Episode 53 - One Family, Two World Wars, and The Teenager Assigned to Work the Manhattan Project

podcast episode Aug 04, 2014

Fisher opens with a recap of this week's episode of Who Do You Think You Are? featuring Modern Family's Jesse Tyler Ferguson.  (Once again, an ancestor was accused of a crime!)  Rachel McAdams is featured this week.  In this week's "Family Histoire News..."  With the centennial of the start of World War I, a lot of new resources for researching your ancestor, as well as books about the experiences are out.  Fisher talks about "Wyndham's War," from the diaries of a British man who was vacationing in Germany when the war began, and was held there for four years.  Also, New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio is visiting his ancestral hometowns in Italy, and are they rolling out the red carpet!  (If you've ever taken that kind of trip, you'll be SO jealous of the treatment!)  
Then, our guest for two full segments is 89 year old Ralph Gates.  Ralph's father served in World War I and shares some of his story.  Ralph himself served in World War II.  As a teenager, he was assigned to work on the Manhattan Project!  What was his role?  How did he feel about how the war ended?  We talk about it all with Ralph Gates.
Tom Perry from TMCPlace.com is back to answer your preservation questions.
That's this week on Extreme Genes, Family History Radio!

Transcript of Episode 53

Host: Scott Fisher

Segment 1 Episode 53

Fisher: What is with all these anniversaries? July and august I guess were popular for wars, all that nice weather. Hello genies! Welcome to Extreme Genes Family History Radio, America’s Family History Show. It’s the program where we shake your family tree and watch the nuts fall out. I am Fisher, your congenial, Radio Roots Sleuth, and this past week marked the 100th anniversary of the start of the war to end all wars, which of course it wasn’t. World War I was however a great war. The Great War and unfortunately just the appetizer for many that have come along in the centuries since. This week our gust is part of a family, maybe like yours, who played parts in both World War I and World War II. Ralph Gates Senior was in the trenches in World War I and Ralph junior who joins us in about ten minutes, is a Veteran of the Second World War. But his story is anything but ordinary and you won’t want to miss this. Ralph shared some of his war experiences last year, particularly about the very special assignment he was given at the tender age of 19 and we thought you’d enjoy hearing some more from him this week. He’s closing in on 90 years young, and I wish we could do a month’s worth of shows with Ralph. Then later in the program, Tom Perry our Preservation Authority from TMCPlace.com returns with tips on getting the better interview with your senior family members. This week was week two in this year’s season of Who Do You Think You Are? On TLC, anyone who is into family history loves this show of course. Modern Family’s Jesse Tyler Ferguson was the featured celebrity, and wouldn’t you know, he learned that his great grandfather was accused of murdering his (the great grandfather’s, not Jesse’s) aunt! Isn’t that weird how over the last few weeks we talked about ancestors involved in crimes, going to jail and prison, and this is like the third story that’s come along like this since then. Anyway, I won’t ruin it for you. Jesse’s ancestor went on to have quite a life. You can see this particular episode online at TLC.com. This coming week, Who Do You Think You Are will feature Canadian actress Rachel Mcadams, that’s Wednesday night at 9 Eastern, 8 Central, and you’ll have to do the math if you live someplace else. Our ExtremeGenes.com poll this week had to do with the family tradition of a sports team. We asked, “Do you have at least three generations that have followed the same sports team?” interestingly it was almost an even split, 51% said yes and 49% said no. My great grandfather, grandfather and father all followed the old New York Giants baseball team. When they moved to San Francisco, thank goodness grandpa didn’t live to see that, the New York Mets came along. So my dad started following them, and then so did I and still do even though I’ve lived in the west for a long, long time. So that was four generations following the losing National League team from New York, it’s been a harsh legacy they left me and just talking to you about it makes me feel better. So, thank you for your indulgence. 

