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Interview with James Keith Magruder, November 22, 2004


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Narrator affiliation: Assistant Manager for Operations, U.S. Department of Energy

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Magruder, James Keith. Interview, 2004 November 22. MS-00818. [Transcript]. Oral History Research Center, Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.


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Nevada Test Site Oral History Project University of Nevada, Las Vegas Interview with James Magruder November 22, 2004 Las Vegas, Nevada Interview Conducted By Joan Leavitt © 2007 by UNLV Libraries Oral history is a method of collecting historical information through recorded interviews conducted by an interviewer/ researcher with an interviewee/ narrator who possesses firsthand knowledge of historically significant events. The goal is to create an archive which adds relevant material to the existing historical record. Oral history recordings and transcripts are primary source material and do not represent the final, verified, or complete narrative of the events under discussion. Rather, oral history is a spoken remembrance or dialogue, reflecting the interviewee’s memories, points of view and personal opinions about events in response to the interviewer’s specific questions. Oral history interviews document each interviewee’s personal engagement with the history in question. They are unique records, reflecting the particular meaning the interviewee draws from her/ his individual life experience. Produced by: The Nevada Test Site Oral History Project Departments of History and Sociology University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 89154- 5020 Director and Editor Mary Palevsky Principal Investigators Robert Futrell, Dept. of Sociology Andrew Kirk, Dept. of History The material in the Nevada Test Site Oral History Project archive is based upon work supported by the U. S. Dept. of Energy under award number DEFG52- 03NV99203 and the U. S. Dept. of Education under award number P116Z040093. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in these recordings and transcripts are those of project participants— oral history interviewees and/ or oral history interviewers— and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U. S. Department of Energy or the U. S. Department of Education. UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 1 Interview with James Magruder November 22, 2004 Conducted by Joan Leavitt Table of Contents Introduction: participates in nuclear testing talks and possible JVE discussions in Geneva, Switzerland ( 1987) 1 Familiarization visit to Moscow and Semipalatinsk, USSR, discussions of drilling and use of CORRTEX system 3 Role of Charles McWilliam as branch chief of NTSO during JVE 6 Describes work of test controller and test director 7 Containment and the role of the CEP 9 Details role of the test controller and the test controller panel 10 Public information mission of DOE and EPA 12 Views on Soviet visit to NTS during JVE 13 Comparison of Soviet nuclear testing system with that of the U. S. 14 Return to Soviet visit to NTS during JVE, transportation of equipment to the NTS, concern of Soviets re: set- up and proper functioning of equipment at the NTS 16 “ An experiment in trust”: cultural differences between Soviets and Americans 18 Explains how CORRTEX works 23 Talks about Joint Verification Agreement negotiations with the Soviets 24 Memories of Soviet familiarization visit to Las Vegas, NV ( shopping at Smith’s supermarket, visit to Siegfried and Roy) and American visit to Moscow 26 Relates education ( B. S., electrical engineering; MBA) and work background ( Boeing, then EG& G and DOE, 1966- present) 28 Talks about testing in the sense of accomplishment and a contribution to world peace, as well as safety of nuclear testing and importance of containment 29 Opines on reactivation of testing program and loss of knowledge and expertise 32 Effects of test site work on family 34 Participation in community work 35 Family background: born Wichita, KS, attended University of Washington, married wife Theresa, worked for Boeing before joining EG& G, parents and siblings 36 End of an era and reposturing of NTS ( 1992- retirement in 1996) 38 Retirement and thoughts on work and career 39 End of the Cold War and new challenges to America and the world 40 Conclusion: “ single- minded mission” and teamwork at the NTS, and thoughts on antinuclear protesters 43 UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 1 Interview with James Magruder November 22, 2004 in Las Vegas, NV Conducted by Joan Leavitt [ 00: 00: 00] Begin Track 2, Disc 1. Joan Leavitt: We could start with some of your career that leads up to your experience and participation in the Joint Verification [ Experiment] [ JVE]. James Magruder: All right. Where I really started being involved was in 1987. Tom Clark, then the manager for the Nevada Operations Office [ NVOO], had asked me to participate in the nuclear testing talks going on in Geneva. So this was before Nick [ Aquilina] came aboard. Before Nick, yes. And as such, I was asked to give a presentation on the [ Nevada] test site and the testing operations. At Geneva? At Geneva. So I went over for about a two- week period to the nuclear testing talks going on, and the U. S. [ United States] head of the overall delegation there was Bob Barker. Now this