Victor Kumin graduated from Harvard in January of 1943 with a degree in Chemistry. A year and a half later, in June 1944, he was drafted. Three months after becoming a soldier, he was in the final phase of basic training when he was called out and brought before a civilian and a military officer who quizzed him about physical chemistry. At the end of the oral exam, they told him he had flunked. They needed chemists, they said, but he had been away from his studies for too long.
Kumin returned to the mud. Within a few days, he got another call. This time he was told to pack his bags and be ready to leave the next morning. Along with a train ticket to Santa Fe, N.M., he was given orders in a manila envelope with instructions not to open it.
“I was told to keep my mouth shut and not tell anyone anything,”he said.
A young soldier who had studied metallurgy in college had also been plucked from the ranks to travel west with Kumin. At every meal stop along the way, strangers sidled up to the two soldiers and tried to strike up a conversation. They disclosed nothing.
Between themselves, Kumin and the other soldier speculated about their destination. Their best guess was a rocket development project. But, as he says, “We couldn’t have been more wrong.” Their destination was Los Alamos, where they were to work with a team assembled by J. Robert Oppenheimer to help build the Atomic bomb.
Kumin and his colleagues attended weekly meetings at which leaders of the project explained aspects of the work. As the Trinity test drew near, Oppenheimer made a statement that stuck in Kumin’s mind.
He recalled it this way: “There are many of us here who hope and pray that this will prove to be impossible. But we’re going to go down to Alamogordo, and we’re going to make this test, and if it doesn’t work, we’re going to come back and we’re going to work twice as hard to make it work.”
After the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Kumin refused to continue his work and faced court marshall. He was ultimately honorably discharged.
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(Concord Monitor, July 2005, Destruction, Pride, and Compassion by Mike Pride)