Bob Collins, 18, and the secret race through wartime Europe in May 1945

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Not that spring didn't come that May, warm and beautiful as it is now. The first rays of morning slanted in the window, bringing the full-throated music of songbirds and the forgotten scent of blossoms.

At last, the winter of 1945 was in ashes, and the war in Europe with it. In the camps outside town, corpses were piled in mounds, like rubble. In the cities, bricks of bombed-out buildings were stacked neatly along the sidewalks, ready to be put back together.

But to Bob Collins, an 18-year-old bazooka man from the Bronx, it felt like intermission. They waited, fielding softball games to pass the time.

There was no road map to where the 1269th Combat Engineers were going, no bound volume on the shelf telling what would happen next.

No, the story would be written in installments as they went —- hurried letters home from "Somewhere in Germany," vague dispatches from a race to find something very specific they couldn't name, the top of all top secrets. And even if they did name it, who would have heard of it...

[Story includes video interview with Collins.]

[HNN Editor: The secret? It was to find out if Hitler had developed an atomic bomb.]

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