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From Major Jordan's Diaries


“The Broadcast Goes on Tonight”

     My one desire, after retiring from the Army, was to forget it. I had had a surfeit of military life dominated by political practices, and vowed to have nothing more to do with it. The means of escape was to plunge up to my ears with private business, taking up where I left off in 1942.

     As a side-line I kept up a modest career in public speaking which has continued until now. It started in Montana. Colonel Meredith was frequently asked to deliver addresses. He loathed them and got in the habit of ordering me to take his place. I remember my first effort was before parents and teachers of the Whittier School in Great Falls early in 1944.

     For some reason the invitations persisted after I left the Army, though I never sought an engagement nor was I connected with a speaker’s bureau. Prior to 1950 the subject was generally deeds of heroism on the Fairbanks flight and my adventures among the Russians. Again and again I declared that we knew nothing about the Russians, while they knew everything about us. Understanding them for what they were, I stated, was now one of the crucial things in the world.

     The Smyth Report was issued in August, 1945, the month of the Hiroshima announcement. My first intimation that uranium and the atom bomb had any connection derived from summaries of the Smyth Report which filled newspapers and magazines in the weeks following its appearance.

     In my memory the word “uranium” sounded like an echo, but I was not even certain whether the spelling was the same I had written two and a half years earlier. I made a journey to the safe where my most important records were stored. From a metal box I drew the memorandum on my first search of the diplomatic suitcases. One of the entries read: “Uranium-92.”

     I thought to myself: “So that’s what the Russians wanted with uranium!” But my alarm was quieted by official lullabies. Because of “Russian ignorance and backwardness,” top authorities stated, Moscow could not hope for years to achieve an atom bomb. Like the rest of the nation, I buried my head in the sand.

     News in May 1949, that a fraction more than an ounce of U-235 had been lost or stolen at the Argonne Laboratory, convulsed the nation for more than a month. Headlines bellowed and Congress roared.

     My own response was indignation. In view of the petty amount involved, so colossal an uproar appeared absurd and spurious. What was a single ounce of uranium compared to the hundreds of pounds that had passed through Great Falls? And why screech about the Russian espionage when Washington itself had delivered to the Soviet Union one installment of 420 pounds and another of half a ton?

    Of course, I was still unaware of the distinction between uranium compounds and uranium metal. I had heard of fissionable U-235 and non-fissionable U-238, but they were phrases without meaning. In my untutored thought, uranium was uranium, just as iron was iron. But my instinct was not wholly wrong. The 1,465 pounds of uranium chemically handed by Lend-Lease to the Soviet Union contained a potential of not merely one ounce of U-235 but 6.25 pounds, or 75 ounces.

     In July, 1949 I took the plunge and phoned the office of Fulton Lewis, Jr. I had never met him, but I was one of his radio fans. He was out of the city, and I told the story to his secretary. Mr. Lewis never heard of my call.

    On September 23, 1949, President Truman disclosed that an atomic explosion had just occurred in the Soviet Union.

     I was shocked and stunned to the depths of my being. American policy had suffered a stupendous defeat. There was evidence in my possession, I was convinced, proving that the disaster was chargeable not only to spies but to actual members of the Federal hierarchy. It was information that the American people obviously should have. But I was at a loss where to turn.

     Eleven days after the President’s announcement, I had lunch with my friend Arthur Johnson at the Army and Navy Club in Washington. Once more I recited the story of the Pipeline and my experiences at Great Falls. At the conclusion, Mr. Johnson solved my dilemma with six words. He was a native of New Hampshire and a personal friend of his senior Senator. As we left the table, he announced: “I’m going to telephone Senator Bridges.”

     When I was received on the afternoon of Oct. 5, the Senator looked at me quizzically. “Well, Major,” he smiled, “I’m afraid you’re on the wrong track. I have been assured that in 1943 there were not 1,000 pounds of uranium in the whole United States.”

    “Who said the uranium came from the United States?” I retorted. “It came from Canada!” The Senator seemed stunned. I told him there had been a previous shipment of 420 pounds from Denver and a later consignment of what I then thought to have been 500 pounds.

     “What is more,” I went on, “Mr. Hopkins personally directed me to expedite the Canadian shipment.” Incredulously, Mr. Bridges exclaimed: “Harry Hopkins?” I insisted Harry Hopkins himself gave the order by telephone. The Senator asked whether I would be willing to testify, under oath, as to what I had charged. I answered that I would.

     For two long hours the Senator examined me closely. As I was leaving, he said the things I alleged were so shocking that an investigation would be necessary. He would need time to decide on the course to be pursued. In the meanwhile, I must promise to keep the matter secret. I gave my word.

     Twenty days passed and, on Oct. 25, 1949 Fulton Lewis telephoned from Washington. Senator Bridges had spent the weekend with him, he stated, and they had gone over my story in detail. It was decided to use the Lewis staff for a thorough investigation, and then, if the story stood up, to break it by radio. I was to join Mr. Lewis at breakfast next morning at a hotel in New York and bring my documents.

     At 9 A.M. on Oct. 26 we got down to work. The commentator went through my chief records page by page, item by item, and word by word. His questions were pitiless; it seemed to me that the bar had lost a great prosecuting attorney. Five hours later, at 2 P.M., he rose and stood for some minutes looking out of the window. Then he wheeled about and let me know the verdict.

     “I suppose the next stop,” he drawled, “will be your former superior, Colonel Gardner, in Mansfield, Ohio.”

     As I was collecting my papers, he added: “I’m sorry, Major, but this is something I’ll have to turn over to the FBI.”

     I heard nothing from Mr. Lewis for almost a month, but it was not long before Edgar Hoover’s boys started to haunt my days, from early morning to night. In pairs they beleaguered my office. My three metal cabinets, brought up from the basement, were ransacked folder by folder. Endless Photostats were taken. Looking for discrepancies, they had me tell the story again and again. Sometimes their questions were new. More often they were the same ones, asked on different occasions, to check previous answers.

     When I slipped away for a quiet Thanksgiving to the home of my mother-in-law in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, there, waiting in a chair on the porch when I arrived, was an FBI man, with twenty typewritten questions.

     On Dec. 1 there was a call from Mr. Lewis.

     “Major,” he announced, “I’ve checked your story from stern to stern. The FBI made a parallel investigation and has given me permission to break it over the radio. The first broadcast will be on Monday night, Dec. 5. We’re going ahead from there a whole week, and maybe longer.”

     He invited my wife and me to his home in Maryland for the weekend.

     The next day we were sipping cokes in his living-room and my wife, Kitty, in all innocence, dropped a bombshell. “By the way, Racey,” she asked, “did you get those calls from Walter Winchell?” Mr. Lewis slowly put down his glass. I hurried to explain that Winchell’s office had been telephoning since Nov. 28 and that in the last two days there had been several calls. The commentator rose.

     “I think,” he announced, “that we won’t wait till Monday. The broadcast goes on tonight. Let’s get at my typewriter!”

     There was the chance that Winchell, on Sunday, might try to heat the gun. And so our opening interview went on the air that evening, Friday, Dec. 2, 1949.

Continue with Chapter 14

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