10 Country: Willis’ Big Bangs - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

10 Country: Willis’ Big Bangs

The blast, 1945 The blast, 1945
Dr. Willis Baldwin Dr. Willis Baldwin
Damage in Hiroshima Damage in Hiroshima
Bomb construction, Los Alamos Bomb construction, Los Alamos
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August 5, 2003

Americus- Two big anniversaries happen this week, so big they affect literally every person who lives in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

You rarely get to visit with someone who helped change the course of world history with a bang.

“And, that to me is still magic. Three years,” says Dr. Willis Baldwin, one of the nuclear scientists who developed atomic bombs. He worked on the super-secret Manhattan Project where scientists had three years to make one atomic bomb during World War II. But they did better than that, building three bombs in less than three years, for personal reasons.

“Job affected the outcome of the war and our freedom,” says Dr. Baldwin The first bomb dropped on August 6, 1945, named “Little Boy”, was a high-risk decision. In a surprising revelation, the nuclear bomb scientist said it was a gamble. “It had never been tested,” says Dr. Baldwin.

He nor his colleagues had any idea when nor where the bomb would get dropped until his phone rang. “My wife called me at work and told me what we were doing at Oak Ridge. She mentioned the bomb had been dropped and that was our first indication.”

“Oak Ridge was so top secret workers knew only what they needed to know for their specific jobs, and no more. They had successfully split the atom when some of the scientists split philosophical ranks after they realized the first bomb’s destructiveness.

“A lot of people had guilt feelings about it. And, I can understand them,” says Dr. Baldwin. Testing continued on their second bomb, the one later known as “Fat Boy”.

“We were not told officially about the test bomb,” says Dr. Baldwin The scientists, many of whom had fled Hitler’s Germany, developed the A-bomb technology in the US out of fear and in light of Germany relentless bombing of London.

“They were afraid that he might learn of it in some way and the project was so close,” says Dr. Baldwin. The US offered a much safer location. On August 9, their second A-bomb blasted Nagasaki. The two A-bombs killed an estimated 375,000 people, and Dr. Baldwin had helped develop them. Does he have any regrets?

“They did nothing to stop the war. Apparently, a great number in the country celebrated Pearl Harbor,“ says Dr. Baldwin. He does not plan to celebrate the bombs’ anniversaries, pointing out the first week in August doesn’t hold any special significance to him, preferring to spend his time reading in his modest apartment, not far from his son who also lives in Americus.

He is a contented freedom fighter 88 years old who helped change the course of world history and lived to tell about it from the inside. Dr. Baldwin remains quite active, saying he really enjoys explaining science to third and fourth graders when he can.

He also quickly points out the good aspects of the atomic bombs such as nuclear power, carbon and neutron dating, and medical uses of the technology. And, he says people often over-react to the smallest amounts of radiation exposure such as a dental X-ray.

posted at   by dave.miller@walb.com