ENMU Grad Retired form CIA Lived in Los Alamos During Manhattan Project

ENMU Grad Retired form CIA Lived in Los Alamos During Manhattan Project

photo dimas 200by Wendel Sloan
Communication Services

"I have witnessed the death of a loved one, tragedy and depression and yet here I am at 77 years of age and still tugging along." – Dimas M. Chavez

Dimas M. Chavez, who has a bachelor's in business and economics from Eastern New Mexico University, is the author of "On My Own," which details his life an as employee of the Central Intelligence Agency, and childhood in Los Alamos, N.M., during the development of the atomic bomb.

According to the description of the book on Amazon.com, Mr. Chavez, 77, moved to Los Alamos in 1943 at the age of six with limited English language. His father worked for the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb.

"On My Own" explains what it was like as a young boy growing up and living in the most secret city in the world during World War II, and the hardships families faced during those early years as the brilliant minds of world-renowned scientists raced the clock to develop the world's first atomic bomb to, hopefully, end the war.

In his book, Mr. Chavez also shares insights into the government agencies he worked for during his 33 years of federal service, including The Department of State, Bureau of Diplomatic Security, and retiring from the Central Intelligence Agency.

Mr. Chavez has many vivid memories of his days at ENMU.

"When I was at Eastern it was still a dry county, but we quickly discovered the nearest watering holes such as The Pink Pony in route to Roswell, and the Pioneer Tavern, both about 32 miles away.

"My roommate, Ramon Ortega, was an accounting major and one specific Saturday an important accounting exam was being held in many of the campuses in the Southwest, with some financial incentives for those who scored well.

"Ray, a very intelligent gentlemen, informed me that he signed up for the exam to be given at the Science Building next to the cafeteria. That Friday night a bunch of us pooled together a few dollars to make a trip to the Pioneer Tavern. We were getting ready to pull out of the parking lot at the old Chaves Hall when Ray came down and asked to go along in an already bulging vehicle. I quickly reminded him that he had that important exam tomorrow morning at 8 a.m. and he had to be sharp as a tack to properly compete. He brushed me off, and climbed into the back seat.

"When we arrived we found out that we hit the jackpot as the sales representative for one of the leading beer companies was there and he proceeded to set them up most of the night for all of us – except for our designated driver. We then elected to have some pickled pig knuckles, boiled eggs and pork craklins as we washed it down with the lots of cold beer.

"We finally pulled into the Chaves Hall parking lot and everyone ran to their respective rooms as it was almost 3 a.m. When I got in the room I went to the other side to make sure Ray had set his alarm clock as he had to get up in a matter of a few hours, but Ray was not in bed. I ran down to the car and there he was asleep (passed out) in the back seat. I have no idea how I managed, but I got Ray out of the car, and onto my shoulders and carried him up to our room on the third floor, placed him in bed, and set his alarm clock for 7, which by now was 3:30 a.m.

"I heard the alarm go off, got up to wake Ray who did not want to budge. I finally managed to get him washed up, dressed, and practically had to carry him to the testing room and I then returned to the room for some additional shut eye.

"About 1 p.m. I got up as I had to do some work at a Diary Farm and out of nowhere Ray appears in the room and heads directly to his bed, and is out. I knew then that he had failed as the test was scheduled to end at 4 p.m.

"A few weeks later the test results were posted, and Ray scored on the highest grades in the Southwest.

"In my senior year a new craze was spreading called Go-Carts. These were small motorized carts capable of going at a good speed, and almost impossible to turn over because they were built so low to the ground. Across the street from Quay Hall, a girls' dorm, was a motel with an empty lot next to it. A gentlemen decided to enter this Go-Cart fever and either purchased or leased the empty lot to build this Go-Cart race track.

"At about this time I drove by and noted a 'Now Hiring' sign, so I pulled in and met with the man who was bankrolling this project and asked about the sign. He informed me that he needed someone to help clear the area with a tractor, and then assist in laying out a coat of thick asphalt for the race track. He hired me on a part time basis and soon we were in the process of building the first Go Cart Track in Portales, and nearby communities.

"Soon the carts arrived, and we test drove each one, and then opened up for business. I helped out when I could by selling tickets, keeping the small gas tanks full, and the carts in full operational order. It was a huge success.

