Major General Charles W. Sweeney, U.S.A.F. (Ret.)
Resident of Milton, MA
Interviewed November 30, 1998
Concord Oral History Program
Renee Garrelick, Interviewer.
At age 25, Charles Sweeney was the only pilot to be part of the atomic missions at both Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. He was prompted by revisionist accounts at the fiftieth anniversary of the ending of World War II to write about his experiences in the book War's End.
"One day, those of us who fought the war - who were eye witnesses to it - will no longer be here to set the record straight. What, then, will future generations be told about America's role in the war in the Pacific? Who will be left to give an accurate firsthand account?"
Background: In 1944 Charles Sweeney was selected to train all aircrews assigned to Project Silverplate, part of the Manhattan Project. In May 1945 Major Sweeney became Commander of the 393rd Bombardment Squardron and on August 6 carried the scientific instruments on the right wing of the B-29 Enola Gay to Hiroshima. "I watched as the Enola Gay's bomb bay doors snapped open and the 9,000-pound uranium bomb was released. As the bomb fell free, I thought, ‘It's too late now. There are no strings or cables attached. We can't get it back, whether it works or not. But if it works, it just might end the war.' None of us, I remember, was entirely sure of what that bomb would do to its target or to us."
On August 9, Sweeney commanded his first combat mission to Nagasaki, carrying a live 10,300-pound plutonium bomb, which had never been tested free falling from an airplane before it was loaded into the bomb bay of the Bock's Car the evening of August 8, 1945. On August 9 Sweeney piloted the B-29 that dropped the second atomic bomb on Nagasaki for which he was awarded the Silver Star. The Japanese military surrendered on August 14, 1945, ending World War II. "It was as simple and as complicated as that. We had a job to do, a war to end. I never questioned President Truman's decision to use every weapon at his disposal to end the bloody conflict - nor do I now. Nor did most people then, who lived through the escalating terror of that now-distant war in the Pacific." Sweeney retired from the military as Major General in May 1976.
In the half century since the war, Sweeney describes himself as "largely silent" about the atomic missions, out of deference to General Paul Tibbets, the leader of the 509th Composite Group, to serve as spokesman and the general culture of secrecy that surrounded the missions. In his memoir, War's End, he says, "I did not doubt for a moment that the historical facts spoke to themselves. Who could question that the forces who had brought the war upon us were evil? Who could doubt that our actions vanquished foes who were guilty of unspeakable brutalities against humanity in the name of conquest, foes who refused to surrender even after unprecedented destruction was rained upon them from the skies in the unrelenting B-29 fire-bombing missions over Japanese cities? Such persons emerged in the summer of 1944.
"With the fiftieth anniversary of the war's end approaching, I found myself feeling outraged and betrayed when not only our national museum, the Smithsonian Institution, but some American historians as well attempted to change the history of the war in the Pacific. Suddenly I was hearing that Americans had been the aggressors and the Japanese had been the victims. The exhibit of the Enola Gay originally proposed by the Smithsonian - an exhibit that would be viewed by millions of Americans who would undoubtedly accept it as a factual representation of the war - was for me the final insult to the truth. To quote from the script of that planned exhibit: ‘For most Japanese, it was a war to defend their unique culture against Western imperialism.'
"I began to focus my outrage by speaking out against any revision of events as they actually happened in the context of the war... It is my fervent hope that there will never be another atomic mission. In 1945 we dropped bombs that were primitive in comparison to nuclear weapons today. As the man who commanded the last atomic mission, I pray that I retain that singular distinction. I have learned that we who lived the events of history have an obligation to preserve and report upon the facts."
Plans for the mission over Hiroshima with Colonel Paul Tibbets, then age 28.
We put one airplane on Iwo Jima where we had previously built a pit because these bombs had to be loaded from a pit. They were too big to get under the airplane in the conventional way. Three airplanes would be on the strike flight Â¾ the airplane carrying the bomb, an airplane on his right wing carrying scientists and instruments that were dropped by parachute, a third airplane on his left wing carrying cameras and three airplanes at one hour prior to each of them making weather reconnaissance of the three different cities, Hiroshima, Kokura and Nagasaki. He said, "I want you to fly the instrument ship on my right wing," meaning in formation with him into the target at Hiroshima.
