The Rasmussen wedding in Santa Fe, November 1945. Courtesy/Los Alamos Historical Society
By Heather McClenahan
Los Alamos Historical Society
In July 1945, Jane Keller and Roger Rasmussen, young and in love, each had a secret that they didn’t tell. It was the same secret, but they would not know that until early August.
After the outbreak of World War II, Jane Keller left her home in Pennsylvania at age 20 to join the Women’s Army Corp. She was assigned to Los Alamos in 1944 to work the telephone switchboard, in part because of her past experience of working for Bell Telephone. The top-secret laboratory site had only six pages of phone numbers, but calls came through night and day, especially when five additional lines were added for the U.S. Army.
Eleanor “Jerry” Roensch, a friend of Jane’s and a co-operator, recalled the chaos of the switchboard in her memoir: “New personnel arrived regularly and clogged our lines more and more… All was confusion. Tempers were short; delays were long.” Jane was known to sometimes yell over the switchboard at a certain scientist who insisted on being connected to a particular telephone number—his own number!
On the morning of July 16, 1945, Jane was working the switchboard and connected the call that let laboratory personnel who were not at the Trinity test know of its success.
In the meantime, Roger was having his own Manhattan Project experience. A member of the Special Engineer Detachment (SEDs), Roger spent long hours working—and even sleeping on a cot—in the laboratory, but on the morning of July 13 he was walking toward the laboratory when a military vehicle pulled up beside him and told him to report very early the next morning. He and five other SEDs, whom he had never met and never saw again, were transported through Santa Fe before anybody was awake and on to Trinity Site. They went straight through with only one bathroom break and no food breaks.
No one told the SEDs anything about what they were doing until they were settled in the Oscuro Mountains, about six miles from ground zero. They slept under the truck during an unexpected rain storm that delayed the test. After the explosion, the group returned to Los Alamos, and they were told not to say a word to anyone.
Roger recalled, “Here I was, invited to the greatest show on earth and couldn’t tell anybody.” The couple’s son, Greg Rasmussen, recalls that “apparently, mom knew what had happened from being on the switchboard, but neither said anything to each other until after Hiroshima was bombed.”
Jane and Roger married in November 1945 in Santa Fe. They stayed in Los Alamos for their post-war careers, where Jane worked on the MANIAC II computer and other computing systems and Roger worked on various physics and electronics projects. Both remained active in church and community organizations until they passed away, Jane in 2008 and Roger nine years later.
In 2017, the Los Alamos High School Robotics Club named its competitive robot “Rasmussen” in honor of Jane. “Jane Rasmussen was not necessarily in the limelight, but she contributed in an important and different way,” Andrew Erickson, the robotics club leader, said at the time. “We chose someone outside the mainstream and celebrated her diversity.”
For more information about Roger Rasmussen’s experiences in the Manhattan Project and at Trinity, see his Manhattan Project Voices interview.