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The surprising way this coffee cup changed Christmas

This stocking stuffer memorializes little-known wartime heroes
October 30, 2020
Juan Baldonado, a mechanical technician who worked on satellite-based instrumentation at the Lab, points to the badge photo of Samuel Paiz, his relative who worked on the Manhattan Project.

Juan Baldonado, a mechanical technician who worked on satellite-based instrumentation at the Lab, points to the badge photo of Samuel Paiz, his relative who worked on the Manhattan Project.

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Dr. Angela Bratton, an ophthalmologist, and Juan Baldonado, a Los Alamos National Laboratory retiree, have an unlikely connection involving a top-selling item at Gadgets, the museum gift shop.

Angela had lived in New Mexico for 26 years when she stepped into Gadgets last fall to do a little early Christmas shopping. She picked up a coffee mug, turning it slowly in her hands to see 27 black-and-white badge photos of men and women who had worked at Project Y, the Manhattan Project’s Los Alamos site.

On the bottom row she saw Mary Alice Nachtrieb, Enrico Fermi, Hazel R. Greenbacker, Amadon Garcia and — gasp — Sara Lea Peddicord in a Women’s Army Corps uniform! At that surprising moment, a closely held family secret about her great aunt was revealed.

“We knew that she was a WAC, but we didn’t know she was here at Los Alamos,” Angela said. “At least nobody who’s alive now in our family knew.”

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Angela had seen photographs and heard stories of Sara Lea Peddicord being a 38-year-old divorcee when she enlisted in the military. At Project Y, she served as a secretary in an engineering group. “My mother knew her, Great Aunt Sara Lea.”

When she visited her parents in Indiana last Christmas, Angela put the precious mug in her carry-on bag, carefully wrapped. Her mother was thrilled when she unwrapped the gift on Christmas. “It was fun to see my mom's face when she first found Aunt Sara Lea!”

Last December, Juan Baldonado of Los Alamos pulled the very same coffee mug out of his Christmas stocking. “Holy cow, there’s Grampa Paiz!” he said when he recognized Samuel Paiz sandwiched between two of the most famous Manhattan Project figures, Lt. General Leslie Groves and J.R. Oppenheimer.

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His wife, Kathleen, had purchased the coffee cup at Gadgets, having recognized Grampa Paiz from his picture in the Laboratory’s 60th anniversary book, “Science in the National Interest.”

“The only history of Samuel Paiz working at Los Alamos I know of was driving a truck. He probably was hauling building materials up the hill in support of the project,” Juan says.

After the holidays, Juan hurried into Gadgets to buy four coffee cups to send to his cousins, the great-grandchildren of Samuel Paiz.

“One of the cousins knew — but not till way later — that Grampa Paiz worked at Los Alamos. He knew his great-grandfather drove a truck and that he never spoke a word about his work at the Secret City until many years later,” Juan says. “Grampa Paiz worked his farm/ranch (in Mora, New Mexico) till he was thrown from his horse at 103 years old.”

READ ON TO SEE HOW TO BUY THIS COFFEE CUP AND GET 10% DISCOUNTS!


Shop Gadgets online for science-themed gear, support education outreach


Gadgets, the Bradbury Science Museum gift shop, has gone online. The store offers shipping as well as curbside pickup in Los Alamos.

Order online anytime, and pick up Mondays and Thursdays between 10 a.m. and noon. Items ship Monday through Thursday.

Discounts!

In celebration of the Manhattan Project National Historic Park anniversary, you’ll get a 10% discount on park merchandise at Gadgets Nov. 9-15. Use the code MAPR10. Shop online. Or shop in person Nov. 13, 10 a.m.-noon, at the Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce.

Gadgets is run by the Bradbury Science Museum Association (BSMA), and profits and donations are used to help support STEM education in Northern New Mexico. BSMA members enjoy 10% discounts all year long on all merchandise. Join today!

For your shopping list

Gadgets has books, toys, puzzles and souvenirs for every age. Apparel featuring the LANL and Manhattan Project National Historic Park logos come in sizes ranging from women’s XS to men’s 3XL. Don’t know the right size — or not sure what to get? The shop now also offers e-gift cards.

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Wooden ornament with Manhattan Project National Historical Park logo laser-etched on one side, and Los Alamos, NM, on the other side.

 

 

 

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Blank notebook with Fat Man bomb embossed on front cover.

 

 

 

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11-ounce ceramic mug with select Manhattan Project scientist ID photos.