This week we ask the question, “Where any of your ancestors adopted? Yes or no” cast your vote now at ExtremeGenes.com. Hey, we’re always looking for great stories of discovery to put on the show, if you have a great one that you’ve tracked down and would be willing to share it, email me at [email protected] or call our toll free Find Line at 1-234-56-GENES, G-E-N-E-S. You can record your story or ask us questions there, we always love hearing from you. Here is this week’s Family Histoire news from the pages of ExtremeGenes.com. The commemoration of the 100th anniversary of World War I has begun in earnest with new books being released all over the world. One of them is called, “Wyndham’s War” which was made from the diaries of the father of the author. The father Thomas Wyndham Richards was in Berlin for summer vacation. He had intended to be there for four weeks, but a week and a half into this trip in 1914 the Great War began and Richards was among the thousands of male British citizens in the country who were rounded up and sent off to detention camp. At the time he was a 23 year old school teacher. Richards kept a diary of the whole experience, which as it turned out lasted more than four years. Richard’s son Derek who is now 85 first found the diaries when his mother passed in 1980. When he took up an interest in family history the turn of this century he decided to transcribe the diaries, all one hundred thousand words of difficult to read hand writing, edit the transcripts and then release it all as a book Wyndham’s War. Derek took years to complete the transcription because the hand writing was very small, often in faded pencil, in old German lettering as well as modern German and English. Some he says is totally illegible and other parts are simply incomprehensible. Thomas Wyndham Richards noted on August 10th 1914, “We heard we must stay till the end of the war, all very down about it. The Germans had so many prisoners they were overwhelmed and had to create an internment camp out of an old manor house a few miles west of Berlin. At once time it had been a race track and was surrounded by barbed wire. There would be no escapes here! The prisoners slept on straw in old stables with about three hundred people jammed in the hay lofts and buildings. The Germans allowed them to manage their own affairs in keeping with the Geneva Convention, and in time a real society developed in that tiny piece of real estate. They even organized their own police force and post office where Thomas Richards worked for two and a half years. Richards was released a couple of weeks after the war in November of 1918. He found his way back to South Wales where his teaching career resumed and he married a fellow teacher, Jesse James, who he feared would be married to someone else by the time he returned. 

In the Second World War Thomas acted as an interpreter. He died in 1966 at the age of 75. Italy has been rolling out the red carpet for New York City mayor Bill de Blasio. The mayor has been getting a fair amount of grief from folks back in the big Apple for taking a trip abroad, but the tiny towns of Italy have given him a warm welcome. Sant’Agata de’ Goti, the town where De Blasio’s grandfather was born had virtually the entire population of about twelve thousand come out to greet him. And a big party held on Wednesday, complete with marching band. The mayor of Sant’Agata de’ Goti says they just wanted the New York mayor to feel at home. De Blasio has been spending some alone time at the local cemeteries visiting the graves of his ancestors. He’s even been made an honorary citizen of the town. The local mayor even showed him documents tied to his family back in the day. You know, I’ve done a lot of ancestral hometown trips and I don’t recall anything like that ever happening. Here’s hoping his honor is having a great experience. Of course you can read more about these stories on our website ExtremeGenes.com. And coming up next, His father fought in World War I, and he was part of the effort in World War II, but there was nothing ordinary about Ralph Gates assignment late in the war when he was just a teenager. We’ll talk to Ralph next on Extreme Genes, Family History Radio and ExtremeGenes.com

Segment 2 Episode 53

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Ralph Gates

Fisher: And welcome back to Extreme Genes Family History Radio and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here your Radio Roots Sleuth. You know there’s a lot of history going on, a lot of anniversaries the last week or so, and coming forward as well, this past week the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, and this coming week the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And we have some living history here with us today. My friend Ralph Gates who was a part of that second story. Ralph, welcome to the show! Good to see you again. 

Ralph: Thank you, it’s a delight to be here! 

Fisher: You know, Ralph has a true military history because he and his father cover both of the World Wars. Now Ralph, tell us about your dad. What was his name? 

Ralph: He was Ralph Pillsbury Gates the first and I’m junior. Now he was born in ’89. He graduated college at the University of Illinois in 1912 and went to work in Chicago, and when the war came along he volunteered and served as part of the chemical warfare unit in France because he was a Chemist by his college training. Among many things that happened to him, he was gassed twice because back then they were using poison gas although we didn’t start it.

Fisher: Yes.

Ralph: And his group would be sent out early in the morning while it was still dark to set out canisters of poison gas if the wind were blowing in the right direction, and this was right out in front of the trenches. So when the signal came to go “over the top” so to speak, when they came out of the trenches to go forth, supposedly the gas was always going the other way. But a couple of times he got gassed when the wind changed.

Fisher: What kind of effect did that have on him?

Ralph: Well, he died when he was 52. His heart stopped. He’d had a physical exam that day with the company he worked for. I suppose they took his blood pressure and maybe they listened to his heart, if it was beating and so forth and he was pronounced okay, but he died that night suddenly.

Fisher: Ha! And you think it was the result of the gas?

Ralph: Well, that’s what they say because they didn’t know any better.

Fisher: You know, you’re right, you don’t see much about poison gas since WWI. 

Ralph: Hopefully, never again. 

Fisher: Right.

Ralph: But they have evidence of it of course, in Syria and so forth.

