In June 1945, Cpl. Joseph Badali was stationed in Delaware as an aircraft armament specialist when he was transferred to the air field in Wendover, Utah.
What impressed the 20-year-old, however, is that to be admitted to the air base he had to pass an FBI screening."We knew it was a secret program because we had to be investigated by the FBI," said the now 70-year-old retired Ogden resident. "It was one of the most secret programs they ever had."
While the actual scientific work on the "Manhattan Project," the atomic bombs commissioned by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, took place at laboratories in Los Alamos, N.M., the bombs were assembled in 20-by-40-foot metal cabins at the remote Wendover air base. Only a handful of individuals knew what the project was all about. And security for the project was paramount.
Badali and another recruit, Steven Grigg from Texas, had to wait about two weeks before they received final clearance.
"We couldn't leave the base," he said. "They wanted us in the base but not working on the project - just on call."
Finally, both men were called to meet the FBI chief of security on the base. Not knowing who he was, Badali saluted him. The man told them he was a civilian working for the FBI and asked them to sit down.
"Can you keep a secret?" the man asked them.
"I think I can," Badali responded.
The man stood up and leaned over his desk. "Can you or can you not keep a secret? If you reveal what you'll be working on in this base, you could be shot."
"Yes, I can," Badali said with firmness. And in retrospect, he remembers being scared. "I could feel the hair on the back of my neck raising," he said.
Next, the FBI agent wanted to interview each man separately. Grigg came out about an hour later and said, "Joe, what are we getting ourselves into?"
"I don't know, but I'm so curious now I've got to know," Badali said.
The interview focused on the importance of security and how nothing must be discussed except when told to do so, Badali said. The FBI agent briefed Badali on the extensive research that had been done on his background.
"It had been a very thorough investigation," Badali said. "They had talked to school principals, friends and neighbors. (They knew) just about everything about me."
He was assigned to work at the mechanical assembly building, and introduced to Captain Les Rowe, the man in charge of the assembly project. Only 12 people worked in the building: 10 assembly men, a clerk and the overseer. Besides Rowe, the building was off limits to everyone else.
The men worked without written plans. They received instruction from Rowe or those under him who helped with assembly problems.
"A lot of parts didn't fit right, and there was a lot of filing, fitting, welding and realigning of holes that went on," Badali said. "It was very obvious to Steve and I that they were bombs. We were armament specialists, and we knew a bomb when we saw one."
There were two types. A "long, thin" one and a "fat" one. The men, who were only allowed to talk about the bombs inside the building, dubbed the first one "Thin Man" after President Roosevelt and the other "Fat Man" after England's Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Thin Man later became known as "Little Boy," Badali said, because the length of it had to be reduced.
During an orientation, the overseer spoke to Badali and Grigg. He went over to a Fat Man bomb, patted it with his hand and said, "This here is an atom bomb. If this bomb were to explode, there would be a hole where in the ground where Utah used to be."
"Of course, that scared the heck out of us again," Badali said. The overseer continued to give the men a brief lesson on atomic fission and nuclear reactions.
Then he said, to Badali's relief, "You don't have to worry about this one. This one is full of cement."
From then on, Badali was part of the 216th base unit that assembled mostly Fat Man bombs. At about the time he arrived in Wendover, the 509th Composite Group was being transferred to Tinian. Nevertheless, the work of putting bombs together, both real and fake, continued steadily.
A Little Boy took about a day to put together, Badali said. A Fat Man took longer because its structure was much more complex. "It's impossible to tell how many parts there were," he said. The men assembled the bombs from pre-fabricated parts that came from all over the country.
Outside, the men were set apart from other servicemen. "We were located in a back area of the barracks that was fenced in. They told us they didn't want us to mingle with anyone else that wasn't in the outfit of the 216th base unit. We weren't supposed to speak to anyone outside about the project, not even with the guys we worked with."
Although the atomic material for the Little Boy that was dropped over Hiroshima was not installed at Wendover, the encasement was assembled there. And two additional Fat Man bombs were completely assembled and sealed airtight before they left the base. One of them was used over Nagasaki. The other came back and was disassembled at Wendover, Badali said.
The day the Little Boy was put together, a camera crew photographed the process. Badali asked if he could have a photograph, but he was told that was impossible. However, the men were told that the bomb would be used about a week after it left Wendover.
The day the bomb was dropped over Hiroshima, the whole crew kept close to the radio. When the announcement came, "We went crazy," Badali said. "They sent us to the barracks and threw a party for us in the evening."
But Badali's greatest surprise came a few days later. Once the war ended, he and his fellow servicemen spotted the latrine orderly walking around in civilian clothes. They thought he had been discharged, but the man told them he was actually an FBI agent.
"We knew little about him, but he was there to make sure nothing leaked out," Badali said.