During World War 2, my father worked at an Oak Ridge, TN, government facility. I don’t know what he did there; he was never allowed to tell us. Since then, we’ve learned that the facility was used as part of the Manhattan Project. Their primary project was to produce the enriched uranium core used to make the “Little Boy” atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.
Some interesting stories have come out about the facility since World War 2. Engineers from Berkeley built several devices called a calutron, which would take natural uranium and extract the needed uranium-235. It took 143 pounds of natural uranium to produce one pound of uranium-235. At first, these devices were operated by Ph.D. engineers from Berkeley, but they needed to build 1100 of them.
They advertised to get employees to run that equipment without telling them what the job was and requiring only a high school diploma. As so many men had signed up for the military, three-quarters of the applicants were women. The word uranium was never used during interviews or on the job. During eight weeks of training, they learned how to balance the process in the machines by watching gages and turning various knobs to get maximum output.
Those hired were almost all women to replace the Berkeley engineers, who were all men. They soon discovered that the newly hired women had greater output from their equipment than the Berkeley engineers had produced. The men from Berkeley didn’t believe the numbers. Management decided to have a contest. They took two rows of machines with Berkeley engineers on one row; the other was all Tennessee women. The Berkeley engineers nickname them the “hillbilly girls.” At the end of the contest, it was discovered that the hillbilly girls had won the day.
Since the process was so expensive and the output so vital to winning the war, a study was done to determine why the girls won. They discovered that the male engineers kept investigating why they were getting variations on the machine. The women who didn’t know what the device was producing, nor understood its dangers, simply drove the machine. The “hillbilly girls” were renamed the “calutron girls.” Of course, the study’s results didn’t stop comments such as, “Never send a man engineer to do a woman’s job.”
Soon after the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the newspapers reported that it had been built in Oak Ridge, TN. The calutron girls were still not told what their machines were doing. Gladys Owens said in an interview that she didn’t understand the purpose of her job for another 50 years.
I couldn’t help but think that many of us who follow the Lord struggle to know our purpose. We find ourselves more like the calutron girls driving our own life and not knowing how we fit into the big picture. Looking back over my life, I see moments that I thought were very important back then, but I realize now they didn’t mean much of anything. However, other moments seemed routine back then but have had a lasting effect. We pray each day that the Lord will lead us, and typically it’s sometime later before we realize he actually did.
Asking what the world would be like without you is the wrong question. The right question is, what would the eternal Kingdom of God be without you? Our purpose is not just for this life but for the life that will last forever.
Photos by Ed Westcott
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