Fisher: I had a cousin that was in WW I that received some gassing and you know, the great Christie Mathewson the pitcher with the New York Giants, he was gassed and it affected him and he died young as well. So I think there are a lot of long term effects from that.

Ralph: Yes there were.

Fisher: Now, you mentioned to me off air that you actually have some of dad’s diaries. 

Ralph: Yes, oh yes, he had two diaries that he wrote when he was in the trenches in France. And I have them and I’ve copied them. He talks about his day experiences. And one particular time he was walking down to the mess hall, I guess wherever they were, and the guy next to him got hit by shrapnel, dead, right on the spot.

Fisher: Wow.

Ralph: That was quite an experience. And he talks about the conditions in which the soldiers lived. They were pretty bad. The bugs and the cooties and all that were real.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Ralph: And he talks about some of his experiences of that and being in a bombed out shelter and getting outside because for whatever the reason a bomb came and destroyed the shelter. He had a lot of narrow escapes like that.

Fisher: And you know WW I was a long running thing. It went about four years, kind of a similar length of WW II but they didn’t move a lot in terms of picking up real estate either way.

Ralph: Once they got into those trenches they stayed there. Of course, we didn’t get in until early 1918, maybe 1917.

Fisher: 1917, yeah.

Ralph: So we weren’t in very long.

Fisher: Now, Ralph you’ve been an interviewer of many people of many people concerning their histories especially when it comes to the military. And if you were to give advice to people about how to reach out to their ancestors who were in the military, those who are still with us, what kind of questions would you say you should or could ask them?

Ralph: Actually the military experiences are not quite as important. You want the grandchildren to know what they were like as individuals. So, first of all I’d like to go back and say, “How come your parents were where they were when you were born? Most of us came from somewhere else. Did they come over from Germany? Why did they come? Was it because they thought economically it would be an improvement? Did they come for religion or were they just free spirits? But they all had a passion for something different. So I would like to go back and find out about your parents, grandparents as far back as you can go, who they were, when they came over, why they came over and from where they came, because we all came from somewhere.

Fisher: I think a lot of people tend to think their lives aren’t very interesting. You know you hear that a lot. “Oh nobody wants to hear about what I did.” And I don’t think that could be any further from the truth.

Ralph: Well, that’s why I say, “Wouldn’t you love to hear your mother or your grandfather talking live fifty years ago?”

Fisher: Absolutely.

Ralph: They think about maybe that’s right, but they’ve all had wonderful experiences and people my age, you know I was born before the Depression. I lived through the Depression. I lived through the war. Everybody has lived through traumatic times who’s an adult today and through the Cold War and all that. They have something to tell people about what their thoughts were, what their experiences were, that should be beneficial to hopefully, keeping us out of trouble in the future.

Fisher: [Laughs] Yes absolutely.

Ralph: Although it looks rather tenuous right now. 

Fisher: Going back to this WW I story of your father, how do you think that affected your family going forward?

Ralph: Well, he was with the American Legion and everything connected with the war was very important, because that was supposedly the war that ended all wars. Now I have to tell you one thing. This was in the summer before Pearl Harbor. We had been up in Wisconsin at a family camp and coming back, it was my mother’s birthday or something. We stopped at a hotel in Chicago overlooking Michigan Avenue, the old Stevens Hotel. And we had the upstairs room, the Presidential suite or something, but it looked out over Michigan Avenue, and I was fifteen or something. About two o’clock in the morning my dad woke me up, “Get up, get up! Come over here. I want you to go to the window. So my older brother and I went with him to the window and what we heard was rump, rump, rump, bump, bump. Soldiers were marching down Michigan Avenue in the middle of the night. This was in the summer of ’41, right before that. And I remember my dad saying, “We’re going to be at war very soon.”

Fisher: Wow. He sensed that. How did that affect him not knowing what war is really like?

Ralph: Well, when war was declared in Pearl Harbor right after that he was now 51 years old or something. But he was manager of a plant in Nashville. He went down to register I think, probably winding up a dollar-a-year-man, but he died in March, so he didn’t do that.

Fisher: It never happened. Let’s go back because we had you on last year. I want to cover this again because it is such a unique story that you have about how you entered World War II. Now, let’s just set the stage here right now. You’re 89 and a half. You’re almost 90 years old

Ralph: Right.

Fisher: So you are walking history Ralph.

Ralph: No, I can’t.

Fisher: [Laughs] 

Ralph: If that’s a good expression, I don’t know.

Fisher: [Laughs] But your story is so unique because you were part of the Manhattan Project as a teenager.