was sometime in ’ 87? Was this around June? You know, I don’t remember. It may have been. It was probably May or June time frame of 1987. What they typically did was have two or three weeks of discussions there in Geneva, they’d break for a few weeks, and then come back. I came back in about November of ’ 87 with the delegation. At that time the task was to sit down between the U. S. side and the Soviet [ Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, USSR] side and develop a protocol for exchange visits to each other’s test sites. Was that also what you were aware you were going to be doing in June? UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 2 No. If you recall, President [ Ronald] Reagan had the concept, “ Trust, but verify.” And so these talks were initiated to see how the actual protocols for the PNE, Peaceful Nuclear Explosive, test and the Threshold Test Ban Treaty could be implemented. So at that time, they were just informal discussions to kind of feel both sides out and see how they would progress. Now in November of 1987, the task for the group in Geneva, both the U. S. and Soviet side, was to determine how visits to each other’s test sites could be accomplished; what details should be presented by each side, both the equipment displays as well as actual briefings, the time period, and all the details to house that. Now I had been given by Bob Barker a little heads- up on that and had put together a straw man paper as to kind of all the operations that we considered critical for testing, the things that we’d certainly like to see how the Soviets did, as well as equipment. Were you thinking in terms of a joint experiment at this time? I wasn’t, and I’m not sure— Or was it just visiting the other person’s and verifying? First off, it was just the visit of the test sites to become more familiar with how each side did their business; and from there it would allow people to develop the sites, to go on and develop how they would implement the protocols for those treaties. And it was in that discussion and really under Paul Robinson that they decided the best way was to have these joint verification experiments. But in ’ 87 it was just strictly looking at how we could structure visits to each other’s test sites. In Geneva, I was appointed as the U. S. lead for the working group, working with a Soviet counterpart and their groups to facilitate these visits. And the visits did occur in January of 1988. Now as the assistant manager for operations here in Nevada, it was my responsibility, of course, to set up the test site for the Soviets’ visits and actually do the hosting UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 3 when they arrived. We were kind of helped a little bit by the first visit being to the Soviet test site, and overall I thought they did quite a great job, and we had a— Can you describe what your visit was like with them? You were the first Americans to go to Semipalatinsk. To Semipalatinsk, yes. Probably the highlight was really Moscow, though. It was the St. Basil’s Cathedral there in Red Square. You’ve seen pictures of it for years, or all of your life, and I [ 00: 05: 00] thought it was really just a great opportunity to see it and the way it’s lit up at night. But what we did was fly in, of course, to Moscow. We stayed at the hotel just off of the Red Square there. They had stores for foreigners only, foreign exchange stores where the Soviets citizens could not buy things, but we could go in— Oh, but foreigners could. Hard currencies, right, only hard currencies. There are a lot of things that I thought were of interest there. They just had quite a variety of pretty nice things that foreigners could buy, a lot of furs and quite a variety of things. The Soviets then took us on a chartered aircraft, very similar to a 727 U. S. aircraft, and flew us from Moscow into— and I can’t remember the name of the town, but it’s near the Semipalatinsk test site. And then from there, it was another aircraft flying us right into the test site proper. I was surprised how far away Semipalatinsk was from that test site area. I think they said 150 miles. I suspect at least that. They flew us in on a smaller turboprop, into an airstrip right there at the test site. And then stayed at a hotel that they’d set up for the U. S. delegation there. And of course it was pretty cold at the time. UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 4 Well, this was January. It was January. We were allowed to free roam, of course, in the hotel and the immediate area right outside of it, but no further. They did have armed guards around. There was—[ it was] pretty cold there. One night they did take us to a movie at a theater. They had movies. Yes, but it was one that had a fair amount of propaganda, how great the Soviet Union is, but they had a lot of pride. But getting back to the visits, a lot of the briefings were given right there in our dorm area, the second story of it. And then they did take us out to see a drill rig, their setup for a device canister, and their control and command area. Overall, I think the Soviets did a real nice job. At that time did you realize the drilling was going to be a problem? Well, they had always indicated drilling was a little bit of a difficulty. Even at the very beginning, then. Well, I don’t know exactly where it came up. But during the discussions of the CORRTEX system, that is, being able to put a cable in a hole parallel to the emplacement hole, the