"One evening there was a very formal dance being held at Eastern, so Ray and I got some dates, and off we went to the dance. We left a bit early to sip a few cool ones and noted that the Go Cart track was thriving with business. Our dates commented on how much they wish they could ride one, so being one of the builders we headed that way and the owner and now my good friend was there. I told him about our dates and their desire to ride the carts, and he took us over to four brand new ones that had just been delivered, and said fill them up and you can ride as much as you like - for free.

"Now, keep in mind that our dates have on their Sunday best as well as Ray and myself, but that did not stop us from climbing aboard even if the ladies had to make a few adjustments with their dresses to get inside. We began our round and round race and everyone was having a blast until Ray's date got her dress tangled up on the chain which was almost ripped it off her body. That put a damper on any continued racing, but did we look a mess, especially Ray's date who looked like she had been attacked by wild dogs. We made some emergency adjustments and realized we were hungry.photo dimas 600

"We went to an all-night truck stop for our favorite eggs and bacon and when we walked in it got quiet as a church, as not only was the place packed, but we became the focus of attention in our oil, dirt, and ripped up garments as we sat down for some breakfast. It was a wild, memorable evening that happened in 1959, but seems like only yesterday. In an interview with the Monday Memo, Mr. Chavez said, "I have witnessed the death of a loved one, tragedy and depression and yet here I am at 77 years of age and still tugging along.

"Oh yes, I have had my moments of despair and confusion along the way as in July 23, 2013, when my wife and I were shopping at Sam's Club in Gaithersburg, Md., when a crazed driver drove his car directly through an emergency door exit next to the eatery where my wife and I were having lunch and he hit six of us. Unfortunately, I was the worst injured as he severed my right leg off above the knee. So here I am, an old man learning how to walk all over again, but still moving forward and trying not to look back.

"I had the distinct honor of working for Lyndon Baines Johnson in Austin, Texas, and the War on Poverty. Had it not been for LBJ, there would not have been a Civil Rights Act of 1964 as he took it upon himself to push through this bill with his magical and masterful knowledge of the political system."

In an interview with The Atomic Heritage Foundation, Mr. Chavez said life as a child was wonderful "until Dec. 7, 1941, when our entire world was basically kind of turned upside down. The bombing of Pearl Harbor drained our community of all the young men, and a lot of the farms and crops and animals suffered as a result of the men having to go off to war."

Mr. Chavez also remembers some discrimination in Los Alamos. "Something that a lot of people do not talk about regarding Los Alamos, in the early years and being Hispanic is that we had our fair share of Archie Bunkers up there. There were elements of blatant discrimination. I can recall going to birthday parties, not that many but a few, where my cake and ice cream was served to me outside. There were families whose daughters were not allowed to date Mexican-Americans."

Mr. Chavez also got to know Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, "the father of the atomic bomb."

In the same interview, he said, Dr. Oppenheimer was just a majestic person. I adored him and I got to know him. "At Tech Area One right off of Trinity Road, Dr. Oppenheimer worked there, and I would station myself directly outside the guard house and he would come by and I would sell him papers, Santa Fe New Mexican, and this happened periodically. And soon he got to know me and he'd looked at me and say, ‘Hello, Dimas. I'm Dr. Oppenheimer. "Well, I told Dad about this and he said, ‘"You don't know Dr. Oppenheimer. This is a famous man."

"So one day Mom asked Dad to go to the trading post and pick up some items, which was right next to the PX, the Post Exchange, there. And I am in line right behind Dad; he is getting ready to pay for some things. And I hear a group of people behind me talking, and I heard that voice and I turned around and there is Dr. Oppenheimer and he is chit-chatting with some people. And he looked at me and recognized me and said, ‘Hello, Dimas.'

And my Dad heard this and then I said, ‘Dr. Oppenheimer, I would like you to meet my father, Trinidad Chavez.' It was the greatest moment of my life. We walked home, and Dad could not believe it. He just could not believe it."

After retiring from the CIA in 2007, Mr. Chavez became a consultant, then the director of security for the Architectural Engineering Company, which won a multi-year contract from the CIA to provide support to the National Counter-Terrorism Center. He was responsible for 24/7 security monitors, the access control center and the physical security electronic systems totaling 70 personnel.

For more information about ordering "On My Own" from Amazon, click on http://www.amazon.com/On-My-Own-Dimas-Chavez/dp/149744067X .

Mr. Chavez can be reached at [email protected]