Trinity Tavern: a testament to Team Whiteman

  • Published
  • By By Col. Aeneas Gooding
  • 509th Mission Support Group commander
This week we will be renaming one of the lounges at the Mission’s End club the “Trinity Tavern.” After much consideration of the many suggestions you have provided over the past few weeks, base leadership decided on the name “Trinity,” which was submitted by Tech. Sgt. Joshua White, as it is a perfect reflection of the roots of our nuclear mission. I hope you will have the opportunity to visit in the coming weeks, and you will see that our team has worked hard to turn this lounge into something that not only reflects the rich heritage of the 509th Bomb Wing, but also the many diverse units that make up this incredible installation. We will continue to personalize it while making it a place where we can focus on our heritage.

Trinity was the code name of the first detonation of a nuclear weapon on July 16, 1945, in the deserts of New Mexico. This first detonation was actually conducted by the U.S. Army, prior to the Air Force becoming a separate service, as part of the Manhattan Project, it laid the foundation for what would become one of the most important airpower missions and one which remains a cornerstone of our National Security Strategy and our strategic deterrence mission to this day. It was not only the first detonation of a nuclear bomb, it was proof that the efforts of the team of nuclear physicists were successful. Less than a month after the tests at Trinity, the only two nuclear bombs used in combat were dropped on Japan.

Trinity is also significant to me personally not only because of its tie with Air Force heritage but also because of its significance for my family. My grandfather, Orville Hill, was a nuclear chemist working at Los Alamos National Labs during this critical period in our nation’s history. Nuclear chemistry is the science that deals with the study and analysis of radioactivity, nuclear processes, and nuclear properties.

My grandfather was part of the Los Alamos National Labs’ efforts to understand the chemical effects resulting from the absorption of radiation within animals, plants, and other materials. As a child, I had no idea what a nuclear chemist was, or frankly, what happened at Trinity in 1945. Even as I learned about World War II, “Fat Man,” and “Little Boy,” I didn’t understand the connection. I knew my mother was born in Los Alamos in 1947, but it wasn’t until much later that I put the pieces together.

My grandfather spent many years in New Mexico, but he also traveled to Bikini Atoll, one of the islands in the Pacific Ocean used as targets to measure radiation to further understand impacts of the detonation of nuclear weapons. He would never talk specifically about the things he did, or the projects he supported, likely because he thought I wouldn’t have understood, or perhaps due to classification, but growing up, I knew he was one of the smartest men I knew. After leaving Los Alamos National Labs, he worked at the Hanford Nuclear Power Plant in Washington state working on efficient methods to separate plutonium from irradiated uranium. In an interview, he stated, “We were on the frontiers. We were doing things that I hadn’t dreamed of doing even a year before.”

Our United States Air Force is filled with traditions and heritage. Some are clear, and we talk about them regularly. We look at our heroes and those that made a difference before us. As you have heard many times, “we stand on the shoulders of giants!” When you take the opportunity to celebrate the many great things about our Air Force, the Trinity Tavern will be one of those places that strives to remind us where we came from. I know it will remind me of my grandfather, and the work he and the other giants did to develop our nation’s nuclear capabilities and lay the foundation of our nation’s most important mission – strategic nuclear deterrence – but also it will be a place we can all gather to celebrate the greatness of our Air Force, both present and past.