Now I'll back up to the genesis of the project as I knew it. When he was called to Colorado Springs at the headquarters of what the government called the Second Air Force, it was commanded by a Major General Ent who commanded all the west. The Second Air Force was in charge of all what they used to call the internal zone or the stateside bases of the Army Air Corp and all the activities of training there. There were various other Air Forces in combat areas, for example, Eighth Air Force in Europe and many others.
It was quite by surprise. We were working for General Frank Armstrong up in Grand Island, Nebraska at the time. We had first met at Eglin Field in Florida where I was a base operations officer at age 23 when I met him, and he came in with the first experimental B-29. I was absolutely amazed by it because I didn't know such an airplane existed, and very few people did. Everything about it was new. All the systems were new. It was the first pressurized airplane. It was the first airplane that could go easily to 30,000 feet and even 35,000 feet. It was the first airplane that could carry as much bomb load as it could. It was the first airplane that could go as far as it did, for example, you carry 20,000 lbs. of bombs 1500 miles to the target. Now by comparison the B-17, which our guys were fighting with all their hearts, and in which many of our men were killed and I mean tens of thousands of men were killed in a B-17 or a B-24 which were about the same in capabilities, carries 3000 lbs. of bombs maximum versus 20,000. The ceiling is approximately 23,000 with a heavy bomb load, not 30,000 where they are further out of the way of the Luftwaffe for example, and a range of about 500 miles out and 500 miles back as compared to 1500. So you can see the great step forward that was taken by this airplane. Because I was always a heavy guy but within the limits of passing the physical in those days, not now, I flew fighters. I flew everything the Air Force had. I just loved to fly. But I saw this airplane and I said this is for me, and there is plenty of room in there, and more than that I don't have to go over on a boat in all probability. I talked to Colonel Tibbets at length about the airplane itself and we had dinner that night and I told him I'd like very much to be a part of his team. Now I had already volunteered for India. I didn't have many brains when I was 23, but I wanted to get overseas and fight and you might say pay for the training that our government had given us. I was not a fighter per se. I didn't want to shoot any fighters down and I didn't want to bomb any factories, but I did want to contribute my part to see if we could get this thing over with as soon as we could, so therefore I volunteered for India. It wasn't a very smart move, but there it was. I had orders to go on the boat and that dismayed me. When I talked to Colonel Tibbets and saw this airplane, I just wanted it so badly. I was not qualified. I didn't have any of the qualifications to fly that airplane, but as fortune would have it, he needed to have some pilots and I guess he could use some that were as gung ho as you might call it as I was. So he said, "I'll see what I can do." Not too long after that he had my orders to India canceled and I became part of his organization and he checked me out in the B-29. I was able to help him with the mission.
We had a second airplane that came in later that had a General Electric system of central fire control. Another thing that the new airplanes had at that time, central fire control gunnery is where the guns are controlled by a man in a nice warm living room environment of his cabin, for example, the bombardier or the gunners or the flight engineer. They had remote sights that could move the gun. This sight could move the guns over there and could bring them to bear, bring all four sets of them to bear on an attacker. The Navy had had this for years of course on ships where they had plenty of weight carrying capacity and pretty much had to have them where they would move the heavy artillery on destroyers and cruisers. I guess they had it on destroyers, smaller boats by comparison than cruisers and battleships. In any event, we had it for the first time. This has nothing to do with my story for this evening but that was what we were doing in Florida. We were towing targets out over the Gulf of Mexico and firing these things every day and taking data and reporting back so they could make a decision on which system to buy.
That project finished and we went up to Nebraska and it was just three months after we arrived there that Tibbets was ordered into Colorado Springs to report to General Ent. They asked him a few questions that they knew the answers to already. They had to do with security, and he answered them honestly. For example, have you ever been arrested? What a temptation in a situation like that when your senior officer is supposed to say no, but he said, "Well, I was stopped one time for speeding in Miami when I was in high school." They said, "Yea, we know about that." They also knew the name of the girl that was with him. They did a real security test on him. He passed the security test. In the small group of people there was Dr. Norman Ramsey who comes from Belmont who about five or six years ago won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He was a young man then but he was chief assistant scientifically to Dr. Oppenheimer and also the head of security for the entire Manhattan Project. So they told him that he was assigned to this project in which he'd have total control. It had to do with the Air Corp portion of the partnership of Manhattan Silverplate. His code name would be Silverplate or his portion of the project would be Silverplate. They told him with this code name there is nothing that you can't get that we have in our possession or that we can get from one of our Allies. There are no people that you want that you can't get with this type of priority. Of course, that's unheard of in the military services. You take what you get and you do what you can with what you've got.
