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Paul McDaniel: The Rumble from Robards
World War II veterans vividly remember the events of August 6, 1945, but none more graphically than Henderson County native Paul William McDaniel must have. When the first nuclear bombing mission was executed on Hiroshima, Japan, Paul knew that he had been part of the team that would bring an expeditious end to the Second World War, and despite the inevitable and regrettable death and utter destruction in Japan, he firmly believed that more lives would have been lost had the war continued.
Paul McDaniel graduated from Robards High School in 1932 as class valedictorian at the age of 16, before going on to obtain a degree in chemistry from Western Kentucky Teachers College. By 1941, the same year he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U. S. Army Reserves Chemical Warfare Service, he was the first student at Indiana University to earn a Doctor of Philosophy Degree in Nuclear Physics. A few months later, McDaniel was assigned to uranium research at the University of Chicago for what would later become known as the Manhattan Project, the endeavor responsible for the development of the atomic bomb.
In 1945, after a long tour of active duty in Australia and the South Pacific, McDaniel was stationed in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where he was a part of the Manhattan Engineer District Research Division. Here, he assisted in some of the first atomic testing, which would lead to the August bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. At the conclusion of the war, Paul accepted a position with the Congress-created Atomic Energy Commission, and from 1960-1972, he served as its Director of Research and was responsible for the supervision of atomic energy testing sites in Oak Ridge, Brookhaven, Argonne, Los Alamos, Berkeley, and Livermore.
Prior to his death in 2004, Paul McDaniel published his biography, in which he remembers his life, not only as a nuclear physicist, but as a kid from Robards, Kentucky. He recounts small-town entertainment, such as hog-killing days and gambling on local races, and reminisces about the tears in his father’s eyes as he boarded the train for college. With all the things he accomplished in his life, Paul never forgot his upbringing Henderson County.
To read more about Paul McDaniel, come visit us in the library archives, or check out The Autobiography of Paul William McDaniel. Want to read more “Revisiting Henderson’s Past” entries?
Photo is of Paul McDaniel raising the flag in a ceremony at the NAL Village, near Batavia, Illinois in 1968.