Soviets didn’t think it could be done. And it turns out, indeed, that drilling over on their test site is much more difficult than drilling here. Because of the higher water table? Higher water table, but drilling through granite. It’s a hard drilling. As you probably know, we sent our own drill rig over there to drill for the JVE there. We went through a variety of bits before determining just how to do the drilling. But in the discussions, the U. S. was pretty insistent that we needed something like a CORRTEX system which would be emplaced in a hole UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 5 about ten meters away from the emplacement hole; it had to run very parallel to the emplacement hole around where the device is, and the distance being such that the cable wouldn’t be picking up nuclear weapons data, which they were very paranoid about from day one. No intrusion. No intrusion. But you had to have it straight; you had to have it the proper depth and all. And they did not feel that could be done. And during the actual negotiations under Paul Robinson for the actual JVE, they finally came to the point that [ they] said that if we needed it and felt we could do it, then we could bring our own drill rig and we had the responsibility to drill the hole ourself over there. That was somewhere around April. That took a couple of months to— Right. That was after the familiarization visit. Yes, even after some of the drillers were already over there, wasn’t it? Not the drill rig. [ 00: 10: 00] No, this was Larry Neese and Guy Allen and some of those who were there to log the hole that the Soviets had built. The emplacement hole? Yes. I don’t remember exactly when we sent the drill rig. It was considered from day one, that is, after the familiarization visits, both sides went home and then there were negotiations. And that’s when Paul Robinson took over as the head of it, with the title of ambassador. It was during those discussions and the details being worked out that a complete schedule was put together. Now at that time, I headed up the— I think there was five working groups total at that time, and I headed up the one on operations. UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 6 And what does operations consist of? I had the responsibility for all the people that went over to participate in that- were under my area of responsibility. They either worked for me, if they were DOE [ Department of Energy] people, or they were contractors and supported the operations under me at the test site on the contractor side. Did Chuck McWilliam, was he kind of a part of some kind of a chain of command, too? Chuck McWilliam was working for me under the NTSO, the Nevada Test Site Office division out there. He was one of the branch chiefs. Chuck came into it after we got the Soviets here on the test site. We’d set up to have a daily meeting where if we had some concerns with them or what was going on, we could tell them; if they had concerns— to work out the next day’s schedule and all the issues to assure that they could do their verification activity. And initially I had appointed Rick Hague [ sp] who was on my direct staff, to do that. Now Rick was a very thoughtful man, very much of a scientist, very much of a gentleman, and did know the test site pretty well but wasn’t out there on a daily basis. It just turned out that Rick, a great man and all just didn’t kind of fit the niche very well. You needed somebody that was very intimate with all ] of] the test site, which Chuck was. You needed somebody that was really kind of a strong individual, because the Soviets, they respect knowledge and they respected somebody that could tell them no if they had to and stick to it. So we put Chuck into that role and he did superb, absolutely superb. He was a young man, too, wasn’t he? Yes. And still is. Yes, and that was quite a remarkable responsibility because he was negotiating with Viktor [ Mikhailov], who was the head of their lab. UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 7 Yes, right. But Chuck did a great job, and he and Viktor developed a very good rapport. In fact, regarding Chuck, he was over here for the JVE. After we finished up over in the Soviet Union, he wanted an opportunity to go over there, and we sent him there to help kind of close down the operations and escort the equipment back, so he had an opportunity to see both the U. S. and the Soviet operation. He did a lot of implementation, too, didn’t he? In what way? Oh, implementation of the JVE protocols. Yes, indeed he did. Now at that time, there was the DoD [ Department of Defense] organization, the Onsite Inspection [ Agency] group [ OSIA], too. I say at that time. I think they were. It’s long enough ago, my memory’s a little hazy. But there are just so many people involved in one way or the other that— Well, I think, as controller you had eighteen agencies that reported to you? Well, on any test you have something like that, yes. There are various DOE laboratories, Department of Defense people, a couple of other federal agencies, the Weather Service, an element of NOAA [ National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration], as well as the Environmental Protection Agency [ EPA] representative. But, you know, all of them working as a team to get the test off. Can you describe how a test controller is different from a test director? Yes, I guess. The lab may want to disagree. I would say the test controller is totally [ 00: 