Jim Freimyer Oral History
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Interviewer One: Well she did have kind of a—if you listened to her, kind of an oddball on the first round.
Interviewer Two: Okay, if you could just kind of start by telling us your name, your background and what your function was here, and then we’ll go back into—
Jim Freimyer: Are you ready now?
Interviewer Two: Mm-hmm.
Freimyer: My name is Jim Freimyer. I came to Hanford from Morgantown, West Virginia in August of 1944. I was working for DuPont in the ammonia division. The opportunities came up to transfer to Hanford if you so desired. At that time, it was—and still was—a very hush-hush project. All I knew was that I was going to Pasco, Washington, I knew my job title, and I knew my salary. And they gave you your travel allowances, tickets, and so forth. I went on two weeks’ vacation, and then I came to Hanford. Fortunately, in the Pullman car from Chicago, I shared one of the bunk sections with a Dr. Meyers, who was a metallurgist. He commuted quite frequently between Chicago and Hanford. We knew several people in common, so I felt like I was slightly indoctrinated before I got to Hanford. And he said, don’t worry, as soon as we get there, why, I know you’ve got orders to go to the transient quarters. And he said, I’ll have a car waiting there for me. He says, why, he’ll bring us both up to the old transient quarters. So when we got in, I looked back and there was two sections of trains practically every day from Chicago. And people with armbands said DuPont on it. I wondered what the score was, so I found out later that these people with the armbands were sort of guarding the second section to keep them from jumping ship! [LAUGHTER] And it was quite—I shall never remember the first time I crossed—entered—the Pasco depot. There was drunks and mess everywhere, and you had to dodge all this. He and I were still together, and finally this driver came up and he was announcing for Dr. Meyers. So finally we got together with the driver, and he explained to the driver that I was in the operating crew and had to go to the transient quarters, and he’d like to travel along with me. No, sir, we can’t do it. My orders are for you, and that’s all I’m taking. So that particular night, why, right across from the Pasco depot they had sort of a marshalling yard for all the incoming employees on the second section of the train. Well, we must have gotten into Pasco at about, oh, 1:30. And I had to wait until they processed the complete second section train before they would attempt to bring me to the transient quarters in Richland. They brought me by myself on a bus. Only passenger. I was awakened the next morning by a swishing sound. I looked out the window—hadn’t been in bed over two or three hours—and I saw the first sprinkler of my lifetime. It was one of those—oh, what do you call them—impact sprinklers. So, I couldn’t tell what the terrain was like. But I inquired, and I went over to the old 703 Building. And I reported in to the office of Murray Acker. He was the superintendent of the power group. During the time that I took for vacation, why, they had processed me and clearance and everything, so I was in employment just a few minutes. And then I went back to Mr. Acker’s office and he took me to B Reactor. I had never been in the West before, and sagebrush and thistle was something new to me. At that time of the year, it was hot as the dickens. I thought I’d burn up. So, we traveled for roughly 30 miles, and we got to B Reactor. I was in awe by the immensity of the Project, and this was only one reactor. My job back east was to supervise the filter plants, the waste disposal pumping stations, and the water treatment and powerhouse. But ours was very small as compared to what we saw here. So, I’ll let you give me a few questions.
Interviewer Two: How did you first hear—how were you recruited? How did you first hear of the Project?
Freimyer: I think it was through supervision word of mouth. Prior to my applying to come here, several people that were in the same department I was in had already left. For instance, Ed O’Black was one of them. He was one of our substation operators on our generator panels. So I just decided that I’d give it a try. Today, it’d scare me to death to think about something like that. Going all the way across country. But we were young, so we gave it a try. I might add, I didn’t know it at the time, but I indirectly observed some of the tests on equipment later used at Hanford. Particularly, the 190 pumping equipment. If you recall, Interviewer One, you had that big fly wheel? To give you that stored energy for that few seconds you needed it on the reactor? Well, those tests were conducted—I saw them build the facilities and conduct the tests. But it was hush-hush. I didn’t know what it was for.
Interviewer Two: When you first came here, what did you see? I mean, how far along was the Project at that point?
Freimyer: Oh, I came here in August. They went critical in September. So as far as B Reactor was concerned, it was just primarily mop-up work before the reactor started. Because it was only about six weeks’ interval there, or so. And our job was to—on some of the facilities, they weren’t quite complete—we would inspect them for cleanliness and the capability of starting the facilities.
Interviewer Two: At that point, how much did you know about the Project itself? I mean, you must have known it was war related, did you know—
Freimyer: I knew it was war-related. It was very important, because management back east, and also here, emphasized those facts. But at that time, I didn’t know. But shortly thereafter, I did. It was hard in those days of being a supervisor of trying to convince people that their efforts were worthwhile, since you couldn’t tell them the whole story.
Interviewer Two: What did you do? How did you do that? How did you get them motivated?
