Woman creates book from aunt's journals about working on Manhattan Project

Woman creates book from aunt's journals about working on Manhattan Project

DANVILLE — When the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, in August 1945, Connie Anderson was an 8-year-old in Danville and had no clue her aunt played a supporting role in that historic mission.

None of the family in south Danville knew any details of the secret project that led her young, single aunt, Hester Gritton Moore, a switchboard supervisor who commuted daily with other Danville folks to her job at DuPont in Terre Haute, Ind., to board a train bound for Hanford, Wash., during World War II.

In that remote area of southern Washington, E.I. Du Pont de Nemours and Co. was the site contractor for construction of a secret bomb lab — one of three involved in The Manhattan Project, which President Roosevelt authorized in December 1942.

In addition to reactor complexes and chemical separation facilities, the Hanford site numbered more than 500 buildings, including an employee village where Hester Moore lived — men and women in separate bunkhouses — while working as a switchboard.

Even her aunt didn't know the true purpose of the war project, or even the last names of many of her co-workers during her nearly two years there.

"When that first bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, I think it really bothered her," said Anderson, 79, who still lives in the Danville area.

Hiroshima has been in the national spotlight recently as President Barack Obama announced this week that he will be the first sitting U.S. president to visit the Japanese city destroyed by the atomic bomb. But for Anderson, it's been in her personal spotlight, almost daily, for the last three years.

Before Hester Moore's death in 1998, she gave her niece a coat box from the Meis department store in Danville stuffed with journals, notes, pictures, diagrams and other memorabilia from her war years in Hanford and asked her to write a book.

Anderson is a 1958 UI graduate in music education and theory, so she said she's much more a musician than a writer. And at the time, she encouraged her aunt, who penned poetry and stories, to write the book.

"I told her, 'You can do this,'" Anderson said. "Multiple times I told her."

Her aunt insisted it be written, but by her niece. Anderson assumes it was too emotional for her aunt, who rarely discussed those two years but wanted them documented.

"I think it was a healing process for her," Anderson said.

The Meis box went home with Anderson. Years passed. And she didn't look at the information for a long time.

"Finally, I pulled it out and I had all kinds of questions," said Anderson, finding it difficult to pull more information out of her aunt, who didn't elaborate much on her niece's additional questions, repeatedly telling her that everything was in the journals and the box.

"She was a trip," Anderson said of her aunt.

Finally, nearly 15 years after her aunt's death, Anderson decided it was time to pull out the box again and begin working on the project in earnest. She started by organizing everything, making an outline and then writing. Her aunt had everything arranged chronologically, in chapters even, said Anderson, who did some re-arranging once she delved in wholeheartedly.

Working about three hours a day, sometimes longer, for the last three years, Anderson finished the book, "Keep Your Ducks in a Row!," that's now published and available online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple iTunes, Google Play and Kobo and can be ordered in book stores.

Anderson said the book's not about the Manhattan Project, but her aunt and her daily life living in the barracks and working at Hanford for nearly two years with no visits home.

An independent, spirited woman who often butted heads with her father and loved to travel, Hester Moore's routine job in a Midwestern town landed her in the middle of a secret war operation where she met Italian physicist Enrico Fermi, who created the first nuclear reactor; American physicist Robert Oppenheimer, known as the "father of the atomic bomb;" General Leslie Groves, who directed the Manhattan Project; and Glen Seaborg, an American chemist, involved in developing the second bomb, a plutonium implosion-type bomb (Fat Man) on the city of Nagasaki three days after the bombing of Hiroshima.

Anderson said all of those men came through the communications part of the Hanford facility, where her aunt, a civilian government employee, was one of the supervisors. At the peak of the project, the Hanford site's switchboard was handling 1,200 calls per hour with three shifts of operators and 100 operators per shift, according to Anderson.

Her aunt returned from Hanford in January 1945, and the first bomb was dropped more than six months later. After the war, her aunt was invited to Washington D.C. to receive recognition, a certificate, for her efforts on the project. That certificate was tucked away in the coat box.

Anderson, who was the only child in their family, was very close with her aunt, who married but never had children. She said the book is a labor of love and is doing fairly well so far, receiving some good feedback, including one of her Danville High School classmates, now living in North Carolina, who lived in Washington state as a child for one year during the war, because his dad worked at the Hanford site, too.

Anderson confesses there were times in the last three years when she wondered what she got herself into and would think about the fact that her aunt was gone and would never know if the book was written.

"I made a promise. ... And I have now fulfilled my promise, and I feel very good about that. I think she would be thrilled," said Anderson, who insists this first book is her last. "It took a lot out of me at my age."

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