At the Museum of Veterans and Military History in Vilonia, docents are continually researching military service stories to share. In lieu of the Pearl Harbor anniversary, earlier this month, I am sharing one regarding the importance of the home front during World War II, and notably, the town of Oak Ridge, Tennessee — which did not officially exist on the map due to secrecy.
Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was the site of atomic bomb research. The "Little Boy" bomb dropped on Hiroshima was made with uranium-235 from Oak Ridge.
On 60,000 acres of farmland framed by the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, it was one of the United States’ three secret cities—remote sites evacuated of their civilian inhabitants, and developed for the specific purpose of producing an atomic bomb. The town, during the war, was dubbed as Clinton Engineering Works. The town was so guarded that if you were 12 or above, you had a resident badge with your picture on it to wear when you left or entered the city gates of Oak Ridge.
This community of 50,000 or so people also did not even have a funeral home during WWII because of the secrecy of the research. The garbage companies, reportedly, only hired illiterates so that if they found any classified material, they were not able to read it. Secrecy was of the utmost important in Oak Ridge. Residents also wore buttons that said, "A slip of the lip may sink a ship." A cautionary sign at the main gate of Oak Ridge said, "What you do here, what you see here, what you hear here, when you leave here, let it stay here." The children of Oak Ridge, reportedly, were told by their parents Hershey Bars were made in the town because good chocolate was unavailable and that it all went to the men in service.
Located at 53 N. Mt. Olive in Vilonia, the museum is open from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays and 1 p.m. until 4 p.m., the first Sunday of the month. Also, special tours are available by appointment. No charge to tour. For information, call 501-796-8181.