Freimyer: Primarily by telling them the same as you had been told. That someday they would be proud to have taken part in the Project; that it was about the top priority in the United States. And they bought it. In fact, in those days, we had war bond drives quite frequently. And you would be amazed at some of these operators that we had that were former carpenters or millwrights or so forth on construction, the money that they used to buy war bonds with. They were very patriotic.
Interviewer Two: Was there a sense of being involved in a real patriotic effort? I mean, was there kind of a group spirit?
Freimyer: Oh, yes, there was. Group spirit in everything.
Interviewer Two: Let me ask you that question again, and if you could make a full statement on that.
Interviewer One: I was going to say, it would be interesting to hear what kind of rumors there must have been of what it was. I’m sure people were guessing.
Freimyer: Oh, yes, there was rumors. It’s the old common one. Two little kids playing and one asked the other one, what does your daddy do out there? And he says, well, he works in the toilet paper factory. Well how do you know that? That’s all he ever brings home! [LAUGHTER] That’s one of them. Well, to be frank, people were told, and when they were indoctrinated in their security aspects of the place, the people just learned to keep their mouth shut. On the job or in town, you didn’t say anything. Period. Not even to your wife, friends, at a party. They knew that people that tipped their elbow pretty heavy, they were under scrutiny. Aside from being patriotic, people were just afraid to say anything, because they knew their job, livelihood, and possible prosecution would be forthcoming.
Interviewer Two: Was there—I was born in 1945 and certainly don’t remember anything about wartime, or—I remember the post-war period—but in the country or here, in a sense, what was the feeling like during the war? I mean, it was—were things pretty desperate?
Freimyer: In what way do you mean desperate?
Interviewer Two: Well, I mean, a sense that there was a really feeling that we were in it as a fight to the finish, right?
Freimyer: Oh, yes.
Interviewer Two: I mean, it was not just something that was far away, and that people were going to—the only war I lived through was the Vietnam War, and it was kind of removed, and it didn’t really affect us much back in this country, except for the demonstrations.
Freimyer: The whole atmosphere of the American people as far as patriotism is concerned, I think started changing some in the Korean War. But then it was a direct flip-flop in Vietnam. Those conditions weren’t prevalent during World War II. Everybody was patriotic. They did everything they could to further the war effort.
Interviewer Two: Well in the war—and it was—there was rationing, there was—you’re giving up things, you’re making real sacrifices.
Freimyer: You were rationing on meat, well, fruits, practically everything. But people took it in stride.
Interviewer Two: Can you give me a full statement, just basically a statement of description about, how did people feel about how much—were people affected by the war effort, and what did they have to do?
Freimyer: Well, meat was rationed, butter, a lot of your scarce commodities that the armed services needed. People had no qualms about doing it. They might gripe a little, but you very seldom heard that. They were just patriotic, as far as I can see.
Interviewer Two: And there was a real sense of contributing to the war effort.
Freimyer: Right, there was.
Interviewer One: Most of them had relatives who were in the service, or—
Interviewer Two: Right, uh-huh. Okay. Let’s see.
Freimyer: I’d like to explain one thing to you that—in 1944, well, when most people in the operating group left the East, they were supposed to have a house waiting for them. I think everybody was told that. But when they got here they found that it was a horse of a different story. That they were still building, as rapidly as they could, but they couldn’t satisfy the demand. I recall, along with one or two that’s on this list that Interviewer One gave me, we were sent to live in sort of a barracks type thing in Kennewick, on 10th Avenue, about where the Kennewick General Hospital is now built, in that section there. And I can recall, I had to get up at 4:00 in the morning to get to work at eight. I had to walk from 10th Avenue to the old Pollyanna Café on Avenue C. I don’t know whether you remember it. It’s where Pennwynn Plumbing and Heating is now located. I got on an intercity bus. And by the time I got to the Area, I had changed buses five times. And that made a long day of it. I had to repeat it in the evening. Well, fortunately, I only had to put up with that for about six weeks or two months.
Interviewer One: [INAUDIBLE] suggested a question. I wondered how, from their point of view, what happened at the time it started [INAUDIBLE]?
Freimyer: As far as going critical or so forth, we in the other end really weren’t in on the actual details. As far as we were concerned, we were told to start or stop or accelerate the facilities. And that was about the end of it. I do recall seeing several of the noted scientists that were here at that time. I recall seeing Dr. Fermi. I didn’t know him from Adam then, but I did later. There were several of them here at that time. But as far as actually going critical, I don’t think anyone outside of the knowledgeable reactor crew knew about it.
Interviewer One: How was the news of what it really was—how was that released? What kind of an impact did that have?
Freimyer: In 1945, prior to—well it was in, I’d say, June or July of ’45—management talked to each of us and told us that there would be some news forthcoming. To neither confirm nor deny the release. When I first heard about it, I was back east, due to a death in the family. The news broke when the bomb was dropped. At that time—I was in West Virginia—you hardly saw anything about Hanford. It was all Oak Ridge. And when I got back, why, the employees were just flabbergasted, the town and everybody else, when the news release came out.
