New book tells of Hollister woman’s parents who worked on atomic bomb

Heatherly Takeuchi says her folks met at a top-secret facility. 
The main character in Heatherly Takeuchi next book is a rabbit called Thorina Dragonflyer by artist Abby Rose Dunnivan. Courtesy of Heatherly Takeuchi.

Heatherly Takeuchi describes herself as the “storyteller” for her family and her goal in recent years has been to write a book about her parents for a number of relatives, mostly cousins, who don’t know much about them. She wanted to publish their story before it was lost in the passage of time, as many family histories are. The story includes her parents’ involvement in one of the most crucial events of World War II, which was also one of the most closely kept secrets.

After nearly four years of research, she self-published her first book on Amazon, a collection of stories with a unique title for a family saga, “Popcorn, Cancer, and the Atomic Bomb.” Each noun in the title covers a part of her family’s history.

“Our family was like movie popcorn: it always filled you up and you had fun,” she wrote in the book’s preface. “We had fun, yet we weren’t always ready for the ‘stuff’ that hit our little family of five, like when my mom was diagnosed with lung cancer.”

Takeuchi’s writing style is reminiscent of a diary filled with glimpses of events along the way through her parents’ journey of marriage and parenthood rather than a chronological telling of their lives together. The research involved more than digging through old family letters stored in a shoebox or piles of forgotten photos.

“My dad and grandfather were photographers and I have 18 boxes of pictures,” she said, joking that the FBI might be “a little disgruntled that I still have his ID, but it’s from 1945.” She said her dad had a number of patents for electrical measuring devices that he designed while working for the government. She was only able to find two of them but believes there are more, probably hidden away in secret government files.

She described her parents’ meeting as that of a young engineer Kenneth Kline and Mable Bridges, a Tennessee farm girl, while both worked at Oak Ridge National Laboratory on the Manhattan Project that resulted in producing the first atomic bombs.

The story is so personal she dedicated the book to “all the people who fought in World War II, whether military, civilian, American, or from another country around the world that were touched by that terrible war.”

With the editing help of a niece who has a journalism degree, the book progressed in a “series of little snippets.” It evolved that way because as a “bonus baby,” born in 1962, when her parents were approaching their 40s, and several years after her siblings, she did not grow up aware of her parents’ histories. Much of the information she uncovered was new to her.

While the book is about both her parents, the majority of it is about her dad because “we were on the same wavelength,” he being an electrical engineer and she holding a dual degree from San Jose State University in computer science and mathematics.

“I worked in the computer field for 17 years as a languages and database technician at IBM,” Takeuchi said, adding that her job was ultimately exported to Canada. “I’ve been tutoring math privately for 15 years here in Hollister, and I pretty much specialize in upper division algebra.”

What might seem remarkable to today’s readers is that her dad, who was German and spoke the language fluently, was hired to work on the top secret project to develop weapons that could be used against Germany and Japan. But many Germans, including Albert Einstein, did so. In fact, he continued to work there after the war until 1950, she said.

She told BenitoLink that she forgot to include one tidbit of wartime experience in her book that her parents learned in 1946. A married couple who lived down the street were FBI informants who kept an eye on the Kline family throughout the war. She also said the book cover states it is written by Heatherly T. She was advised not to use her married name, which is Japanese, because of the atomic bombs being dropped on Japan.

She’s been promoting the book through friends and Facebook. There’s a book signing scheduled at The Farmhouse Café on Jan. 14 from 2 to 4 p.m. She said there will also be an event, including popcorn, as yet unscheduled, at the San Benito County Library.

Takeuchi is already working on her second book, this time a work of fiction for children.

“It’s got animals in it because my sister used to read to me when we would drive in the car to keep me occupied,” she said. “She would read ‘The Rescuers’ books by Margaret Sharp. My book is going to be a kind of Steampunk Steve with animals. I’m in the very rough first draft phase and I have an artist all ready to do the illustrations.”


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John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist. He has many years' experiences as a photojournalist, copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]