Leslie Groves Jr: The Manhattan Man

Brendan Beck
March 3, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018

Early Life

Fig. 1: Portrait of Leslie Richard Groves Jr. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Leslie Richard Groves Jr. was born in Albany, New York one August 17, 1896. His father, Leslie Groves, was a devout Presbyterian and a man of many professions, namely teacher, lawyer, minister, and army chaplain. [1] His mother, Gwen Griffith Groves, was the main driving force in Leslie Sr.'s decision to become an army chaplain, so that he could better support their family. The family moved and settled into the Vancouver Barracks, but before long, Leslie Sr. had decided that he would join the army as part of a force that would invade Cuba; he regularly wrote home to his wife and five children. [1] Throughout his early years, Leslie 'Dick' Groves Jr. was forced to move around the country as his father was continuously relocated. While his father was away, Dick took up the male role and responsibilities in the household and created a close connection with his mother. Around the age of fifteen, while living in Montana, Dick met Grace (Boo) Wilson, the daughter of a military colonel, and the two became good friends. [2] While his older brothers sent off to Hamilton University, Dick was more interested in a career beginning with admission to West Point. To enhance his West Point application, Dick attempted to simultaneously finish his studies in high school while also studying at the University of Washington's College of Science. [1] After receiving presidential appointment, Dick has to pass an academic exam and a physical; he was waitlisted and did not receive acceptance to West Point in 1914. When 1916 came around, however, Dick was enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) taking classes in engineering and science and was once again applying to West Point. [1] This time, he passed the entrance exam, and was finally accepted in to West Point and entered the US Military Academy on June 15, 1916. [2] His course was ended shortly due to the US declaring war on Germany, and Dick emerged as a second lieutenant in the US Army Corps of Engineers. He eventually married Grace Boo Wilson in 1922, and the two had a son named Richard, and a daughter named Gwen.

Manhattan Project

While working his way up the ranks in the US Army Corps of Engineers, Leslie Dick Groves Jr became an esteemed name amongst the US Army Navy Munitions Board. This board appointed him to use the Manhattan District at his discretion and was in complete charge with the task of completing the atomic bomb as fast as possible. Groves was on site to help inspect the ranch school at Los Alamos and the surrounding 54,000 acres of land and forest. [1] He chose to keep his immediate staff and headquarters small. [3] Dick was key in the manipulation of the system in making sure that the project was top priority amongst the secret programs, needing the most valuable resources and manpower. He brought in Jean Marley O'Leary to be his secretary, and she quickly became one of his most trusted colleagues. [2] She became a valuable asset once it was decided that Dick would also need to appear to be the supervisor for the Pentagon project in order to avoid suspicion. [4] He also met with and recruited J. Robert Oppenheimer, a physicist at the University of California, Berkeley on creating a lab where the atomic bomb could be designed and tested, and once the two decided on the space in New Mexico, Oppenheimer was placed as head of the laboratory by Groves Jr. [5] The team that Groves had selected and hired went to work and created the atomic bomb that the government so rapidly desired, all with Dick Groves, whose portrait is shown in Fig. 1, calling every shot. Groves then played an instrumental role in deciding how and where the bombs would be dropped, and while he lost the argument on which cities should be bombed, he was awarded with the Distinguished Service Medal after the successful atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. [2]

Post Manhattan Project

Immediately after the war, even though Groves was being applauded for all of his work, he was also the recipient of a new, harsher reality. In his role of boss, Groves was very blunt and had walked on thin ice with numerous people, and now that the war was over, and he was not the boss anymore, he realized how out of favor with some people he really was. [1] He was appointed the head of the newly established Armed Forces Special Weapons Project, but even that role came with scrutiny due to the aspects of post-bomb drop life that Groves did not anticipate. While he continued to attempt to grow his power in military ranking, Groves was told by Dwight D. Eisenhower, General of the US Army, that due to his long list of complaints received when he was in power, Groves would never be promoted to become Chief of Engineers. [3] At this realization that he would never again have the power he had while leading the Manhattan Project, Leslie 'Dick' Groves Jr. retired from the Army in March, 1948. He moved to Darien Connecticut and became the vice president at Sperry Rand, an equipment and electronics firm. He wrote and published his story of the Manhattan Project titled Now It Can Be Told in 1962. Two years later, he moved back to Washington D.C., where he lived until he died from a heart attack on July 13, 1970, at the age of 73. [2]

© Brendan Beck. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.

Works Cited

[1] R. S. Norris, Racing for the Bomb: General Leslie R. Groves, the Manhattan Project's Indispensable Man (Steerforth Press, 2003.)

[2] W. Lawren, The General and the Bomb: A Biography of General Leslie R. Groves, Director of the Manhattan Project (Dodd Mead, 1988.)

[3] J. J. Ermenc, Atomic Bomb Scientists: Memoirs, 1939-1945 (Greenwood Press, 1989).

[4] J. Belanger, "The Manhattan Project," Physics 241, Stanford University, Winter 2013.

[5] J. Kunetka, The General and the Genius: Groves and Oppenheimer - the Unlikely Partnership That Built the Atom Bomb (Regnery History, 2015).