NEW MEXICANS AND THE END OF WWII
by Allen Dale Olson
At 5:29:45 a.m. Mountain War Time on July 16, 1945, in a New Mexico desert, the end of World War II was assured. That news was transmitted almost immediately to President Truman in Potsdam, Germany , where he was meeting with Prime Minister Churchill and Marshall Stalin. On my last visit to Potsdam in 1994, I sat in the chair in which the President had sat and leaned toward the chair once occupied by Churchill and whispered, as I had been told Truman whispered, “Sir, we have the bomb.” The news from New Mexico changed the course of the war and the relationship of the Allies.
On that July morning in 1945, a flash of light had been seen as far away as El Paso and Gallup and places between – Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Silver City. One contemporary report of the intense flash of light was about a blind girl riding in a car near Albuquerque who asked “What was that?”
The observations and reports of the scientists, engineers, and military leaders who witnessed that first test of the atomic bomb are well known. The observations and experiences of New Mexicans on the pre-daylight July morning are less known. An Alamogordo rancher, for example, thought a plane had crashed in his yard. “It was like somebody turned on a light bulb right in my face,” he told friends and neighbors.
A man in Carrizozo recalled “It sure rocked the ground. You would have thought it went off right in your back yard.” He lived thirty miles from the test site.
A lady on a hill behind Los Alamos wrote “… the trees, illuminated, leaping out. The mountains flashing into life. Later, the long, slow rumble. Something has happened, all right, for good or ill.”
Then, as now, members of the press began looking for explanations. The Army handled it by explaining that “a remotely located ammunition magazine containing a considerable amount of explosives and pyrotechnics exploded.” While the Army statements didn’t fool everyone, they did quell rumors for a while. Less than a month later, on August 6, the second atomic bomb was exploded over Hiroshima, Japan, and the third bomb over Nagasaki three days later. Five days after that, Japan surrendered, and World War II came to an end.
New Mexicans have had much to talk about since their state gave birth to the nuclear age and became the world’s center for nuclear research. Even today, residents in the Land of Enchantment still step forward to tell their personal stories about those first days of atomic bomb testing. Los Alamos machinist, Frank Osvath recalls the Trinity Test vividly. Click the link below to hear his comments. This audio file is from a larger work on video presented by the Los Alamos Historical Society. Check out their website a:t http://losalamoshistory.org/