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Don Miller

RUSH COUNTY – The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrived Tuesday at the residence of Don Miller, 91, at CR 8339 South and CR 850 West in Rush County in order to examine nearly 1,000 artifacts Miller has collected from around the world.

Miller has a storied life and for a number of years has collected, displayed and preserved artifacts in his residence in a climate controlled environment. He is an avid collector of Native American artifacts.

FBI spokesperson agent Drew Northern said Wednesday that although there is a large FBI presence in the area, there is no public threat.

“Mr. Miller does have a large collection of artifacts. We are working with him to help repatriate some of those items,” Northern said Wednesday afternoon.

He continued by saying that at the time of the interview many of the items were being logged and inventoried.

“Basically what that means is that treaties, federal laws and statutes dictate who can have these types of items. Mr. Miller has been collecting for a long time as everyone knows and he wants to make sure they go back to where they belong,” Northern said.

The collection process could take up to a week, Daily News partner WISH-TV reported Wednesday evening.

The Rushville Republican, a sister publication to the Daily News, has reported on Rush County’s Dr. Don Miller numerous times, especially about his roll as the head detonator of the testing of the atomic bomb during World War II.

Miller, a 1941 graduate of Milroy High School, has chronicled his life from Rush County to leading the division that detonated the testing of the uranium atomic bomb in the western part of the United States in 1945, in previous issues of the Rushville Republican. As part of the ASTP (Army Specialist Training Program) Dr. Miller found himself working on a top secret mission out west in a laboratory. Of course, it was later learned that it was the site of the building of the atomic bomb. Dr. Miller volunteered for the head position of the group used to detonate the testing, which ultimately resulted in the two atomic bombs being dropped over Japan. Dr. Miller’s group first tested in May 1945 by using 500 pounds of dynamite, and then in June 1945 they tested using an uranium bomb. In July 1945 the final testing took place at Trinity. Dr. Miller explained that his experience as a radio HAM operator, which he still enjoys today from Orange Township, Rush County, played a key roll in his selection to head the division.

In August 1939, Albert Einstein wrote a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt that would change the course of history. Einstein and several other scientists notified the President of Nazi efforts to purify uranium-235, in the hopes that it could be used to build an atomic bomb. The United States government wasted no time in beating Adolf Hitler and his regime to the punch and began “The Manhattan Project,” with the sole focus a commitment to expediting research that would produce a viable atomic bomb.

From 1939 to 1945, more than $2 billion was spent on the Manhattan Project. The formulas for refining uranium and putting together a working atomic bomb were created and seen to their logical ends by some of the greatest minds of our time. Chief among the people who unleashed the power of the atom was J. Robert Oppenheimer, who oversaw the project from conception to completion.

Miller recalled an incident in a Santa Fe Hotel that would ultimately change his life.

“We always had Military Police with us when we traveled out of Los Alamos, which was rarely, to make sure that we didn’t talk,” Miller said. “Me and a few of the other fellas sat up at the bar, and there were a few soldiers down at the other end. We had our patches on signifying that we were with the ASTP. My ears started burning, because I knew they were staring at us, but I just sipped my drink and ignored it.”

The soldiers at the other end of the bar began talking.

“See those fellas down there?” one soldier asked his friend.

“Yeah,” his buddy said.

“Well, they’re from ‘the hill’,” the soldier said. “I hear they’re going to test that gadget next month.”

Miller knew at that moment he had heard something he wasn’t supposed to have heard. He and the group headed back to Los Alamos, but Don kept his mouth shut out of fear that the men at the other end of the bar were planted there by the military to see if he would talk.

“I thought, ‘You know? I bet I know something that even Dr. Oppenheimer doesn’t know,’” Miller said.

So the corporal headed straight for the man himself. Dr. Oppenheimer’s secretary answered the door and asked how she could help Don.

“I said, I have something that I think only I should tell the doctor, and I would like to see him privately. Out of curiosity, she went in and told him that there was someone outside that insisted on seeing him,” Miller said. “He invited me in and told me to tell him my story, and so I did. He turned white, and said, ‘Is that so?’”

Miller told Dr. Oppenheimer that he did not have to confirm or deny whether or not the rumor was true, but if it was correct, he wanted to head up his firing squad. And then he bowed out of the office.

“I told no one but Oppie,” Miller said. “I went downstairs with a clear conscience, and passed my boss’s office on the way down. He asked me what I had talked to Oppenheimer about, and I told him that it was a secret between me and the doctor. He said, ‘I know what you talked about. You want to get on that team, and I don’t want you to be disappointed, but it’s not going to happen.’”

One week later, Miller received a call from Oppenheimer himself.

“You’re on,” he told Miller. “You’re on the team.”

Finally, the day came when all at Los Alamos would find out if “The Gadget” (code-named such during its development) was going to be the colossal dud of the century or perhaps an end to the war. It all came down to a fateful morning in midsummer, 1945.

At 5:29:45 July 16, 1945, in a white blaze that stretched from the basin of the Jemez Mountains in northern New Mexico to the still-dark skies, “The Gadget” ushered in the Atomic Age. The light of the explosion then turned orange as the atomic fireball began shooting upwards at 360 feet per second, reddening and pulsing as it cooled.

The characteristic mushroom cloud of radioactive vapor materialized at 30,000 feet. Beneath the cloud, all that remained of the soil at the blast site were fragments of jade green radioactive glass created by the heat of the reaction.

The brilliant light from the detonation pierced the early morning skies with such intensity that residents from a faraway neighboring community would swear that the sun came up twice that day. According to historical documentation, a blind girl saw the flash 120 miles away.

Upon witnessing the explosion, its creators had mixed reactions. Isidor Rabi felt that the equilibrium in nature had been upset -- as if humankind had become a threat to the world it inhabited. J. Robert Oppenheimer, though ecstatic about the success of the project, quoted a remembered fragment from the Bhagavad Gita. “I am become Death,” he said, “the destroyer of worlds.”

Read more on this story as information is made available in Friday’s edition of the Daily News.

Contact: Frank Denzler @ 765.932.2222 x106; frank.denzler@rushvillerepublican.com

This article uses archival information from the Rushville Republican.

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