Eyewitness Brigadier General Thomas F. Farrell
Brigadier General Thomas F. Farrell was at the control shelter located 10,000 yards south of the point of the Trinity explosion. Farrell wrote in the report for the Secretary of War that Trinity was ‘unprecedented, magnificent, beautiful, stupendous and terrifying.’ His impressions are below:
“The scene inside the shelter was dramatic beyond words. Some twenty-odd people were concerned with last-minute arrangements in and around the cover before firing the shot. Included were: Dr. Oppenheimer, the Director who had borne the significant scientific burden of developing the weapon from the raw materials made in Tennessee and Washington, and a dozen of his key assistants — Dr. Kistiakowsky, who set the highly special explosive; Dr. Bainbridge, who supervised all the detailed arrangements for the test; Dr. Hubbard, the weather expert, and several others. Besides these, there were a handful of soldiers, two or three Army officers, and one Naval officer. The shelter was cluttered with a great variety of instruments and radios.
General Groves stayed with the Director for some hectic two hours preceding the blast, walking with him and steadying his tense excitement. Every time the Director was about to explode because of some untoward happening, General Groves would take him off and walk with him in the rain, counseling and reassuring him that everything would be all right. At twenty minutes before zero hours, General Groves left for his station at the base camp, first
because it provided a better observation point, and second, because of our rule that he and I must not be together in situations where there is an element of danger, which existed at both points.
Just after General Groves left, announcements of the interval remaining before the blast began to be broadcast. They were sent by radio to the other groups participating in and observing the test. The tension increased by leaps and bounds as the gap grew smaller and changed from minutes to seconds. Everyone in that room knew the awful potentialities of what they thought was about to happen. The scientists felt that their figuring must be correct and that the bomb had to go off, but there was a substantial doubt in everyone’s mind. The feeling of many could be expressed by “Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief.” We were entering the unknown and did not know what might come from it. It can be safely said that most of those present–Christian, Jew, and Athiest–were praying harder than ever. If the shot were successful, it justified the several years of intensive effort of thousands of people–politicians, scientists, engineers, manufacturers, soldiers, and many others from every walk of life.
In that brief instant in the remote New Mexico desert, the tremendous effort of the brains and brawn of all these people came suddenly and startingly to the fullest fruition. Dr. Oppenheimer, who had rested a hefty burden, grew tenser as the last seconds ticked off. He scarcely breathed. He held on to a post to steady himself. For the last few seconds, he stared directly ahead. Then when the announcer shouted “Now!” and this tremendous burst of light was followed shortly after that by the deep growing roar of the explosion, his face relaxed into an expression of immense relief. Several observers standing back in the shelter to watch the lighting effects were knocked flat by the blast.
The tension in the room let up, and all started congratulating each other. Everyone sensed, “This is it!” No matter what might happen now, all knew the impossible scientific job had been done. Atomic fission would no longer be hidden in the cloisters of the theoretical physicists’ dreams. It was almost wholly grown at birth. It was a great new force to be used for good or for evil. There was a feeling in that shelter that those concerned with its nativity should dedicate their lives to the mission and that it would always be used for good and never for evil.
Dr. Kistiakowsky, the impulsive Russian, threw his arms around Dr. Oppenheimer and embraced him with shouts of glee. Others were equally enthusiastic. All the pent-up emotions were released in those few minutes, and all seemed to sense immediately that the explosion had far exceeded the scientists’ most optimistic expectations and wildest hopes. All seemed to feel that they had been present at the birth of a new age–The Age of Atomic Energy–and felt their profound responsibility to help guide into proper channels the tremendous forces which had been unlocked for the first time in history.
As to the present war, there was a feeling that no matter what else might happen, we now had the means to ensure its speedy conclusion and save thousands of American lives. As to the future, something new has been brought into being, something big and unique that would prove immeasurably more important than the discovery of electricity or any other significant findings that have affected our existence.
The effects could be unprecedented, magnificent, beautiful, breathtaking, and terrifying. No artificial phenomenon of such tremendous power had ever occurred before. The lighting effects beggared description. The whole country was lighted by a searing light with intensity many times that of the midday sun. It was golden, purple, violet, gray, and blue. It lighted every peak, crevasse, and ridge of the nearby mountain range with a clarity and beauty that cannot be described but must be seen to be imagined. It was that beauty the great poets dream about but describe most poorly and inadequately. Thirty seconds after the explosion came first, the air blast pressing hard against the people and things, to be followed almost immediately by the firm, sustained an incredible roar that warned of doomsday and made us feel that we puny things were blasphemous to dare tamper with the forces heretofore reserved to The Almighty. Words are inadequate tools for acquainting those not present with the physical, mental, and psychological effects. It had to be witnessed to be realized.”