Reflections - "E" for EXCELLENCE

Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently visited LANL and took the opportunity to be photographed with one of the Laboratory's most treasured artifacts: the Army-Navy "E" Award flag. The Navy created the "E" Award in 1906 to acknowledge excellence in gunnery but, after the United States entered World War II, the flag was awarded in recognition of civilian war production. Although the Army Corps of Engineers ran the Manhattan Project, the Laboratory remained a civilian installation administered by the University of California. The UC president, Robert Sproul (on the right), agreed to UC's participation in the project, although he didn't know the nature of the work being conducted at Los Alamos until the end of the war.

On July 16, 1945, just over two years after its work began, the Laboratory successfully tested the world's first nuclear weapon. Less than one month later, that bomb design plus another completely different bomb design were successfully used against Japan, helping to bring World War II to an abrupt halt.

Gen. Leslie Groves (center), head of the Manhattan Project, presented the flag to the Laboratory on October 16, 1945. The War Department Scroll that accompanied the flag reads "in Recognition of Research and Development of the Atomic Bomb to the Men and Women of the University of California, Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory." Only 5 percent of eligible war production plants won the Army-Navy "E" Award. The Los Alamos flag includes three stars, each in recognition of six consecutive months of superior performance beyond the date of the original award. Of the 4,283 award winners, only 1,810 won three or more stars.

Winnefeld is not the first naval officer to pose with the Los Alamos "E" flag. Commodore William S. "Deak" Parsons (not shown) attended the "E" Award ceremony and presented the Laboratory's employees with "E" Award lapel pins as a tribute to their wartime service. Commodore Parsons played a significant role in the development of the atomic bombs, serving along with the famous Nobel Laureate Enrico Fermi as one of Robert Oppenheimer's (on the left) two associate directors during the war. Parsons also led the Ordnance Division, which was primarily tasked with building the Little Boy atomic bomb. As the war ended, Parsons led Project Albert, which delivered the atomic bombs from the United States to their targets in Japan. He also served as the weaponeer aboard the Enola Gay during the strike against Hiroshima. Parsons played an indirect role in securing the Laboratory's future by recruiting a young naval officer named Norris Bradbury to work at Los Alamos. After the war, Bradbury succeeded Oppenheimer as the Laboratory director, a position he held for 25 years. Bradbury is regarded as "the savior" of Los Alamos and "the architect" of the modern Laboratory.

Today, the Army-Navy "E" Award flag not only serves as a tribute to the Laboratory's exemplary wartime service, but as a reminder of the rich history and ongoing collaboration between LANL and the armed services. For nearly 70 years, this partnership has helped ensure the security of the nation.

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