15: 00] in charge. The test director is the laboratory individual and has the responsibility to oversee the laboratory efforts from the time that the test is starting to be fielded. So anybody from that laboratory that’s out at the test site, or anybody working on that test to develop it, would UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 8 essentially be under the auspices of the laboratory test director. The test controller is the senior DOE official that has the overall responsibility for the safe execution of that test. The test controller doesn’t have the responsibility to acquire data or anything else. That’s the test director. The test controller is responsible for assuring that if that test is set off, given the authority to set it off, that it’s set off within guidelines that have been established by the Department of Energy. Some of those guidelines were firm that “ thou shalt do,” or “ you do not shoot if,” whatever. For example, there is an area that was deemed to be a controllable area. The EPA had gone out and canvassed the area, and that they either had enough monitors and the population is sparse enough or that the people would respond to their suggestions about evacuation; or taking areas, but within that area, that they had the resources to make sure that there was no harm to the public if you had a problem with the test of radiological venting. And so that boundary was marked out and we called that the controllable area. And at that point, any venting— Is that where “ test controller” comes from? Controllable area? I don’t know exactly where it comes. It predates me. But anyway, if you had a release, the exposure limit beyond the controllable area couldn’t be beyond 170 mR [ milliroentgen]. Now that was just an absolute threshold. If your best models would indicate that the exposure to the offsite public would be above that, we delayed the test until conditions were more favorable. But then there were other conditions that you could look at and— they were good practices— if you’d look at the environment you had and determine whether they would preclude conducting the test or not. Now are a lot of these estimates, were they the ones that would be given to the Containment Evaluation Panel [ CEP]? UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 9 No. The Containment Evaluation Panel would look early on at a design for containment, the containment scheme that was designed by the sponsoring laboratory. The Containment Evaluation Panel then would pass judgment as to whether they felt that all the radioactive debris would be contained or not. If they had issues or questions of it, then the sponsoring laboratory was sent back to redesign their containment scheme. But that was done before the device was put in the field or anything. So who did the estimates on what the different radiation sometimes would be? The Weather Service. What you had was that containment design that the laboratory had developed that had been reviewed by the Containment Panel; that came out, and that was then something that you physically had to— it was a design concept. You had to put it physically in the ground. So on the day before you conducted the test, there was a final review of the CEP to assure that the as- built, that the construction people were able to build it as it was designed or close enough that it wouldn’t cause a problem. So on D- minus- one, the day before the test, you reviewed that. The next thing you also reviewed was the weather. The Weather Service also took the source information from the laboratory; and the venting, from a model that was developed years ago, that if you had a venting, how much radioactive debris could be expected to come out. Then with the weather conditions, particularly the winds the way they are, what your ground deposition would look like, and the exposure levels at different points. So for every test, that was done. You did it on D- minus- one. The Environmental Protection Agency, their monitors would have been out in the area a few days before the test, canvassing the people out there in the public to see how many people were there at the various locations. You counted them by number. You knew exactly how many people, and they also would know [ 00: 20: 00] what they’d be doing at UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 10 the time of the test, so that if there was a problem, they could take action. But they would review that again on D- minus- one as part of the test controller’s panel. And you were part of that briefing, then? Well, as the test controller, you’re the head of it. I might mention, for a test controller’s panel, you had the test controller. The test controller is supported by a scientific advisor from the laboratory that is sponsoring the test; a representative from NOAA, the Weather Service; a representative from the Environmental Protection Agency; and a medical doctor; and in the later years, we had one of the DOE health physicists as part of the panel. Then you have a whole— literally like a hundred people supporting you in different areas: construction, security, the health physics monitors, whatever. But the panel itself would convene at the control point, D- minus- one, and go through these various briefings; looking at, first off, that the containment had been put in as planned. Then what the weather conditions looked like for the time of the test, what the trajectory of any debris that would come out would look like. The