Ralph: As a late teenager yes.

Fisher: And just for those who aren’t familiar with it of course, the Manhattan Project is where we developed the bomb that ultimately ended the war with Japan. How did you wind up in that situation?

Ralph: Well, I graduated from high school in 1942 when I was 17 and Pearl Harbor had been the previous December, so we were in the war in less than a year. And I was starting right into college that summer because if you had a chance to go to college and you weren’t going to the war you did that So, I went that summer. I went summer and winter to Engineering School at Vanderbilt in Nashville where I lived and it was on my 18th birthday the next January that I was 18 years old. I went down to the draft board that day because I wanted to volunteer for the army. 

Fisher: 1943.

Ralph: My dad had been in the army, I wanted to join that and they wanted to know what I was doing. I said, “Well I’m in engineering school.” They said, “You are?” I said yes. Well, go home. We’ll call you in a few days. And that was okay with me. They called in a few days and said, “We’ll give you in what amounts to a special deferment. I think it was a two-way deferment for the convenience of the government. “Stay in engineering school till we call you.” 

Fisher: Wow! [Laughs] I’ve never heard of such a thing.

Ralph: Well, I didn’t know what it was. I figured it was very temporary. It was good to be there for a while. My dad had died, so it was good to be there. And I thought it would be a matter of months or something like that. Actually it was 18 months before they finally called me. 

Fisher: So late in ’44?

Ralph: It was in September ’44 when they finally said, “Okay, we want you now. You’ve got to go through basic training.” And I was put in infantry replacement training. In ’44 we had already landed D-Day. We were marching across Europe as fast as we could to get to Germany. So they needed bodies. So I was in infantry replacement training.

Fisher: Okay.

Ralph: And I have to say it was kind of like Boy Scout camp.

Fisher: [Laughs] Were you an eagle by the way?

Ralph: No, I didn’t get there. [Laughs] 

Fisher: [Laughs] You were after that?

Ralph: I didn’t get very far with that. We had fun with the Boy Scouts. It was kind of rough and tumbles stuff.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Ralph: But everything, I mean taking a rifle apart, a machine gun, firing it at airplanes, digging foxholes that tanks could roll over. The one thing I didn’t like about basic training was bayonet practice.

Fisher: Oh.

Ralph: I knew we were training to kill and be killed. But the idea of taking that bayonet and lunging at straw dummies and so forth, that never appealed to me. I didn’t like to. Think about doing that.

Fisher: Well, that’s not natural, is it?

Ralph: Anyway, it was about the 8th or 10th of December of ’43.

Fisher: ’44.

Ralph: Yeah, ’44 when the Battle of the Bulge started and I was down in Alabama at Fort McClellan in a 16 weeks program and all of a sudden the Battle of the Bulge started and they cut our training back a month. We were originally going to go out the end of January. Now we’re going out the 2nd or 3rd of January.

Fisher: Now this was the anticipation that the march for Germany is on.

Ralph: Right!

Fisher: And you’re going to be part of it.

Ralph: They needed the bodies. As far as I know, that was what I was being trained to do.

Fisher: Sure.

Ralph: But it just so happened we were in our last bivouac, they call them mountains in Northern Alabama. It’s the Southern end of the Appalachian Mountains. We were camped out and I had shared my shelter half with three other guys. We had made ourselves a little tent. I remember we had two little candles. It’s amazing the amount of heat you can get out of little candles when you’re enclosed like that. It was about 4 o’clock in the morning on December 30th that the Sergeant came over and we were going to ship out in three days. He said, “Gates are you in there?” I said, Yes Sir.” We spoke very respectfully to Sergeants. “Get your stuff together. You’ve got to go back in.” “What’s the matter Sergeant? What’s going on?” Now my dad had died. My grandfather was elderly and was ill. I thought this is an emergency furlough. And he said, “I don’t know. Just do as you’re told. Get your stuff together. Go to the mess tent. You’ve got to hike back in. I remember saying, “Sergeant, it’s snowing like crazy here.” 

Fisher: [Laughs]

Ralph: We had walked out in the sun a week earlier and it was beautiful. But this was 18 miles back.

Fisher: Well, he had a special assignment for you.  And we’re going to talk more about this when we return with Ralph Gates, World War II Vet on Extreme Genes, Family History Radio and ExtremeGenes.com.

Segment 3 Episode 53

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Ralph Gates

Fisher: And welcome back, it is Extreme Genes, Family History Radio, America’s Family History Show. It is Fisher here getting a family history from my friend Ralph Gates, a World War II Vet who as a teenager was called upon to work on the Manhattan Project. And Ralph, we’ve covered some of your history with your dad and World War I and how you were called off to training and what you thought you were going to wind up doing, now the serge has called you in from the tent and said, “Hey, report because we’ve got an assignment for you.” Pick it up from where you were.

