Proud of East Texas: Girls of Atomic City - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

Proud of East Texas: Girls of Atomic City


Gladys Wilson took part in one of the biggest events in history. The project was so secret that Wilson and other workers didn't know what they were creating.

"What you see here, what you do here, what you hear here, when you leave here, stays here."

The sign was one of many posted in a small rural area of Tennessee known as Oak Ridge. With the country just coming out of a deep depression in 1943, Wilson's family was glad to get jobs.

"We just knew we were doing defense work. They called it the thing, it had all kinds of names."

The name that history would record would be "The Manhattan Project," the making of the Atomic Bomb.

"I was told that only 12 people in the United States knew that we were working on a bomb."

Gladys and other workers were refining uranium, a dangerous material that would prove to have dangerous after-effects.

"We kept the green light on and if the red light came on, you had to get hold of a foreman fast."

Gladys says Oak Ridge at the time was basically a cow pasture with no streets, no sidewalks and yet it was the most secretive place in the country and one of the most important. 

Gladys especially remembers a visit from President Franklin D Roosevelt.

"He was standing there, big old guy. He was real crippled, you know he had polio."

It was to be one of President Roosevelt's last trips.

"A couple of months later, he died, not knowing that we had won the war."

Gladys left Oak Ridge just before the war ended to marry her sailor sweetheart. She returned for a short time for the birth of her daughter Joyce. Even though they were proud to have helped win the war, Gladys' family suffered for their patriotism. Her mother and brother-in-law died of cancer and were reimbursed by the federal government, admitting their exposure to uranium was the cause.

There's no doubt that the atomic bomb helped win World War Two and yet, the story of the girls who helped build the bomb is basically an untold story.

"I always said the men took the credit for winning the war, but the women made a big plus."

The book "The Girls of Atomic City" by Denise Kiernan has additional information.

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