Environmental Protection Agency people, where their monitors would be, whether they had the adequate resources to handle any evacuation if there was a problem. Looking at the crafts and the operations at the test site, what operations were going on, any special setup that we might need to take, or any modifications. And then an operations briefing as to virtually where everybody, by number, and you had another list that showed by name, where everybody on that test site would be at the time of the test. So that you knew that, first off, that the conditions looked like they were favorable that you could proceed with the test. If there was any problem— which you didn’t expect because of the containment design, the containment implementation, and the review of that containment— that if you did have a problem, you’re ready to go out there. Now if everything looked good, the test controller would schedule another briefing the morning of the test, and UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 11 usually it’d be somewhere four or five or six in the morning, depending on what the test was and some of the conditions. But you ran through essentially the same thing again to see— Make sure nothing had changed? Right, and if they changed, it only changed with the better. After that, the group would convene back upstairs to the test operations center where you have displays of all this. You have the live video coming from the forward areas and you have video from closed- circuit TV in the helicopter. And sit there and monitor those. As time got closer to the planned shot time, give authorization to unlock the device. Now the device that’s down hole has cables that come up to a facility called a Red Shack. The cables are locked out there so that you can absolutely make sure that no energy gets down to that device. The test controller gives the approval for the laboratory representative, the test director, and his people to actually physically unlock those cables and make connections up to the equipment that would be sending the arming and firing signals later. There’s supposed to be some code that only a couple of them know. Like Joe Behne said something about that. Right. Both laboratories have a lockout system. They are implemented a little bit differently, but what they do is make it where you scramble the codes coming out there, any signals coming out there. Therefore it’s something like one out of ten billion possibilities of any proper number being set by chance. So at the Red Shack, then, out near the device, Joe Behne or the test director and some of his people would actually set in a code there, so that they were sure that nothing could come from the control point on out, and then would go back. Then when the test controller gives authority to unscramble the system, in the control point, then, they set the proper code at that point. So at that time, you have a connection for all the way [ 00: 25: 00] from the control point to the Red Shack. No signal’s going through right then, but you have a connection such UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 12 that you’re ready to send signals. Then the test controller gives authority to go ahead and enter the countdown and fire the device. The laboratory, through one of their control rooms, the one that actually goes through the countdown, sends all the various signals to the various users out there to acquire the data that they’re going to acquire, as well as those device- related signals that do the arming and firing of the device, and then the data acquisition. The test controller and his panel, then, is watching the detonation, assuring that there is no debris coming out, and after an appropriate time, gives authority to reenter. Now if there is a problem, or should be a problem, then the test controller is responsible for directing emergency response actions to mitigate any problem that way. So would you also be responsible for notifying the community in case of evacuations and stuff like that? We didn’t really have the authority to order evacuations. What we could do through the EPA is to recommend evacuation or whatever. If you go throughout the history of testing, there have been at times— the state was very comfortable with the DOE or its predecessor agencies and the EPA to actually recommend evacuations, or essentially recommend them. In later years, it got to where they really wanted DOE and EPA to go through state representatives to do that. And so it depends on where in testing, but the bottom line was that the test controller and the EPA would assure that the public got the information if there was any time lag or whatever. Our first responsibility was to the health and safety of the general public out there. The tolerance of the testing program relied very heavily on the good will of those people out there. There were periodically briefings that the EPA and DOE would go around and give to the people, a very close working relationship with the people, like at Rachel which had the largest population area out there. But most of them, you know, they’re ranches where there are two, three, four people or UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 13 so. But it was very important to make sure they understood what we were doing. We gave them tours of the test site, too. And absolutely make sure that they were confident that we were worried about or concerned about their wellbeing and would take the steps needed to assure it. Did you