Ralph: Right. I thought that I was going overseas with my buddies who all did go over about a week or two later, but I was put on a train and sent up to New York with three or four other guys and was sent to the New York University school of engineering up in the Bronx, and there were about thirty of us in there and I didn’t have any idea what this is about, but I found out in a hurry that in my room, it was a little suite, there were two rooms, we had three double bunks and my bunk mate I found out right away was a young undergraduate from MIT, across the road was Ken Auburn who was an undergraduate from Pent State, Dick Reed from Harvard and chemistry, all of us were undergraduates in some technical training and we didn’t have any idea what we were doing. We had a wonderful time in New York taking advantage of everything. People didn’t know that we were coming back on Furlo from overseas. [Laughs] That spring we were interviewed by a couple of civilians, old guys about thirty five years old.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Ralph: And they were dividing us up into two groups. It turned out that about half of us went up to Presque, Maine and they became associated with the Air corp. at the time. Others became chief engineers on the B29. The other half, which included me, we wound up at Oak Ridge Tennessee. Now, my home was in Nashville, I never heard of Oak Ridge, but we were taken in a bus across the country and here is this place and it is a beehive of activity. I didn’t know what was going on but that night, I was there one night crossing a bridge I met a friend of mine who graduated a year ahead of me at Cambridge, Missouri and I said, “Hugh! What in the world are you doing in this awful place?” [Laughs] And I remember what he said, “I’m darned if I know. I know what I do but I don’t know what I’m doing.” Now this is how secret everything was.

Fisher: Sure.

Ralph: And the people at the higher levels knew what this was about, but he knew what they were doing with all these centrifuges and stuff like that, but he didn’t know what it was for. Well, the next day I was put in a Pullman car with fifteen, twenty other guys. We were sealed up, we headed west, and I thought we were heading to the Pacific. But on the train I found out later on. We had all our meals brought in to us. We were not allowed off the train. Everything was very secret.

Fisher: Wow!

Ralph: I found out later on at appropriate stops along the way the train went from Knoxville up to Louisville, transferred our Pullman car to another train took us over to Saint Louis where our car was transferred to what turned out to be the Santa Fe Chief.

Fisher: So they kept attaching your car to different trains?

Ralph: Yes, and keeping us inside all the time. 

Fisher: Wow!

Ralph: Found out that along the way this one guy Corporal Hall made a telephone call and said, “This is Corporal Hall reporting. My shipment is intact and no one has approached us.” Very well, get back on the train. This is so they made sure that no one knew what was going on. The train stopped at Lamy, New Mexico outside of Santa Fe and the rest of it went on and we waited until we were picked up by a bus. “Where are we going? Where are we going?” You’ll find out, shhh you’ll find out. Pretty soon I saw a sign that said Santa Fe, New Mexico. I heard of that, never been there. There must be a military place around here somewhere. Well of course we went on through, went up to Espanola across the real Grand River, the only bridge that was capable of handling it. Turned off on a road and run up in to the mountains and here was a big fence and a big sign Las Alamos ranch for boys.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Ralph: And that’s the first time I heard of it. [Laughs] Now the next morning I was called in for a briefing because once you got inside the fence there, you were not going to get out until the war was over. And they told us exactly what we were doing. General Groves who was overall in charge of this of course wanted to keep everybody doing their own thing without knowing, hoping to keep information from getting out. But Oppenheimer said, “Up here you got all these temperamental super scientist working, you’ve got to let them cross fertilize each other if you’re going to get this job done.” So the minute we got up there we were told exactly what we were doing. We’re building a new type of bomb. And I remember we’d been dropping two ton blockbusters on Germany and could pretty well destroy it if you had fifty planes. At the time you did it ten… anyway, we’re building a bomb that’s equivalent to more than ten thousand tons of TNT in one blast. Compare that with a two tons blockbuster which was hardly believable as far as I was concerned. 

Fisher: So what did they have you doing, because you were just a teen?

Ralph: Well I was transferred out the next day to S-Site which was out of ways because we were melting TNT and sugar qualls and pouring castings, which were shape charges which surrounded plutonium and the Fat Man, the second bomb.   

Fisher: Now this sounds kind of dangerous.