Interviewer Two: How did you feel, and how did the other people feel, when you learned what it was?
Freimyer: I felt good, because it shortened the war. I don’t regret it at all. And I think the right decision was made. I do feel one thing about people—about the nukes and so forth. But I also feel that we have gone through over 45 years of world peace—I’m speaking on the—in the magnitude that we had in World War II. Had it not been for the atomic bomb, I don’t think that we would have experienced that. Now, to me, I’m more concerned about our threat today than I ever have been.
Interviewer Two: What do you mean?
Freimyer: By the break up in Russia. Because I think you’ve lost your control.
Interviewer Two: Yeah, it seems--
Freimyer: Also, a lot of these other countries are on the threshold of developing nuclear weapons. When the two super powers were in control, each of them had enough sense not to start anything. But some of these smaller countries—
Freimyer: We have more employees here than we did during the days of nine reactors going and several separations plants.
Interviewer Two: Uh-huh. That’s hard to believe, isn’t it?
Freimyer: So you can see where the effort is.
Interviewer Two: Yeah. And it’s probably going to be more people coming, too, with all the—
Interviewer Two: We just talked about. One, the first one Greg asked about, what kind was the—how then—I think, how did the nuclear technology develop, or what—
Freimyer: No, his question was—
Interviewer One: I said, communicated to the employees who didn’t know anything.
Interviewer Two: Oh, right.
Freimyer: At that time, shortly after the bomb was dropped and VJ Day occurred, the Manhattan Project came out with an official publication that explained the whole thing. It was called the Smyth Report. I don’t recall where this fellow was from—it could have been MIT—but one of the prestigious schools in the East. I would like to make one comment, though, and it has always been my feeling that our federal government is very much remiss as far as nuclear energy is concerned. It’ll be our energy of the future. But the mistake was made back in 1945 that they did not try start an educational program in the schools to teach the children the merits of nuclear energy. Consequently, people have to form their own opinion. There was a lot of communications through your various media that overkilled the subject, there was half-truths, and the public in general runs scared when nuclear energy is concerned. And we have to contend with—just on the west side of our state here, they’re all anti-nukes. I can’t understand why they let it go. Okay?
Interviewer Two: Yep. Well, I remember Atoms for Peace, under Eisenhower and that. There was some effort at that time, but then not much after that.
Freimyer: What amazes me is your chemical plants throughout the United States industrial complex. You can have an explosion and you can kill several and injure dozens more and all you see is a three- or four-inch article in the newspaper. But let somebody get a very slight exposure in nuclear energy, and they’ll paste it all over the front page.
Interviewer Two: What would you like to tell not only people today, but future generations about the experience of being involved in the early days of the nuclear age, if you will?
Freimyer: Well, I’m proud to have been a part of it. As I said before, I don’t regret it, and the lives that were lost in Japan. One way of looking at it—I believe that there was an article in the paper not too long ago that quoted Fermi, that said if it hadn’t been a miscalculation on his part, Hitler would have had it. Did you read that quote, Interviewer One? Yup. I read it somewhere.
Interviewer Two: Do you know what that was, that miscalculation?
Freimyer: I’ll tell you where it was. It was in that book of that fellow that interviewed residents of Richland that were here during the early days. It’s a quotation in that book.
Interviewer Two: Okay. Great.
Freimyer: During the war that we had shortages in several things, but as I mentioned, the American people got accustomed to doing without those things. I felt we had a good life then. We had our social activities and so forth, and I don’t think we suffered. I think we all had fairly good times. One thing was the camaraderie of the people here at Hanford. Because everyone you ran across was from somewhere else. And to me, I think that added to the interest of everything. No, I’ve enjoyed it. I’m glad I came here.
Interviewer One: You’re retiring here, right?
Freimyer: I retired here, and fact of the matter, every time I get east of the Rockies, I want to turn around and come back.
Interviewer Two: When you hear of the efforts to preserve the B Reactor, are you in favor of that?
Freimyer: Yes, I think I am, because that could be a national monument to the commercial production of plutonium. And I think it’s worthwhile. Of course, the main thing there is can you get enough support to do it?
Interviewer Two: Okay.
Interviewer One: --this is a serious war is that the news of how much damage there was at Pearl Harbor wasn’t released for almost a year. And I remember when I saw those headlines of all those battleships that were sunk, all the sudden it made me think, this is mighty serious business.
Interviewer One: Because I know the attitude when I first heard, oh, they first bombed us, oh well, we’ll take care of them in a couple of weeks.
Freimyer: Greg, if you don’t have this book, I think I’ve got a copy at home.
Interviewer One: I think I have it, yeah, but I’ll look--
Freimyer: It’s one of Charlie [INAUDIBLE] They interviewed both scientific, lay, and technical people here at Hanford.
Interviewer Two: Okay.