Obituary: Edward M. Halluska / Machinist helped build nuclear bomb

Feb. 23, 1919 - Dec. 3, 2013

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Edward M. Halluska survived the lax uranium safeguards in the Manhattan Project, two bouts with cancer and one nasty ocean cruise -- offset by hundreds of good ones -- in achieving a long, vigorous life in which he was still doing 80 pushups after eight decades.

He was a Westinghouse Electric Co. machinist in his mid-20s when drafted by the Army and sent to Los Alamos, N.M., to help build the nuclear bomb that would be dropped on Hiroshima in August 1945.

More than 60 years later, the government compensated Mr. Halluska, and many others, with more than $100,000 for exposure that may have caused harm to the early workers recruited to advance atomic energy. By then, he had survived cancer twice, retired from Westinghouse as a supervisor and become an expert bridge player hired by cruise lines to teach the game aboard ships traveling the globe.

Mr. Halluska died Tuesday at the William Penn Care Center in Jeannette after a series of health problems during the past year. Even at age 94, the Monroeville resident had battled his ailments and remained a member of a fitness club to exercise whenever possible.

"He was as sharp as a tack until the day he died," said Helen Halluska, his wife of 71 years, with whom he was still taking round-the-world cruises as recently as 2012.

They took more than 300 cruises in all, most of them with Mr. Halluska employed to help entertain and educate passengers through the game of bridge. He had never played the game until his wife gave him a book about it, and he parlayed his passion for competition and a photographic memory of the cards into becoming a certified life master.

The Halluskas would spend months every year traveling the world, with free cruise travel for the couple essentially the payment for Mr. Halluska's services aboard ship. Once she got over her initial sea sickness, they loved it, while being able to decorate their home with carvings from Africa, dolls from the Far East and an abundance of other global mementos.

For Mr. Halluska, it was a far distance on multiple levels from growing up in East Pittsburgh with his father as the police chief. He was working for Westinghouse at the time the U.S. entered World War II, and the Army saw more need for his trade skills as a tool-and-die maker than for anything he might have done in combat.

The Manhattan Project was shrouded in such secrecy, however, that when told he would be working on it in 1945, he and his wife assumed he was headed to New York. Instead, the work was being done in the desert Southwest, where Mr. Halluska would be locked alone in a room with a lathe to manufacture internal components of what would become known as "Little Boy."

Initially, he knew little of what was to be created, though he knew the work was serious because of sparks that would come from the metal he was grinding into precise shapes. He was provided rubber globes and overalls as his protection against the uranium.

Mr. Halluska forever retained a letter sent to him after the war ended -- with the help of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima -- from Los Alamos National Laboratory head J. Robert Oppenheimer. It read: "Besides doing the work of your trade in an able manner, your work with special metals, requiring unusual precautions against loss or damage, was carried out in a manner to be commended."

No one talked much about radiation safety concerns in those days. Mr. Halluska had cancer in 1976 and 1993. It was the 21st century by the time the U.S. government acknowledged that people like him may have been harmed during the original atomic energy projects and invited them to submit their cases for compensation. The inquiry took years, but in late 2007, he received a check for more than $100,000, a good bit of which he gave to charity.

"I guess if I was about 40 years younger, I'd have more plans," he said in an interview then at age 89.

He was one of the local World War II veterans featured by the Pennsylvania Cable Network several years ago in televised interviews about their wartime experiences and in a related book, "World War II Reflections."

Mr. Halluska and his wife returned to Western Pennsylvania from New Mexico in 1947 and he resumed working at Westinghouse Electric, where he was part of the machine shop and rose to a supervisory position before retiring in 1977.

He focused on bridge and the cruise trips thereafter, with his sole bad experience when a ship in the South China Sea lost power after a fire and passengers had to be evacuated following several unpleasant days aboard. The cruise line compensated them with the gift of another free two-week trip. Mr. Halluska swiftly donated that to his son, Richard, and daughter-in-law.

"He said, 'I need another cruise like I need a hole in the head,' " Richard Halluska recalled, although his parents took to the seas many more times.

They ended up with some two dozen around-the-world cruises among their several hundred voyages.

In addition to his wife and son, Richard of Stony Brook, N.Y., Mr. Halluska is survived by a daughter, Suzanne Dominick of Delmont; a brother, Thomas Halluska of Florida; four grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

A Mass will be celebrated at 9:30 a.m. today at St. Colman Church, 100 TriBoro Expressway, Turtle Creek, followed by burial with military honors in Good Shepherd Cemetery.

Memorial contributions may be made to Catholic Charities of Pittsburgh, Typhoon Haiyan Relief, 212 Ninth St., Pittsburgh 15222.

Gary Rotstein: grotstein@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1255.


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