Ralph: Well, fortunately TNT melts below the boiling point of water. So, as long as we kept the temperature below that there’d be no trouble. [Laughs]

Fisher: [Laughs]

Ralph: But just in case they had built great big earthen dams around us, in case we had a little explosion, they didn’t want collateral damage.

Fisher: Sure.

Ralph: Killing anything important and people elsewhere. And we never did have that. We cast those things until the war was over.

Fisher: And so when the day came where you heard that the bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima; now that was not the bomb you worked on.

Ralph: right.

Fisher: What were your thoughts?

Ralph: Wonderful! The war may be over! When it dropped on Nagasaki it was over. Then we really celebrated. We really knew that this thing had worked and it was great experience.

Fisher: Talk about some of these experiences that you had while you were on the base, people that you worked with, people maybe you were in touch with the rest of your life, and what kind of contacts, I mean there’s been a lot of debate about the moral side of bombing civilian population even thought of course they were all workers on military base there. Has that affected your viewpoint on it looking back over time?

Ralph: It hasn’t affected my viewpoint. I think maybe it has affected some others because I’ve given a talk on this quite frequently and I’m asked that question, “Was this the right thing to do, or should we not have done that?” Well, my answer to that is I prefer to look at it mathematically. Was it correct or incorrect?

Fisher: Okay.

Ralph: And here’s where there’s no question because it was the correct thing to do because there was a tremendous amount of lives to save. So I say something can be morally wrong, but the correct thing to do.

Fisher: Interesting.

Ralph:  It usually satisfies that because where I grew up in Nashville, five of my closest neighbors right around us didn’t make it back, and their mothers had gold stars in their window. My mother didn’t. My older brother was in the air corps but he had a science job and didn’t get overseas either. So of all the neighbourhood, we had no gold stars in our window.

Fisher: Now, when I was growing up we had a neighbour who had worked for the government and he told us some stories because he too was involved. In this case, in the transfer of the bomb for Hiroshima and he rode in the boxcar, literally handcuffed to the bomb with one other person. And they didn’t want to put a group of military people there for fear of attracting attention.

Ralph: Right.

Fisher: But they went all the way across the country with this bomb in the train. They talked about stopping at one point where they got out and said, “Hey, we’ve got to keep going. We’ve got something hot here.”

Ralph: If they said that, I’m surprised. [Laughs]

Fisher: And the guy who pointed to the car behind them and said, “Oh you think yours is hot, you ought to see that.” And it was labeled Torpedoes. [Laughs] But they took it all the way to the end of the line safely, obviously. And that’s where it wound up on the plane with Paul Tibbets and his crew.

Ralph: That was the Enola Gay.

Fisher: Exactly. One other story from this man that you might find interesting; part of his job was to break into Oak Ridge and steal all the secrets he could on behalf of the government to see and test their security. And he went in there every day for over a week and by the end of the time the security guards were saluting him as he walked by. [Laughs] He was able to able to write an inch and a half thick dossier on everything that was going on in there. And that resulted in a lot of changes in their security. 

Ralph: Well, their security was very good, but we did have some spies anyway. Klaus Fuchs is one of the spies that took so much back to Russia. He was born and raised in Germany, but he was a communist. As far as Hitler was concerned I guess communists and Jews were all pretty much the same. He was a wonderful physicist. He went through England, back to here and he was back in Los Alamos. He was very well received up there. But he was passing us information on to Russia because he wanted communism to get rid of Hitler as much as anybody else did. So it was kind of a mixed reason. He was a spy and he did go to prison for a few years in England. They almost apologized for it because they realized what he was doing was finally getting rid of Hitler as well as we were.

Fisher: Well, Ralph it has been a joy to have you on again and you are living history and you know there are no separation. You cannot separate history from family history and your family is remarkable. Thank you so much for your time Ralph. Good to see you again. Happy Birthday in advance for January! I’m looking forward. I hope I get an invitation.

Ralph: Number 90. Why don’t you come skiing with me?

Fisher: I’m planning on it.

Ralph: [Laughs]

Fisher: And coming on next, Tom Perry our Preservation Authority from TMCPlace.com on Extreme Genes Family History Radio.

Segment 4 Episode 53

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Tom Perry

Fisher: And welcome back to Extreme Genes, Family History Radio, ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth. He's Tom Perry, he's our Preservation Authority from TMCPlace.com. You can always [email protected]. And Tom, we have a question today from Becky Freeman, in Atlanta, Georgia. She says, "Dear Tom, I really enjoy your tips on family history preservation. You discussed a $500 camcorder that was waterproof that could be used for snorkeling and at the beach." Oh, that was so cool. "I missed the model number. I don't own a computer or a cell phone, so I can't re listen to the podcast you talked about. So for that very reason, I am writing you this letter. Please let me know the make and model number for this video camera. Thanks, Becky."

