LOS ALAMOS, New Mexico (CBS) - Sixty-seven years ago today, the U.S. dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. It led to the Japanese surrender that ended World War II and brought us into the nuclear age. Now there's a plan to mark the history of that devastating weapon, but turning its birthplaces into a national park.
High in the New Mexico desert stands a small building remarkable because it's so unremarkable. But if you had peered through it's now cob-webbed keyhole back in 1945, what you would have seen - is the device that changed the world.
'The Gadget', as it was euphemistically called, was the first atomic bomb ever tested. Scientists and engineers at the Los Alamos National Lab rolled it out of these very barn doors some 67 years ago.
All that's left now are the empty ghosts of the past. Ellen McGehee, historian with the Los Alamos National Lab says, "This is the dawn of the atomic age really. I mean this is where it all happened."
To McGehee, the Lab's archeologist and historian, there are few places more significant and yet this and the other buildings used for the top secret Manhattan Project have been forgotten by many. She says, "If they're not maintained or managed, they will go away, we will lose this history."
"Fat Man", the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, was born in this still surviving Quonset hut. "Little Boy", the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, was built piece by nervous piece in a bunker.
No evidence is left of what happened in here; after all it was top secret. McGehee says, "You really can't understand how the scientists were working, what conditions they were working under, unless you come out to the place where history really happened."
But coming out here is difficult at best. The Los Alamos National Lab is off limits to the public. And yet a bill is working its way through Congress that would open parts of it up, turning the Manhattan Project sites into a national historic park. This is going to be a different National Park experience than some folks are used to. McGehee says, "Yes, there will be some unique requirements."
For one, you'll have to be a US citizen and no cameras or cell phones either. They're not allowed behind the fence. But the Manhattan Project didn't just sprout from Los Alamos, it was a nationwide effort, and so is the proposed park.
The historic Reactor B in Hanford Washington will also be included as will parts of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. Both contributed greatly to the development of the bomb.
Even the home of the bomb's lead physicist, Robert Oppenheimer, would be open for tours. Helene Suydam, 92, moved here in the late 50's. She's kept the living room very much the way Oppenheimer left it. If this does become a National park, what happens to Suydam? She says, "Well, they don't get it until I'm not here, so I'm not worried!"
But some are worried for very serious reasons. Susan Gordon with the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability says her first reaction was one of caution. While she agrees what scientists accomplished here is worthy of a national park, she worries commemorating the bomb, may celebrate it too glossing over the problem of nuclear waste. She says, "It needs to be a much more balanced approach that addresses the environmental and health consequences of the production of nuclear weapons in this country."
Lost on no one is the human toll, the hundreds of thousands of lives either lost by the bombs or saved by their ending the war. That debate continues to this day. McGehee says, "History isn't always pretty, and I think it's important that we don't lose this history, or lose the ability to reflect on that history."
Most of the men and women who lived in this secret city are gone; what they did is already in the history books. Where they did it, some say, should have a place in history too.