorewood Hills, Wisconsin.
Description: Sound recording : 1 sound cassette (ca. 32 min.); analog, 1 7/8 ips. Master sound recording : 1 sound cassette (ca.32 min.); analog, 1 7/8 ips. Transcript : 12 p. Military papers : 0.1 linear ft. (1 folder)

Abstract:

Dale Jennerjohn, a Madison, Wisconsin resident, discusses serving as a mechanical engineer in the Army and working with the Manhattan Project during World War II.

Jennerjohn describes growing up in Milwaukee during the Great Depression, where his parents converted the old Hanson's Soap Flake mansion into a boarding house. Jennerjohn attended Saint Rose Catholic grade school and West Division High School, graduating in 1940. He mentions that, unlike many of his peers who enlisted in the Reserves at the beginning of World War II, Jennerjohn "waited for the draft" and went to college. He attended the Milwaukee School of Engineering for two years then transferred to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Jennerjohn tells the story of his unusual induction into the Army. In June 1944, he graduated from college and went to Milwaukee to be inducted. Weeks before, Jennerjohn had received a letter from General Leslie Groves of the Manhattan Project inviting him to work in Los Alamos (New Mexico); however, the letter got lost at Jennerjohn's fraternity house. His fraternity brother found the letter and went to extreme lengths to deliver it to Jennerjohn, but he had already been sworn into the Army by the time the letter caught up to him. Jennerjohn touches upon his basic training in California. He was then assigned to a special project at Ohio State University helping a Colonel Bish develop an anti-mine weapon. Jennerjohn suggests he did not like this project or the Colonel much. After visiting an engineer friend involved in the Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge (Tennessee), Jennerjohn wrote a letter to Washington D.C. and was reassigned to the atomic bomb project in Los Alamos in June 1945. Jennerjohn discusses his work in the engineering drafting house at Los Alamos. He drew diagrams of the atomic bomb but also had to put together bombs based on his drawings. He describes witnessing the first test of the atomic bomb in the desert from a shelter fifteen to twenty miles away. He characterizes the test as "very successful, and very loud, and very impressive." Jennerjohn was still a soldier at this time, and he mentions that General Groves insisted all soldiers at Los Alamos continue to march and do physical training. Jennerjohn comments that the civilian scientists thought this was a waste of time and convinced General Groves that the Army engineers did not need to do the exercises. Jennerjohn frequently addresses the secrecy surrounding the nuclear project, explaining that nobody knew how many atomic bombs were being built, that his mail was censored, and that the young Army engineers were not supposed to socialize with university women in Santa Fe. He tells of being reprimanded for visiting and receiving telegrams from women from Santa Fe, which he implies was part of the Army's attempt to keep the nuclear program in Los Alamos a secret. Jennerjohn comments that once the atomic bomb was built, drafting became less important. He did some electrical drawings and "historical" drawings illustrating the process of building the bomb. Jennerjohn tells how he and a buddy volunteered for an assignment in the woods in New Mexico and ended up having to paint one of the atomic bombs olive drab. Jennerjohn states he later learned that only two atomic bombs had been built, which meant he had painted the bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki. Jennerjohn comments that before arriving in Los Alamos, he had no idea what the atomic bomb project was all about and that even his fellow engineers in Oak Ridge were uninformed. Jennerjohn describes his social interactions with the nuclear scientists in Los Alamos. He states that Oppenheimer, Niels Bohr, and other "top-notch" scientists worked in the office across the hall from him. He mentions a few scientists formed a piano quartet and describes meeting the scientists' European wives at a local restaurant. Jennerjohn reveals that an accident involving nuclear energy occurred in one of the labs, killing a man who had been his neighbor in the living quarters there. Jennerjohn states he was in the Army for a year and a half. After the war ended, he continued to work with the nuclear program, which was taken over by the University of California. In September 1946, he returned to the University of Wisconsin and got a Master's in Engineering. Jennerjohn states he decided against becoming a professor and instead worked for the Wisconsin State Board of Health. For this job, Jennerjohn helped create or improve hospitals and nursing homes in small towns in Wisconsin. Finally, Jennerjohn touches upon the controversy surrounding the atomic bomb. He reveals two of his bosses at Los Alamos -- a professor and Oppenheimer's brother -- were both labeled Communists during the McCarthy era. He also admits that articles in Life and Time Magazine made him wary for many years of telling people about his role in the Manhattan Project. Jennerjohn states that he "didn't have any hard feeling" for or against the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the time. Jennerjohn also feels that if it hadn't been for General Groves' letter and the atomic bomb project, he would have been sent to "more serious times" in Europe in 1944.

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