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Upon the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945, Richland residents discover the truth about what they were producing at Hanford.
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On August 6 and August 9, 1945, upon the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the residents of Richland discover the truth about what they were producing at Hanford. The news of the atomic bombing is accompanied by another bombshell for the residents of Washington state. They learn that key atom bomb components were produced at the super-secret Hanford Engineer Works just north of Richland. Many Richland residents only now learn exactly what they had been making since 1943.
For two years, Washington residents had known that something big was going on at Richland and Hanford. The population of this dusty, sagebrush area had mushroomed to more than 40,000 workers at its peak. Yet even most of the workers themselves did not know exactly what they were building.
"Guesses ranged from a new rocket bomb to a derivative of nylon," said the Spokane Daily Chronicle the day the news came out of the Hiroshima bomb. "Tongues wagged, workmen talked, nearly every truck driver who passed that way had his pet theory. Many may have guessed the correct answer. But still the riddle of Hanford remained, and the secret was kept" (Spokane Daily Chronicle, "Hanford Secret").
"I did not want to know," said a Richland police officer. "If a person knew too much he might land in jail. I don't care what it is as long as it smashed the Japs" (Spokane Daily Chronicle, "Eleven Ghosts"). "We knew it was a secret project and we asked no questions," a "typical" Richland wife was reported as saying (Spokane Daily Chronicle, "Eleven Ghosts").
The chief of construction said not more than 1 percent of the workers had any idea what was really going on.
"It's Atomic Bombs"
That all changed when President Harry Truman (1884-1972) specifically mentioned Hanford when announcing the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima.
"It's Atomic Bombs," blared a headline in Richland's weekly newspaper, The Villager, that day, as well as in The Pasco Herald. Later it was determined that the plutonium in the Nagasaki bomb and in an earlier test bomb was manufactured at Hanford, although not the Hiroshima bomb.
Hanford officials declared that their part in ending the war was a source of pride and satisfaction. Most of the workers agreed. Some, however, were already beginning to worry about whether the "keepers of the secret will use it only for the good of mankind and never for vain or selfish purposes" (Kubik).
Barbara J. Kubik, Richland: Celebrating Its Heritage (Richland: City of Richland, 1994), 54; "Hanford Secret Never Pried Out in Guessing Bee," Spokane Daily Chronicle, August 6, 1945, p. 1; "Eleven Ghosts Left," Spokane Daily Chronicle, August 7, 1945.
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