Tom: Okay, the model number is the JVC model, GZR70 “G as in green, Z as in Zebra, R as in Robert, 70.” Consumer Reports tested it to a depth of sixteen feet in their August 2014 issue, so if you can get at your library, or it might still even be on the newsstand. They'll have some more information about it. The highlights of this camera which is really incredible, if you didn't hear us talk about a few weeks ago, its high definition, as we just mentioned, it’s waterproof to a depth of at least sixteen feet, not water resistant.

Fisher: That's so fun. Waterproof!

Tom: Yeah, waterproof. Take it snorkeling. Take it to the beach, any place you're going to have salt, dust, anything. Once you get back from the desert, just squirt it off. If you ran it through your dishwasher, not on the heat mode, that would probably clean it, too.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Tom: But don't put the heat mode on, you'll ruin it. So it’s high deg. It has a 40x optical zoom lens, which means you can bring things forty percent closer. It has 180 minutes of battery life. It has a image stabilizer. So if you're moving a lot, it will kind of fix your images. And it has a inch LCD touch screen lens. It also has an inch LCD touch screen monitor. So it’s a good size.

Fisher: Yeah.

Tom: So you can pretty much see what you're shooting, the fish and whatever you're doing when snorkeling.

Fisher: Whatever it is. That's great.

Tom: But the one thing that people might not understand too is, this isn't just for underwater use. Like I mentioned, if you're going to be out on the desert taking your four wheelers out or something, it’s a good camera to use there, because if it’s waterproof, it’s going to be sand proof to an extent. And one thing too, I always, always, always recommend is, buy either a clear or a UV filter to go on the front of the lens, because if you're out in the desert and the sand's blowing, you're going to ruin your lens.

Fisher: Right.

Tom: If you put a filter on it, $20- $25. That gets scratched up, throw it away. Put a new one on.

Fisher: Yeah, great advice, of course.

Tom: So you should never ever touch a coated lens with anything. So that's why everybody that ever buys any kind of camera should flip for the twenty bucks for a filter on the front of it.

Fisher: Okay.

Tom: It just helps tremendously. I got something really, really cool to tell you about.

Fisher: Okay.

Tom: Home Depot is going to be selling 3D printers.

Fisher: Shut up!

Tom: They are!

Fisher: Wait a minute now! I'm jumping ahead a little here, because I'm thinking, if Home Depot is carrying them, prices are going to be dropping like a rock, yes?

Tom: Oh, they do! They do! And the neat thing about it, you can go in and handle them. If you have problems, you can get the warranty service taking care at Home Depot. And even better than that, when you need supplies, you run down to Home Depot and get them.

Fisher: Oh, that's great, so convenient!

Tom: Oh it is! You run out of red.

Fisher: Used to be, had to order them from some place and they'd ship them to you.

Tom: Oh, it’s just great. So you run out of red and go, "Oh no, I've got to wait two, three days to get some more red!" Run down to Home Depot and pick it up.

Fisher: And you know, we were taking not long ago about this, Tom. I think off the air, I'm not sure. [Laughs] Lots of conversations continue at different times.

Tom: Exactly.

Fisher: About the idea of getting photograph and making a 3D map of it, and then creating a 3D image of an individual out of something. So you can can make a little statuette perhaps of one of your ancestors.

Tom: Oh yeah! Oh absolutely, just like you saw in Star Wars with princess Leia where she's this hologram type thing. This is basically the predecessor to that because once we have the way to take that photograph, make it 3D, make an image out of it. Holograms are going to be right around that corner.

Fisher: And then you can make something solid from it. How amazing would that be!

Tom: Oh, it would be so cool! Like we talked about getting grandpa's watch and scanning it, this way, you can take grandpa's photo, make it 3D and actually print a statue or bust of him.

Fisher: [Laughs] That's nuts!

Tom: Oh it is! It’s just absolutely crazy!

Fisher: All right, coming up in just a few minutes, we continue. What are we going to talk about?

Tom: Well, last few weeks, we talked about how to make your audio sound better. We're going to talk about how to make your interviews sound better.

Fisher: Ah! Good choice, all right coming up next in three minutes on Extreme Genes Family History Radio and ExtremeGenes.com.

Segment 5 Episode 53

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Tom Perry

Fisher: And we're back, final segment of Extreme Genes Family History Radio, America's Family History Show. It is Fisher here, with Tom Perry from TMCPlace.com, he is our Preservation Authority. And Tom, the last couple of weeks, we were talking about audio for interviews with the old folks, the great aunts, the grandparents. And this week, let's talk about getting better interviews, not just technically, but in terms of getting better answers.

