William Jenkins "Bill" Wilcox, Jr. arrived in East Tennessee in October 1943. A 20-year-old chemist eager to serve his country in the throes of war, he knew little about his work assignment and even less about his new home. "Somewhere in Tennessee," his boss had said.
Bill was likely sporting a bowtie on his first day at the Y-12 Electromagnetic Separation Plant. He was among the first hired at the wartime production facility, badge number 254. Another 20,000-plus would join what Bill called "the common bond [of] what can we do to help our country win this terrible war?" By August 1945, their efforts and tens of thousands more across the East Tennessee site and the country made the difference they had hoped…ending World War II.
In 1946, Bill married his sweetheart, Jeanie, and began to settle into that place "somewhere in Tennessee," now known as Oak Ridge. Over the next few years, Kitty, Bill, and Martha joined the Wilcox clan.
When gaseous diffusion became the preferred uranium enrichment method, Bill moved to the K-25 site to support research and development (R&D) efforts there. Ultimately, he became technical director for all R&D programs for K-25 facilities as well as Y-12. After 43 years of service, Bill Wilcox retired.
Retired? Well…not exactly. As radio icon Paul Harvey said, "now for the rest of the story."
In his signature bowtie, Bill became an active volunteer in the Oak Ridge community. He quickly discovered that few knew the story of the Manhattan Project or his adopted hometown's role in the historic project. It's that insight that led Bill to tell the story of the Manhattan Project in East Tennessee.
Through the 1990s, he published papers and books, gave talks, and led tours about Oak Ridge (a.k.a. the Secret City). In 2002, he supported the History Channel's documentary on the Manhattan Project. He embarked on a lasting memorial to the City of Oak Ridge and the project in 2003 with the Secret City Commemorative Walk. Located in the Alvin K. Bissell Park, the walk tells the city's history through commemorative plaques and markers.
In 2005, Bill launched his most significant preservation effort, the Partnership for K-25 Preservation. His work resulted in the 2012 Memorandum of Agreement that will honor the historic contributions of the K-25 Site.
Bill Wilcox passed away on September 2, 2013. But thanks to his tireless efforts to tell the Secret City story, the legacy of Bill and thousands of other Manhattan Project "patriots" lives on.