NEW YORK — Nathan Safferstein, a counterintelligence agent on the Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb during World War II, has died after a long illness. He was 92.
He died Tuesday night at his home in the Bronx, his family said.
The genial native of Bridgeport, Conn., was barely 21 when circumstances suddenly propelled him from his job as a supermarket manager into the stealth world of a special agent.
Wartime security of the atomic bomb project being paramount, he eavesdropped on phone calls of scientists and engineers in Los Alamos, N.M., to make sure no secrets were leaked, and delivered bomb-making uranium and top-secret messages. He also scrawled his signature on the first A-bomb, called "Little Boy," that was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, on Aug. 6, 1945.
A second atomic bomb leveled Nagasaki on Aug. 9, and Japan surrendered six days later.
"We had that feeling right from day one that this was the instrument that was going to end this war," Safferstein said in a 2005 interview conducted by one of his sons, Michael, along with an oral history project moderator. "In my heart, I know that it saved us from the invasion of Japan and millions of casualties that would have come about."
The Washington-based National World War II Memorial online registry includes a photo of Lt. Gen. Leslie Groves, who ran the top-secret Manhattan Project at Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Los Alamos, presenting Safferstein with a Bronze Star medal after the war.
Safferstein had been working as a supermarket manager in Fairfield, Conn., when his life took an extraordinary turn. A customer at the supermarket told her brother — an Army intelligence commander — about a bright young prospect. Soon, paperwork was filled out, recommendations made.
Most of Safferstein's activities remained a mystery to his family and friends, including his future bride, Bernice Klein.
One day, he was ordered to join about 100 other men in New York City's Grand Central Terminal.