Tom: Oh absolutely. As you mentioned, the last few weeks we were talking more about equipment, what kind of equipment to use, how to set it up. But yeah, now that you have equipment, now what do you do?

Fisher: Well, and the question is always, "What's the question? What do you ask people?" I have people ask me this all the time. "What do you say to grandma or grandpa to get them to open up? Because sometimes they see the equipment, and they freeze.”

Tom: They do. In fact, I have always told people in our store when they're asked how to do this. I say, Set up your camera, cover up the little red telltale light so they don't know it’s on. And say, Hey, let's practice this first and then we'll start recording in a few minutes. And you practice and you're really running hot, and that's when you get your best answers.

Fisher: Yes. And you know, you're really as responsible for what they're going to get to you as they are.

Tom: Oh absolutely.

Fisher: By what you ask.

Tom: Oh exactly. And I tell people, "Do not ever ask a question that would be answered yes or not, because all you're going to get is a yes or no."

Fisher: That is so fundamental to it. But you might want to sit down and map out a list of questions beforehand. Don't go in there unprepared. Map out ideas about their childhood, about when they were courting, when they met, things along those lines.

Tom: I tell people, ask direct question that will get your interviewee to go into depth about subjects and stories. And you can always edit out content. If you have too much, edit it out. You can't put something there that's missing, so let them ramble, let them just go ahead and go, because they might trigger something else in their mind while they're rambling, and you're going to go, "Oh, wow, I didn't know about that!" And so, let them ramble.

Fisher: Another thought on this is that if you can do it in more than one session, you going to find that they're thinking about thing a little in between sessions, or maybe you can even give them the questions in advance so they can be thinking about it and maybe come up with some other thought besides what you've provided.

Tom: Oh, that's absolutely wonderful. You give them a list of questions, they can get out a ledger pad and kind of answer the questions so they were fresh in their mind. And one thing funny too about doing multiple sessions which we recommend, you'll find the answers change a little bit.

Fisher: [Laughs] Yes, they do, or they don't quite agree on how they remember them.

Tom: Oh exactly. Oh it’s funny. I remember things. I'm talking to my sister, we were watching my dad's old home movies on the DVD player, and she's going, "Oh, da da da da da da." And I'm going, "Nooo, that wasn't that way. It was this way. Oh yes, it is." That's why you get multiple sources that go with the majority.

Fisher: But you know, the funny thing about that is, just these stories as they're remembered, become part of your history as well, even if it’s a family legend and it’s not true and you can prove it’s not true. The fact that people embrace this thing over many generations potentially, it makes for an interesting piece of your own history.

Tom: Just like the old story about meatloaf. Little Donna says, "Why do you cut off the ends of the roast, mommy?" "Well, that's the way I was taught. That's the way grandma taught me." So she goes to grandma, "Grandma, why do you cut off the ends of the meatloaf?" "Well, because that's the way my grandma taught me." "Great grandma, why do you cut off the ends of the meatloaf when you cook it?" "Because our pan was too small it wouldn't fit."

Fisher: [Laughs]

Tom: And as silly as that is, they're stories that are just handed down like that.

Fisher: That's right.

Tom: It’s like, "Why do you do that?" "Well, because grandma taught me that way." "Well, why did grandma teach you that?" "I have no idea." Because the pan was too small, but they just keep doing it, perpetuating the same thing, thinking that's the way you're supposed to do it.

Fisher: Isn't that interesting!

Tom: Yeah, it’s crazy.

Fisher: Well, I remember having a story passed down the line about some ancestor that left a fortune to a couple that left to America, and he had actually cut them out of the Will originally, changed his heart, because he loved his daughter, but she had left, and when he changed his Will and died, she never knew. And so, supposedly all the descendants of these people over the years were going to come into all this money. So the lawyers were lining up all these folks back in England over this estate that never really existed. It was kind of a scam.

Tom: Wow!

Fisher: But it was still written in one of the family histories that this was the case for our family. And we found out it wasn't true, but nonetheless, the story itself even though it wasn't accurate, was still a fascinating thing to have. Great conversation, thanks Tom!

Tom: You bet! We'll do some more next week.

Fisher: That wraps it up for this week. Thanks once again to Ralph Gates, for joining us with his story about being a teenager on the Manhattan Project. Catch the podcast, starting Monday on iTunes and iHeart Radio. Take care. We'll see you again next week. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!

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