Thursday, May 8, 2014

Military Memories: WWII: Dad stayed home, why and what happened then

When his brothers Delbert and Bernie went off to enlist Dad stayed home because he knew he wouldn't be eligible to serve. You see Dad had an accident when he was two years old and burned his hands on a hot stove.  Here's a tracing of Dad's little hands done by his Grandmother two days before the accident.

Dad's hands just before they were burned, an injury that kept him out of WWII.
Francis Patrick "Pat" Kelly (1916-2007).

Unfortunately Dad's hands never healed correctly and he was unable to have full range of motion with his fingers afterwards. See how the little fingers in the tracing above look normal? After the accident they were sort of webbed slightly together at the base and scarred such that he couldn't open them fully. It never stopped him from doing anything he wanted to... except join up at the start of the war.
Dad had worked at a textile plant so he knew manufacturing real well and worked his way up through the ranks. During the war years he worked in a munitions plant. He had a good analytical mind and understood how chemicals worked. Dad was always intellectually curious throughout his life and was truly a life-long learner. So it's not too hard to imaging how he took to the new chemistry of ballistics and bombs.
In his work he met some very important figures of the day and men who went on to work on the Manhattan Project. He was invited to meetings of the National Defense Research Committee, or NDRC, which from what I understand was a top secret group whose work was pretty forward looking and instrumental in the development of ballistic weapons. As Wikipedia describes it:
NDRC was an organization created "to coordinate, supervise, and conduct scientific research on the problems underlying the development, production, and use of mechanisms and devices of warfare."

Dad's specialty was explosives and by association, propellants. This area was to become big during the war as science worked with military to develop new weapons. A lot of the projects he worked on were top secret and he had a pretty high security clearance, but exactly what level I'm not sure. He went on numerous trips to meetings at the Pentagon.

The NDRC in its original form lasted a year from June of 1940 to June of 1941 and then it reorganized a bit and continued until after the war in 1947. Looking at the Wikipedia page about it I'm guessing that from what I know about Dad's work he was involved with Division 8, as follows form the Wikipedia listing, below:

Following the reorganization of the NDRC in December 1942, it had the following divisions:
Division 8 (Explosives), George B. Kistiakowsky, Chief (1942–1944), Ralph A. Connor, Chief (1944–1946)

I'm posting some of  the photos of that time from Mom's archive. I'd like to be able to identify some of the individuals but as yet can't except for Dad and one other man. There he is on the left with dignitaries in the photo just below.
Dad often talked fondly about one individual and that was George Kistiakowsky, or "Kisty" as he was called. Kisty went on to work on the Manhattan Project. I'm not positive but looking at other photos of him online, that's most likely him standing to the right of Dad. Here's just part of his fascinating life story which you can read in it's entirety by clicking on his name above which serves as a link.
While teaching at Harvard throughout the 1930s, Kistiakowsky applied his expertise in thermodynamics, spectroscopy, and chemical kinetics to military research, corporate consulting, and political advising. During World War II, Kistiakowsky served as chief of the National Defense Research Committee's Explosives Division.
Kistiakowsky joined the Manhattan Project in late January 1944, leaving his role as chief of the National Defense Research Committee's Explosives Division. He replaced Seth Neddermeyer as head of X (Explosives) Division and by spring 1945 had over 600 people working on solving the complicated problem of igniting the plutonium core in the atomic bomb. Under Kistiakowsky's leadership, the complex explosive lenses that would uniformly compress the plutonium sphere to achieve critical mass were developed. 

Dad at his desk at Allegany Ballistics Laboratory.
Dad at his ABL desk, back of the room.

Dr. Van Evera, left, shaking Dad's hand.

All of these were taken during the war years. The photo above is marked on back "Dr. Van Evera" and in the image of the plaque below you'll see his name, last column on the right. Some pretty heavy company in the room as Dr. Van Evera witnessed history. As this web site states, Dr. Van Evera must have been a big deal too:

However, The most famous event at this 5th Washington Conference on Theoretical Physics came from the announcement by Niels Bohr at the 1939 conference, in the Hall of Government, Room 209, that the nucleus of uranium had been split by bombardment with neutrons, with significant energy released. This was the dawn of the atomic age.

So that's what Dad did during the war. Wish I knew more, but he wasn't talking about it overly much and now I can see why. It was all pretty hush-hush.

After the war ended and a couple of years passed during which Dad got good jobs at ABL for as many of the boys returning home as he could, and he got interested in plastics. He made some important contacts with the owners of a growing plastics plant outside of Cleveland. In 1952 we moved from the little Western Maryland mountain town of Frostburg to Chagrin Falls, Ohio, and you can read about that here. It turned out to be a good move for us as a family and brought us that prosperity and new modern life you hear about and see in movies about the 1950s. Somehow, it all worked out.

Dad, 1945.

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