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Jay Searcy, author of the “The Last Reunion,” grew up in Oak Ridge, the secret headquarters for the Manhattan Project in World War II.
He was one of 11,000 children from all over America who were thrown together during the war while their parents worked secretly around the clock.
Many did not know that they were creating the most devastating weapon in history and ushering in the Atomic Age.
Today those children are in their mid-70s, the last living generation to have witnessed the Oak Ridge miracle.
“The Last Reunion” is about those days and about the thousands upon thousands of patriotic Americans who joined hands as strangers and worked in a near classless society under military rule.
They lived inside fences guarded by machine gun emplacements, mounted sentries, gun boats, plant guards, city and military police, and they were spied on by the FBI, Military Intelligence, the Secret Service — and their neighbors.
Official documents were falsified for security reasons, Searcy writes, and top physicists used code names.
Oak Ridge and its nuclear plants were purposely hidden in remote, hilly farmlands of East Tennessee.
The setup was so secret and heavily protected that the governor of the state wasn’t aware of it until it had become the fifth largest city in the state.
In 30 months, the new town, code-named Site X, grew from zero population to 75,000 with people from every state and 17 countries.
They lived and worked under government orders and a bullying Army general, Leslie Groves, a virtual dictator who headed the Manhattan Project.
Searcy combines historical fact with stories of his classmates from the Oak Ridge High class of 1952 to provide a coming-of-age account that so was strikingly different from that of other Americans, yet could have happened only in the United States.
Nowhere in history has there been a town quite like it.
Searcy also includes previously unpublished conversations with Alvin Weinberg, the noted Oak Ridge physicist who revealed that Germany would have had the atomic bomb first had it not been for a calculating error by top German nuclear physicists.
Searcy tells of John Rice Irwin, founder of the Museum of Appalachia, whose folks were among a thousand or so families forced off their farms by the War Department’s takeover in 1942 when he was 12.
“The Last Reunion: The Class of 1952 comes Home to the Secret City” is available online at Amazon.com.
Searcy was a journalist for more than four decades.
He first wrote for his local paper, The Oak Ridger, when he was in high school.
That started a national award-winning writing career that took him to The Kingsport Times-News, The Chattanooga Times, The New York Times and The Philadelphia Inquirer, where he was executive sports editor.
Searcy is retired and lives in Loudon.