World War II Soldier, witness to atomic bomb development, receives recognition at Picatinny
August 21, 2014
PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. -- Through a confluence of events, Benjamin Bederson, who was drafted into the Army in 1942, had a front-seat view of the top secret effort to develop the first atomic bomb during World War II.
Bederson, a resident of the New York City borough of Manhattan, had two and a half years of college physics at the time he was drafted.
The Army then sent him to Ohio State University to study electrical engineering as part of a program to teach technical skills to Soldiers for modern warfare.
Just as Bederson was completing the engineering course, his commanding officer remembered that Bederson was from Manhattan. Hoping to reassign Bederson back to his home turf, the commander asked Bederson if he would be interested in interviewing for something called the Manhattan Project.
Bederson interviewed for the position and was accepted into the Special Engineering Detachment. But rather than work amid the skyscrapers of New York, he would see destinations such as Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Los Alamos, N.M.
Oak Ridge was engaged in uranium enrichment for the atomic bomb, while Los Alamos was the principal research and design laboratory. Bederson helped to design ignition switches for the bomb and later helped to wire the switches.
Bederson, who would later become Professor of Physics Emeritus at New York University, was at Picatinny Arsenal Aug. 14 to be recognized for his achievements and contributions.
Lt. Gen. Patricia McQuistion, Deputy Commanding General of the U.S. Army Materiel Command, was on hand to induct Bederson into the Ordnance Order of Samuel Sharpe.
The purpose of the Ordnance Order of Samuel Sharpe is to recognize individuals who have served the United States Army Ordnance Corps with demonstrated integrity, moral character and professional competence over a sustained period of time.
Also, whose selfless contributions to the Corps stand out in the eyes of their seniors, peers and subordinates.
"What an honor it is to be here today," McQuistion said in her opening remarks.
"It is nice every once in a while to stop and take a look in our rear view mirror and see those giants upon whose shoulders we stand, and that is what this is about today," the general later added.
Bederson expressed gratitude for induction into the ordnance order and reflected on his military experience.
"In a way it represents a bookend to my life, starting with World War II, and this is a very pleasant and wonderful way to end my relation with the Army," he said.
"It makes me again remember how wonderful this country really is to think that this could happen to me," he added.
Bederson said that while we are in a period of doubt and uncertainty in the world, "They remind me of my former life in the Army and my present existence in this wonderful country."
Noting Bederson's reference to the award as a bookend, McQuistion told him that he was a Soldier for life and would always be part of the Army, adding with humor that he might be needed back at some time.
According the website of the U.S. Army Ordnance Corp Association, Samuel Sharpe participated in the government of the Massachusetts Bay Colonies and was charged in 1628 with the care of "five pieces of Ordnance that belonged to the colony." Sharpe was later designated a "Master Gunner of Ordnance."