Tibbets came back that night and said to a few of us who had been with him in Florida, "I have bad news and good news. I'm going to a very desolate base, that's the bad news and you can come with me if you want to. If you say that's good news, that's the good news." To a man we wanted to go with him because he was such a great leader. So we went to a base in Wendover, Utah which really is desolate. Bob Hope did a USO show out there one time and he referred to it as Leftover, Utah. The population was 200. It was on the salt flats. There wasn't a tree in sight for miles and miles around and it was indeed desolate. But that was what we needed for security to assist with the security of the project. They had installed a B-1 type rocket experimental hanger there which was a cover-up for the security. They weren't really doing anything about rockets. It was a cover-up for the security.
Tibbets sat down with a big piece of paper and a pencil and started creating his own group. It was unlike any other group. It had to be unlike any other group. Group commander at the top with a bombing squadron and a transport squadron within that group, and that meant 21 transport airplanes in addition to the bombers, engineering squadrons, supply squadron, air police squadrons and all the rest of it. And we went to work. They were beginning to bring into us prototypes or models of what they thought the uranium bomb might look like and they decided that wasn't the right thing. It was a long, long cylinder and you had to cut out of a part of the airplane to put it up in two bomb bays. It would take the length of two big bomb bays. They then went to a cylindrical bomb that would fit into one bomb bay and that was the uranium bomb. I could get into the technicalities of the firing mechanism if you have any questions later on. I could make it simple because I don't know much about it but the simple parts of it. Then we had to train these crews. We had to be prepared to take off with a 10,000 lb. load and the maximum you could put in the airplane. So we started training. The training you might say was three or four-fold. We trained with the new weapon to drop them on targets and to hit the targets accurately. These were filled with concrete for training but they did have live fuses. They didn't really have any fuses for this type of weapon. They had never used this type of weapon before. Never knew about it, never had it. So the scientists were working very hard on that.
We had to check the flying characteristics of the device so called. Different tails could cause wobbling or it could cause true flight as aimed by the Norton bomb sight which was the thing in those days. So we could accomplish many things on one mission. We had a white target in the Salton Sea which is inland from the west coast about 200 miles. It was by Death Valley or in that general area. We used to have a target there. There were scientists attending to it so when we dropped the bomb or the simulated bomb, we would be able to get data as to whether that shape would fly and fly properly and fill the bill for what they wanted or what changes had to be made. We had other targets on the desert in Nevada. We had as I say a lot of training to do. All the other squadrons had some very highly skilled technical men in them but they were being filled up with men who still had to do some schooling. Not formal schooling in Air Force schools, but right there with the men who knew what the job was, for example, the air engineering squadron.
We moved overseas in May 1945. The war was raging in the Pacific. The war had just concluded in Germany. Hitler had for all intents and purposes resigned unconditionally. He didn't ever sign the paper because he killed himself, but his successors were forced to sign the papers of unconditional surrender because the Allies said that is what would be. I think it was about that same time that the Marines had so heroically taken the island of Iwo Jima in some of the worst fighting that had ever taken place in any war. You could never in the world meet braver men than those Marines who fought on Iwo Jima. I'm sure there were cases of many men who were as brave as they were, but I could tell you details about Iwo Jima. It was so horrible. I'm talking about just the terrain. There is no earth there. It is sand up to your knees. You couldn't walk. The tanks couldn't operate in it, when they finally got the tanks ashore. It was just a horrible thing, but they took it.
We also were in the middle of the war in Okinawa, the invasion of Okinawa. We were losing large numbers of men. I say we meaning America and the Allies. We were in the majority of course, but there were Allies there fighting with us. The Navy was losing a lot of men. They lost them on the invasions when they were bringing the men and the material ashore. They lost them in the vicinity of Japan when the kamikazes would come out and dive into the decks of these ships and blow them up. Certainly the pilot was a suicide pilot but they loved the Emperor and they wanted to go to heaven young in life or young afterlife, either way. But a lot of our men were being killed. Moreover, we had thousands of men in prison camps in Japan. They had brought them up from the Philippines and from various other camps in the south of Asia and had them in prison camps in Okinawa and in Japan. They kept moving the prisoners up. They were all slaves and they were all in terrible condition. And we were massing I don't know how many but maybe three million men for the next invasion. There weren't five million guys in back of them after they got killed. I don't mean that many would be killed but a Marine officer told me the lieutenants are usually up front with the troops, and he was a platoon leader and he was the third replacement platoon leader in that platoon, the first two having been killed already on Okinawa. Now he was ready to be up and there were two more waiting in back of him or coming from the States. It was just assumed he would be killed and somebody would take his place.
