WHITE SANDS MISSLE RANGE, N.M. – Emmett Hatch’s grandmother ordered him to drop to his knees and pray on July 16, 1945, shortly after the world’s first 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 8 years old at the time.
Hatch joined thousands of others at Trinity Site on Saturday in a restricted area of the White Sands Missile Range for the 60th anniversary of the dawn of the nuclear age.
The Manhattan Project resulted in 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.
Clemente Deister 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.