HANFORD REACH > Oral Histories

Franklin "Monty" Stratton

I was born in Richmond Virginia, way back in 1915.

In 1944, it so happened that the government was getting ready to build this plant here at Hanford. I was interviewed, and they offered me a job. Between the formal training in electrical engineering and my hobby as a ham radio operator, that type of background was the sort of thing that they were interested in for somebody to be assigned to their instrument department, here. And I'd never been west of the Mississippi, so I figured, now’s a good time to come see what it’s like… So I accepted the offer.

I came out on a train. I came in from Spokane, and arrived in Pasco; arrived about four o'clock in the morning. We got off the train; there were people from the plant there ready to greet us and grab us and take us over to Richland. I figure they were expecting people from all parts of the country to come in on the train… I came out as a single person, and while I was here, I met my wife to be; we met in Richland, and married in 1945.

[The Plant] was being built by the DuPont Company. They were able to build a plant like this, and maintain secrecy. One of the ways they did that was you’d be assigned to one small facility, and you only worked in that facility; you were not so familiar with what went on in all parts of the plant. Due to the nature of the work that we were doing here, you were warned not to talk about your work.

I didn't know at first exactly what was being done here, but with the particular type of instruments we had, I pretty soon added two and two together and figured, “This has to be something of a nuclear nature.”

I saw from the ground floor up to full operation of the reactors. And I’ve walked right out in the middle of a reactor pile that was being built, donned clothing to be able to walk out on top of the graphite blocks, and looked at instruments that were installed in the blocks. You had to don complete shoe covers and coveralls, because they wanted to keep the graphite perfectly clean.

We had a lot of safety training to be careful. We knew there were dangers, if we didn't do things right. I don't remember being really scared, even though there was a lot of things that could happen suddenly; otherwise I would never have lasted forty years...

One thing we did in our shop here in Richland: there were some new instruments that came in, and they had a meter on the front. The meter said “milirankins.” That is a measurement of nuclear radiation. What we had to do: we had to black out that word. So we took the meter out of the instrument, painted the word “milirankins” with black paint so that you couldn't tell what the meter was reading, reinstalled the meter, and put it back in service. It was a matter of secrecy; they didn’t want people to know what we were measuring. It was a radiation-measuring instrument.

Those instruments were used all over the project, and some of them in surrounding areas, outside of the project. The ones that were placed in homes were where people that worked here, on the project, knew what they were measuring. It was in their home. It would have been stuck away in the attic somewhere, so nobody else would see it… That would be, I'm pretty sure, 1944.

Secrecy was the number one priority here in the early days. And of course there were a lot of FBI agents here at the plant, and you wanted to be careful that you didn't say something that would get in their hands. They did not identify themselves as such. You could be working with somebody right next to you, and he could be an agent, and you wouldn’t know it. They’d be doing the same type of work you are… So you had to be so careful. That was amazing.

You learned to keep your mouth shut. When I’d leave town, I didn't even say where I worked. I’d find something else to talk about, other than work. I’d say, I prefer not to talk about my work, it’s government-related, or something to that effect… I think it became second nature.

Once in a while you’d hear about some person: he worked here yesterday, but he’s not here anymore. He’s talked to somebody, said something that he wasn’t supposed to… He’s gone.

My wife and I took a trip up to Mount Rainier, the summer of ’45. When the announcement came out about what had been done here at Hanford, the official announcement came out in so many words; no other information was to be released at that time. My boss here in Richland was so afraid that I’d start to talking. And so they ran us down, got hold of me on the telephone, and warned me, “Just because it's been announced what we’re doing at Hanford, you're not supposed to talk about it.” I said, “Don’t worry, I'm not saying anything; I'm not even telling people I work at Hanford.”

I just don't remember my feelings, really I don't know. When the word came out that they’d built the material to make a bomb with…

About the only thing I have opinions on is the final use of the plutonium, as the bomb was dropped on Japan. We had to end the war. And if we hadn’t have used it, it would have been used on us... And it's a shame to have had to drop two bombs on Japan: all the thousands of people that lost their lives.

However, if we had not done that, most likely Germany would have developed the bomb and dropped it on us. If we had to go into Japan we’d have lost thousands of soldiers; they would fight to the end… If you didn’t drop that bomb, there would be planes flying over, dropping other kinds of bombs…

It was just part of the war effort. That's the way I felt about it.

Well now you’re asking questions I have a hard time answering. I don't know how to answer those. It was all part of the war effort. If we had not dropped an atomic bomb and killed one hundred thousand people, the war would have continued. And there would have been a lot more people killed on both sides, both Japanese and Americans, just to bring the war to an end, if we had to send troops in to fight on the ground. That’s a hard way to look at it, but it's probably true… It's a difficult question to try to answer.

I'm not in favor of wars of any kind; whatever it takes, to bring a war to an end.

The International Atomic Energy Agency was sending scientists from all over the world, and a lot of them were from Japan, sending them here to the Hanford project for training. And we met many Japanese scientists and engineers, as well as their families, from Japan.

A person would come in, and he wouldn't know anything about the area. If he was here for six months, to a year: he’s got to find somewhere to live. And a lot of times my wife would help him find someplace. We got to meet the families; we loaned them pots and pans for the kitchen, to get started with… They’d come to our house and have a meal, and they in turn would invite us to wherever they were living, and share a meal.

When we were in Japan, one of our Japanese friends that was giving us a tour took us to one of the towns where there was a tree that been cut down. And he showed us the area, around the bark area, that was affected by the fallout from the radiation. He showed us the ring, that part of the tree.

It just stood out… Dark in color, and ruffled… A very prominent difference... He said, “That’s the year of the blast.”