Wilma D. Chevalier
WWII Civilian
Nurse at Oakridge Hospital, Oakridge, TN - during the Manhattan Project

Wilma was born as Wilma Doreen Sampson in Kansas City, Missouri, to Alpha Lee Sampson and Hazel Buck Sampson. Her father worked in a candy factory. The family later moved "to the country" in Platte, Missouri, where she went to a one-room school. Wilma was ten when the family moved to Centralia, Kansas, where her father sold batteries and electrical wiring to farm families. She recalls wearing shoes with cardboard to cover holes in soles, and dresses made from flour sacks. She didn't own a "bought" slip until she was fourteen years old. In 1943 the family moved to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where her father was employed as an electrical contractor with the Manhattan Project. Like nearly all who worked there, Wilma was unsure of the nature of the project. She recalls security as "tight, tight, tight." She was training as a nurse in the hospital where she recalls a few odd duties, such as taking urine specimens from two soldiers every hour. A guard was given each specimen. "We never knew what was wrong with them," she recalls. "I guess they had been exposed to radiation." Workdays were long, beginning at 7 a.m. She attended afternoon classes, and then returned to work until 11 p.m. She recalls Oak Ridge with muddy streets. "There were no sidewalks," she says. "Everything was just dirt and mud and it rained all the time and it was just a mess." Alcohol wasn't allowed in Oak Ridge except once a month when big barrels of beer were brought and served in a big tent. They did not have to pay rent, and ate free in the hospital cafeteria. They left Oak Ridge before the atomic bombs were dropped. "That's when we found out," she says of the work on atomic weapons at Oak Ridge. "Then when we were sent this button and certificate my sister and I both just laughed because they said something about us helping to make the atomic bomb. I said, `I didn't even know what they were making!'" The family returned to Kansas City where her mother returned to school to study as a dietician and went to work at a hospital. Wilma was living in Marshall, Texas, and working at Marshall Hospital. There she met Frederick Clifford Chevalier, a radar operator on B-29s. Their first date was to Mattie's Ballroom, a nightclub between Longview and Kilgore, Texas. They married on August 16, 1946, and would have two children, two grandchildren, and six great grandchildren.