Eva Chambers Johnson, 90, holds some of her photos and other memorabilia from the early 1940s. Johnson worked in Oak Ridge as part of the Manhattan project. Photo by David Grace.
On Aug. 6, 1945, the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, effectively ending World War II. Eva Chambers Johnson was working at Oak Ridge at the time and played a part in building the atomic bomb, even though she had no idea what she was building.
Johnson celebrated her 90th birthday on Aug. 5 while the 68th anniversary of the bomb dropping happened one day later.
In 1941, Johnson moved to Chattanooga after graduating from high school. She moved there to live with her sister and find work. Soon they moved to Lenoir City, Tenn., and Johnson found work at Oak Ridge as a cubicle operator on a government program called the Manhattan Project. The job was secretive and the girls they hired took an oath of secrecy before they started work.
“We didn’t know what we were doing,” Johnson said. “We were told to keep our mouths shut.”
Oak Ridge had just been built when Johnson was working there and she specifically remembers the mud. She said she had never seen so much mud in her entire life. A poem had even surfaced about the mud and it contained a few expletives to describe it, Johnson’s daughter Kathy Carmack said.
Johnson also remembers a red line. If she stepped across the line the magnetic pull was so strong it would pull the bobby pins right out of her hair.
Cubicle operators were also called atom smashers. Anyone who came through the area was not allowed to talk to the girls.The girls could only talk to one another and their supervisor. One of their supervisors was named Clyde Johnson.
Eva and Clyde started talking and after a while began dating. Love quickly formed and the two were married on Aug. 22, 1945.
When news of the bomb’s devastation was released, Johnson had mixed feelings on having helped construct it.
“After the bomb was dropped, I was kind of sad,” Johnson said. “Because a lot of people died. A lot of people died.”
With the end of the war, Oak Ridge slowed down production and cut its work force. Clyde and Eva were married and the couple moved back to Kingsport, where they started their lives together.
The couple had three children together and built a brick ranch home, where she has lived since 1959. Clyde passed away in 1984.
She still has fond memories of her time in Oak Ridge, even after all these years.
“I enjoyed working there,” she said.