feel like you had a pretty good relationship with those smaller communities, then? Absolutely. And a lot of that is really the credit of the EPA monitors, just being out in the field and working and getting to know the people. But yes, a very good relationship with them. You had another title that I noticed. You were project manager? Was that different from controller or—? Well, at DOE I’ve had various titles, but project manager, I’ve gone to project management training, but I don’t recall ever having a title as project manager. OK, because that was in something I found that said that you were— It may very well be, but it’s not something we’d typically— I was the assistant manager for operations. As that, I was the senior test controller of the other test controllers, and I would establish the schedule of the test controllers. The other test controllers would be working for me. They’d be usually one of my division directors. Do you have any experiences working with the Soviets when they came here that maybe you would like to share? How did you feel about their coming in the first place? You know, I thought it was an opportunity. Now when you work in a program like the U. S. nuclear weapons test program, you’re always curious. What does the other side do? How do they implement things? So I thought it was a great opportunity to be able to go to Geneva, because I have always been curious about the negotiations and how it goes on. About like watching grass [ 00: 30: 00] grow. It’s slow but very methodical. I was always curious about the Soviet testing practices, so being able to go over there and see that was a great opportunity. Having them over UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 14 here was really, I think, a great opportunity. I think it helped better understanding between the two sides. I didn’t have great heartburn with them coming over, and I think by and large most of the testing community pretty well welcomed it. We wanted to make sure we had things in place and that they did not have access to information they shouldn’t have, and I think we did a superb job at that. But them coming over, I think everybody welcomed it. It was just a good opportunity to see how they did things and to with them and hopefully foster a little better understanding and relationship between the countries. Were you able to compare their system with our nuclear program at all? Oh, yes. Even starting with the familiarization visits. They have a high water table. You mentioned that earlier. About fifteen meters underground, you start getting a brackish water. Their device canister was essentially like a submarine. Now most of the testing we did out at the test site was above the water table. Not all of it. But when you go below the water table, and particularly at very high depths, you have other problems, trying to keep water out from where it shouldn’t be. But their device canister was just beautifully designed. And obviously their diagnostic was a lot more limited than ours, and their canister, therefore, was smaller. But there’s a lot of areas that we were able to see and get the feeling of how they did things and how different from ours. But the thing at that familiarization visit from the hotel to their test site that struck me was when the Soviets set their mind to something, they did a superb job. But if it wasn’t a thing of real importance, it may be pretty trashy. Like their hotel, the Rossiya, was really considered— it was just for foreigners and considered one of the best hotels. But when you look at the finished detail around in the rooms and things like this, it left something to be desired. Is this the same hotel that the drillers got to stay in and some of the other people? UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 15 You know. When we sent people over and they went through Moscow, they stayed at several different places, so some of them, I’m sure, stayed at the Rossiya, but I don’t know if all of them did. Because there were some pictures of the hotel that Larry Neese stayed at, and I was just curious— I don’t know where he would have stayed. I’ll have to ask him. Because you’ve given the name of the hotel. You’re the first person to have mentioned a name. How do you think that’s spelled? R- O- S- S- I- something- or- other. Well, I had the opportunity of staying in it three times, maybe four times, I guess. Was that the first familiarization—? In and out of Moscow for the familiarization, and for the JVE, in and out of Moscow. And then I went to Moscow in ’ 91,’ 92 and I stayed at a different hotel, much more modern. Now is this in Moscow? The Rossiya? Yes. Now what you probably saw pictures of is where they stayed out in the forward area. It was. Yeah. That was even a little bit more rustic. The hotel, the Rossiya, was a nice hotel. It’s just that when you look at some of the finish work, it wouldn’t meet the standards that you would consider appropriate. The television, you’re supposed to unplug it when you’re not watching it because they had concerns about the power supply shorting out and fires. There are just several things that you’d think, well, they may not perform as well as you’d expect or whatever, but in areas where they placed their emphasis, like in their weapons test program, they just did first- grade work. UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 16 But getting back to your question about kind of the experience when they came. One area that I had responsib