The Bomb Babysitter

Donald Hornig

Donald Hornig was a year out of graduate school when he received a mysterious job offer.  No one would even tell him what or even where the job was, so he declined – until the President of Harvard University called and convinced him to take it.

Soon after, Hornig bought an old car and headed for Los Alamos, New Mexico.   He would become one of the youngest leaders of the team that developed the first atomic bomb and the last surviving witness of the detonation on July 16, 1945.

Albert Einstein & Julius Robert Oppenheimer

Born in Milwaukee, Hornig “was the first in his family to go to college,” said the Associated Press.  He studied physical chemistry at Harvard, earning his Doctorate in 1943.  In Los Alamos, the head of the Manhattan Project, J. Robert Oppenheimer, gave him the job of developing the firing unit that triggered the detonation.


The Trinity tower. “At 9 p.m., I climbed the 100-foot tower to the top, where I baby-sat the live bomb,” Dr. Hornig recalled in a 2005 NPR interview. Credit Los Alamos National Laboratory

On the eve of the blast, Hornig “was assigned another task,” said The Washington Post.  Oppenheimer decided that someone should be at the site to babysit the bomb, he later remembered.

As lighting and thundered raged outside, Hornig sat by the bomb reading a book of humorous essays.  In the morning, “he took his place beside Oppenheimer in a control room more than 5 miles away.”

When the bomb exploded, at 5:29:45 a.m., Hornig recalled, “My first reaction, having not slept for 48 hours, was, ‘Boy am I tired.’  My second was, We sure opened a can of worms.”  He later described the massive orange fireball as, “one of the most aesthetically beautiful things I have ever seen.”

Hornig went on to teach at Brown and Princeton universities, said the New York Times, before becoming science adviser to President Lyndon Johnson.  “Working for Johnson was reportedly not easy; the president disdained scientists because many of them opposed the Vietnam War.

Hornig was named president of Brown University in 1970, where his budget cuts restored the institution’s finances.  Upon his resignation in 1976, he described his tenure as “bittersweet.”    He returned to Harvard and to teaching to end his career.

Donald Hornig was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on 17 March 1920 and the world lost him on 21 January 2013 in Providence, Rhode Island.

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Military HALLOWEEN Humor – 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE!!

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Farewell Salutes – 

Lawrence Brown – Yale, OK; US Navy, WWII & Korea, submarine service

Jesus Cepeda – Lawrenceville, GA; US Navy, WWII, Pearl Harbor

Adrian Dunt – Howard County, IA; US Army Air Corps, Japan Occupation, 11th Airborne Division

Robert Frear – Whangamata, NZ; NZEF # 76618, WWII

Robert Kost – Williamsport, PA; US Navy, WWII, boat mechanic

Maurice McCarthy – WV; US Merchant Marine, WWII, ETO / US Navy

Ethel Orr – VT & HI; US Army WAC, WWII, PTO, Operating nurse

James Slape – Morehead City, NC; US Army, Afghanistan, Sgt., KIA

Henry Suverkrup – Dubuque, IA; US Navy, WWII, USS Saratoga

Charlie Wolfers – Canon City, CO; US Army Air Corps, WWII, communications

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on October 29, 2018, in WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 106 Comments.

  1. I wonder if he’d have sat reading a humorous book if he’d have known what he did a few hours later. BOOOM

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow! This is indeed mysterious.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Goed gekozen titel maar weet niet of ik die opdracht zou aanvaard hebben

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ik geloof niet dat hij precies wist wat hij bewaakte. De testrit de volgende dag was een verrassing voor hem en vele anderen. Als hij een duidelijk beeld had van de omstandigheden, denk ik niet dat hij die avond een boek had gelezen.
      En in die tijd vroegen mensen hun gezag niet zo gemakkelijk af als nu.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve driven by where they tested the bomb many times, G. In fact, I rode my bike by there on my 10,000 mile bike trip. I always stop at an overlook to take a few minutes to ponder what happened there and what it meant to our lives. On another note, it’s the land of Billy the Kid and Smoky the Bear. –Curt

    Liked by 2 people

  5. That header photo is quite creepy 🧟‍♀️ perfect for Halloween.
    Must make a note ‘be careful what job you agree to do if you don’t get the details’ 😄

    Liked by 2 people

  6. A fascinating read.
    And the humor spot on.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. As always interesting, at least I can say in this one that I do know a bit of history about this subject. There was also the great Richard Faynmen ( probabably likely I spelled his las name wrong) also a genious.
    You do know that the U.S started working on the A bomb, since they knew the Nazis where working with molecules, particles, protons, neutrons, those things. So you eventually got ahead of them, thank goodness.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. An interesting little side story. It’s probably rare to have someone ask about who kept an eye on the first atomic bomb.

