The Place I Call Home


It is a very strange feeling to be from a town that changed the world. A town that had only one purpose. A town chosen as the place for America’s most top-secret project in history by the most famous physicist in the world. A brilliant scientist that no one under the age of 50 has ever heard of. A town most people have never heard of, people who live across the world, the next state over or just a couple of hundred miles away. A man and a town that built the worlds first Atomic Bombs.

I grew up in Los Alamos New Mexico. I still think it is the most beautiful place I have ever seen. It is the most spiritual place I have been. It is the most surreal place I have ever been. It is the most unheard of place I have ever known.

In 1941 J. Robert Oppenheimer was appointed by General Leslie R. Groves to head a top-secret project called The  Manhattan Project. One of the few locations of this project, chosen by Oppie, as we locals call Oppenheimer, was in the Jemez Mountains of Northern New Mexico where a boys ranch was. Los Alamos.

This small town that was a secret town until 1968 when it finally became public.

I am constantly amazed at how few people from the state of New Mexico know of it and how few people anywhere  else in the United States have even heard of it. Having grown up there I have a sense of pride and of Global fame if you will for my home town. I have a very keen sense that my hometown forever changed the world, for better or for worse. As I grow older I also have a sense of guilt for what happened to the 10’s of thousands of Japanese in Hiroshima and Nagasaki when the US dropped the worlds first atomic bombs Fat Man and Little Boy. I have always had a sense of pride mixed with guilt about killing all those civilians. It is a feeling only those of us from Los Alamos have. No one else can possibly understand. As deep as these feelings are  I know even I will never know the feeling of responsibility that the elite group of scientists who built those weapons of mass destruction are burdened with. Especially J. Robert Oppenheimer, whom we locals lovingly call Oppie.

Oppie spent the years following WWII defending his patriotism. He was found guilty of being a National Security Risk by The Atomic Energy Commission and was  humiliated by President Truman  for speaking out against his policies against sharing the knowledge Oppie his team at the Manhattan Project had concerning nuclear weapons. He openly opposed further development of the Hydrogen Bomb that Edward Teller was developing with the support of President Truman. This opposition cost him everything.

There are such controversial health, economic, environmental and social issues surrounding Los Alamos to this day that it makes it even harder to be proud of where I am from. The careless handling of nuclear waste during those early years is responsible for  the failing health of residents who are stricken with unknown types of cancers and numerous other diseases. The town and immediate surrounding areas are so contaminated with radiation much of it is unfit for human habitation. The countless testing  of explosives and weapons that was done during the 1940’s has damaged the environment in ways that they didn’t imagine and still do not know the extent of. Los Alamos is our Nations home  for nuclear weapons stockpile and home to the worlds plutonium supply.

All that aside, it is to me as it is to everyone I know who grew up there, home.

Even

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2 responses to “The Place I Call Home

  1. Small, but important edit here. The town wasn’t a secret as soon as the bomb dropped. The gates opened in 1958, not 1968. And I’m surprised you find that so few have heard of it. I’ve lived a year longer than you and left The Hill and the state over fifty years ago, but I’ve never met anyone who had not heard of Los Alamos. Most are fascinated that I grew up there and want to know more. Yes, despite all the ignorant things that were done there with the best of intentions, it is home. Or maybe I should say the Los Alamos I remember is home. The Los Alamos I visited a year ago was not the one I grew up in.

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    • Thanks for the comment, and I did get the date wrong but it wasn’t 1958, I guess maybe I should have either worded this part different or elaborated some. As far as not being secret and the gates being open you are correct, but by ‘public’ I meant that Los Alamos was no longer a military post. In 1965 a state constitutional amendment gave Los Alamos a charter government of an incorporated city-county. It was no longer a military post, it was a civilian political entity.
      I too am often surprised how many people haven’t heard of Los Alamos, it seems to mostly be younger people, which I didn’t really specify. That is mostly why I mentioned that, if it weren’t for family and such my daughters wouldn’t have known about it as they have grown up in Arizona.
      I am not sure what you mean by Los Alamos not being the town you grew up in, it has changed alot as far as expected growth in both population and municipality, but I go back about once a year and it still feels like my hometown to me. I think you may have typed the wrong years in your comment or something, if you are only a year older than me that would mean you were born in 1960, but you typed that you moved up there in 1951 so am a little confused. None the less, I moved up there in 1967 when I was in the 1st grade also, stayed till graduation and moved to Alb, then back in forth from there to LA a couple of times throughout my life but still have family there so I never really left in a way. Again thanks for your comment!

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