The Victory of Veterans

From the Farm:


Published in the Casper Journal November 15, 2011

A month ago I visited my sister in Los Alamos, N.M. The small mountain town may not ring a bell for people of my generation. However, I’m certain that it strikes a chord in the hearts of an older generation.
I first heard of Los Alamos somewhere in a high school history class ... something to do with the making of the atomic bomb, something about a national laboratory. But visiting the town was an eye-opener.
My sister picked me up at the airport, and we drove up, up through the rugged mountains of New Mexico. Sagebrush, scrub oak and pine trees dotted the beautiful, red landscape. Aside from a few cars traveling with us, it was hard to imagine that anyone lived nearby. Suddenly, the mountain road leveled out onto a mesa, and there was a town: “The Town That Never Was,” according to archives of World War II. But it did exist in the 1940s — hundreds of people, houses, schools, stores and, of course, the national laboratory.
The land was originally owned by Mr. Ashley Pond. He had a sophisticated boys’ ranch, where wealthy young men came to study both books and botany. The students had lessons indoors, and spent time swimming, hiking and camping outdoors - strengthening both their minds and bodies. We toured the original ranch lodge, beautifully built of logs, the inside with large fireplaces and inviting classrooms.
However, when the government purchased the land, the school was closed and the buildings were inherited by a group of international scientists. Their mission: develop a bomb to end the war.
Within a few months, the ranch was transformed into a town. Those who lived there during those tense times must have found some peace. The view was gorgeous. From my sister’s back yard, we could look down on the Rio Grande River. The tree-covered hills and hiking trails were perfect for any outdoor enthusiast and well-secluded from the world ... and potential enemy invasions. It was a time of secrets. Residents of Los Alamos couldn’t use the town name off of the mountain. Their address was a P.O. box in Santa Fe. Children born in Los Alamos had the same P.O. box listed as the location on their birth certificates.
Secret messages were sent to Presidents Roosevelt and Truman from the laboratory, informing them of the experiments and successes taking place on the mountain. Those involved in the project sensed the implications of their work, and did it with a heavy heart, yet with fervor to bring peace back to a crazy world. And, after months of experimenting, the weapon was ready. When the bomb was tested, less than a month before it was used, the light and explosion were seen for miles. Mankind had changed forever.
My sister and I toured the museum. Replicas of “Little Boy” and “Fat Man,” the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, were there, complete with details of their creation and destructive powers. Having been to Hiroshima and having seen the “other end” of the story, my heart was heavy. There were real people in Hiroshima. There were real people in Los Alamos. However, the victory and peace that came from the war’s end were also powerful.
We wandered through the museum for several hours, learning the history, studying what the lab does now, and feeling great gratitude for those who protect our nation.
My generation has lived mainly during peaceful times. Military drafts, rationing and bombs are words that don’t forcefully affect our lives today - at least, not yet. When I returned home and shared my travelogue with my children, they asked, “What’s the national lab?” I tried to describe it to them: the town today, the beauty around it and the incredible history involved. It was hard for them to grasp the feeling that was there, but I want them to comprehend it. In fact, I think I’ve already planned our next family vacation. Veterans aren’t just those who fight at the forefront of battles; there are those behind lines working and sacrificing as well. And their victories also deserve our gratitude.
The national lab isn’t part of our everyday vocabulary and could potentially be forgotten in the history books. However, just as we honor our veterans, we must never forget people who gave up everything and moved their families to a small, mesa-top town to defend us.

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