    Also of note, WWII historian Jim Lansdale died on October 24th. More about him here: https://pacificwrecks.com/people/authors/lansdale/index.html

    Liked by 2 people

  9. That’s quite a title to have, and one most of us couldn’t handle.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Excellent post, GP. I learned some things I never knew.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I find it interesting that Hornig said his first thought was that he was really tired and then, what a can of worms we have opened. In really shocking/upsetting moments of our lives we seem to be able to be aware of all sorts of feelings and thoughts all at the same time.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Happy Halloween GI Jena and the Magnificent Nine!

    Liked by 2 people

  13. It’s interesting to read about the career trajectory of Donald Hornig. He sure did a lot of different interesting things.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Babysitting the Bomb. Hmmm …
    Hope the pay was good.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Babysitting a bomb. You won’t find that on many resumes.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. What an unusual secret assignment!

    Liked by 2 people

  17. GP, seems a bit strange, a scientist babysitting the bomb! A different, interesting story. The human element again. Thank you! 📚 Christine

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Great information GP! Thank you ver much, and have a nice week. Michael

    Liked by 2 people

  19. Reblogged this on Janet's Thread 2 and commented:
    Interesting. Pause for thought.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Great story Thank you for sharing it

    Liked by 2 people

  21. No doubt the A-bomb was aesthetically beautiful. So are lots of bombs. That’s why we celebrate Independence Day with fireworks. The true beauty of the A-bomb, though, was that it got the job done and ended the war.

    Liked by 4 people

  22. Humorous essays and a beautiful sight!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  23. Amazing story, GP. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  24. Was just thinking about you! (Great post, by the way!). Country singer Freddie Hart died on Saturday. Was a Marine in WW2, I think.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I thank you very much for thinking of me and for letting me know about Mr. Hart. He will appear in the Farewell Salutes on Thursday under his real and his stage name. (One of 12 kids – YIKES!!)

      Like

  25. He must have had a great sense of humor, to sit beside a bomb and read a book.
    and he sure lived a long life.

    Liked by 2 people

  26. Very interesting. You sure don’t know where life will take you, do you.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. In the fairytale, Beauty and the Beast are two individuals. When it came to the bomb, it seems that Hornig saw both the Beauty and the Beast in one experience. In a sense, the lightning that raged around him that night had the same qualities. Lightning’s beautiful, until it strikes your house, your boat, or you.

    Liked by 3 people

  28. Funny photo! The film of the bomb tests is amazing, both beautiful and horrific simultaneously. I should think that anyone who had anything to do with it was haunted by it all their lives, a huge thing to be part of with so many consequences.

    Liked by 2 people

  29. I’ve often wondered what happens to those who participated – how they got to be on the team. What an amazing moment to be in, in spite of the deadly nature of it.

    Liked by 2 people

  30. There is something awful about the image of this young man reading humorous essays while sitting next to a true weapon of mass destruction.

    Liked by 2 people

  31. Sad to say that the orange glow must be really beautiful ‘though quite deadly! Love the little kid and his naptime hour and of course the Halloween costumes too.

    Liked by 2 people

  32. I think he qualified it as “aesthetically” beautiful, leaving its darker qualities haunting. As in, be careful what you ask for.

    Liked by 5 people

  33. I would love to recieve a mysterious job offer, but not sure I’d like that job!

    Liked by 5 people

  34. So many of those involved in Los Alamos have described the ‘beauty’ of the bomb test. Strange how we can perceive such destructive force as something beautiful.
    That speaks to something dark inside many of us.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 3 people

  1. Pingback: FEATURED BLOGGER REPORT: The Bomb Babysitter //Pacific Paratrooper #AceHistoryDesk reports | ' Ace Worldwide History '

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