Sometimes it seems the years I spent growing up on the Hill happened to someone else. As if I were made of Teflon®, the significance of what went on there just a few years before never really touched me.
Then, a few years ago I happened upon an unassuming little book, Inside Box 1663.
It may sound crazy, but I've a need to identify on some level with a book's character - fictionalized or not. Written from the perspective of a real LA wife - no sensationalism necessary - I empathized with Ms. Jette almost immediately.
Her opening sentence gave me goosebumps:
"In 1943 I lived in Croton-on-Hudson, New York with my husband Eric and my son Bill who was almost ten years old. At that time I had no idea there was a Box 1663 in the Santa Fe post office, nor that I would disappear into it, lose my identity and emerge from it at the end of 1945 an entirely different person."
One observer writes, "Los Alamos, NM was a bustling city that officially didn't exist."
To ensure that this town was completely hidden from the rest of the world, incoming mail was addressed simply to P.O. Box 1663, Santa Fe, New Mexico. Birth certificates of infants born at Los Alamos during the war even listed 'P.O. Box 1663' as their place of birth!
My heart ached for Ms. Jette and the others who worked in "grim secrecy" ..... whose parents and extended family members had no idea where they were. But I was astonished at the harsh living conditions the families had to endure -- a far cry from what I witnessed in the 50's and 60's, when the government practically threw money our direction.
At the same time, there was humor:
Long-time resident, Marge Schreiber remembers a quiet afternoon in early August of 1945 when her husband witnessed an accident at the Lab and was thought to have been exposed to radiation.
"Harriet Hollaway was at the foot of the stairs and, after I told her, we just looked at each other. In times of crisis, we would take out the whiskey bottle, so Harriet went and got her bottle. Every time I looked like I was going to faint, Harriet would give me another shot of whiskey. I have no idea how much I drank during that time, but I am certain I completely depleted her supply. Consequently, I have no real memory of that night, and that’s how I got through it."
|.... in Daddy's uniform with service weapon |
... Mother's gate pass
Yes, I'll be watching the premiere of WGN's "Manhattan" on Sunday night. Obviously, it's historial fiction, but I hope the producers don't feel it necessary to sensationalize - or demonize those early citizens. As Ms. Schreiber said, "They did what they had to do to win the war."
|Omega Canyon Bridge|