Thousands of people gathered Saturday at Trinity Site, a restricted area of the White Sands Missile Range, to mark the 60th anniversary of the world's first test of an atomic weapon.
Scientists working at Trinity Site as part of the Manhattan Project created the nuclear device used in the test on July 16, 1945. That successful detonation led to the construction of the two atomic bombs that killed hundreds of thousands of people in Japan in August 1945, essentially stunning Japan into surrender and ending World War II.
The depression created by the blast at ground zero on what is now the White Sands Missile Range is marked by an obelisk with a simple inscription: "Trinity Site, Where the World's First Nuclear Device Was Exploded on July 16, 1945."
A long stretch of dirt road leads to a chain-link fence surrounding the monument. On the fence hang photographs of Manhattan Project scientists from Los Alamos assembling the device and of the brilliant mushroom cloud.
Visitors stooped to pick up pieces of trininite, a radioactive, turquoise crystal-like material that was created by the blast. About a dozen people walked over the site with Geiger counters that beeped sporadically.
Missile Range officials tell visitors not to fear radiation. On average, an American is exposed to 360 millirem of radiation from natural and medical sources every year. In an hour at the Trinity site, visitors are exposed to one half millirem, according to a brochure distributed by the missile range.
Emmett Hatch, who visited Trinity Site on Saturday, recalled how his grandmother ordered him to drop to his knees and pray on July 16, 1945, shortly after the atomic blast.
She was awake at 5:29:45 Mountain War Time that morning in Portales to make breakfast and saw the explosion from more than 220 miles away.
"She thought it was the coming of the Lord, because the sun rose in the west that day," said Hatch, who was eight years old at the time.
Andy Aranda, an Albuquerque high school student, said he learned about the Trinity test from textbooks.
"It's kind of creepy, kind of eerie to be right here where it happened," he said.
Clemente Deister of Socorro was in the Marines fighting in the South Pacific during World War II when the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
He watched the faces of visitors to the Trinity Site on Saturday. "I find all kinds of expressions of sadness and horror," he said.
The blast produced a flash of light that was seen 250 miles away, a roar heard 50 miles away and a mushroom cloud that rose 40,000 feet.
"The most amazing part of it to all of us is that it seemed to last so long," Jay Wechsler of Espanola, who measured the explosion that day, recalled in an interview before the Trinity Site tour. "The cloud just looked like it was boiling and luminescent and kept on going up and up and up and seemed like it was never going to stop."
"I had no conception that it could wipe out a small city," said Herb Lehr of Mesa, Ariz., who helped put the bomb together at Trinity Site.
Ben Benjamin, a photographer who documented the Manhattan Project, recalled that after seeing the blast he said: "My God, it's beautiful."
But Benjamin, who did not go on Saturday's tour, said another man who worked on the project told him the blast was horrible and that he could think of nothing more than the moral implications.
"I thought about it, of course," said Benjamin, who now lives in Albuquerque. "But I also thought, 'Didn't these guys bring it on themselves?' Look what they did at Pearl Harbor."
Longtime Los Alamos lab critic Greg Mello said on the eve of the 60th anniversary that the US still has not come to grips with the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
"These acts we still consider to be somehow, if not noble, then somewhat justified. They were manifestly illegal at the time and terribly immoral. By any standard, they were crimes," he said.
Many of those involved in the Manhattan Project said they had no regrets.
"It was important work. People were pretty driven to get things done in the length of time we did," said Wechsler, who did not attend the tour. "Motivation is hardly the world. Driven is more like it. The goals were set, and people moved ahead and got on with the work. We all felt it was pretty important."
(Chinadaily.com.cn via agencies, July 18, 2005)