I was proud that Tibbets had chosen me to fly on his right wing. I didn't know that he had me in mind to do the second mission if it became necessary and if we were capable of doing it. That is to say if we had the second bomb. Rather than tie you up with a lengthy description of the bombing run, we executed the mission and came back and were debriefed. I will tell you one little anecdote. Most of the time when an officer is decorated or an enlisted man, there is a parade and the senior officers come out and with the proper ceremony they pin the decoration on his class A uniform vest. But in this case General Spaatz who was in charge of the entire Pacific Air Corp forces came into our home island, and Paul Tibbets stepped out of his airplane in his sweaty old flying suit, he walked up to him and pinned the Distinguished Service Cross on his flying suit right there without any ceremony. There was a ceremony later, but that was the official pinning of the DSC on Paul Tibbets. He called me aside that night and he said he had determined in the afternoon between the time we had landed and that night that the scientists were going to have the second one ready on August 8, ready to go on August 9. This was to be a plutonium bomb and Washington had sent them a message that they wanted them to drop it as quickly as possible after the first one to give the Japanese the impression that they were going to come in series. That is to say that we had others right in back of this one and they would continue to get them. The fact was we didn't have any, this was the last one we had. Now we would have some coming out of the pipeline, one perhaps in November, one perhaps in December, maybe a couple in January if the war had continued. But that's all we had right then.
So he told me we would use the same tactics that we had used and how we would have worse weather than on the 6th and we would get a detailed briefing on the weather of course a few times before then, and a very detailed briefing just before takeoff. So we prepared for the Nagasaki mission which I would lead. Everything went well until about ten minutes before taxi time. We climbed in our airplane to check the various switches. We have a published start engine time, and we discovered for the first time that one of our solenoids to our fuel tanks wasn't working. We had 600 gallons in that tank and we couldn't get to it. It would take too long to repair it and get the mission off that day, and not only did Washington want the mission to be executed that day, but the weather was going to be very bad over Japan in the days following. It was bad enough on that day but it was going to really bad on the days following. Every switch in the airplane had been tested many times that day. So I jumped out of the airplane and I told Colonel Tibbets that I had this fuel trapped. He knew how much I would use normally and that would be part of my reserve and he knew how much reserve I had, he knew exactly what I was talking about, and he said, "Well, what do you think?" I said, "Well, I can make it with what's left." He said, "What do you want to do? It's your call." I said, "I want to go." So he said, "Okay, go ahead." So we took off and executed our mission to Nagasaki. Now our original target that day was Kokura. I had to go to Nagasaki for weather problems and on account of the shortage of fuel that I was experiencing which was magnified by the time I got to Kokura. Nagasaki was our preplanned second target and that was the reason we went there. We could not get back to our base at Tinian. We couldn't even get as far as Iwo Jima with what fuel we had left. In fact, we couldn't make it to Okinawa according to all the calculations that we had in the cockpit. My flight engineer of that phase of it had the calculations, and I had it pretty well organized in my head. It didn't look as if we could get back there, but with the grace of the Lord looking over us, we did make it back to Okinawa.
So that was August 9 and on August 15 the Japanese said they finally wanted peace. Prior to that they said they were negotiating through Switzerland and through Russia to try to achieve peace or a cessation of firing or a negotiated peace. It was only partially true. They were seeking a phony negotiated peace and President Harry Truman had said to them that there was to be an unconditional surrender on behalf of the Allies. And why should he not after Pearl Harbor and the Bataan death march and all the rest of it? Why should he not say that to them? He did, and after the first bomb was dropped, he was in Potsdam at a meeting with Churchill and Stalin and he sent them a message and said, "You will surrender unconditionally or there will be a rain of ruin from the air the like of which mankind has never seen." They didn't believe him. All the time they were negotiating or making believe negotiating through Switzerland and through Russia, just as they had diplomats in the White House while their wave of bombers was hitting Pearl Harbor, in the same manner in 1945 when they were negotiating for peace or saying they were, they were sending messages to the Japanese Army in Manchuria and another one in Southern Asia to keep on fighting and prepare even better to continue fighting. The head of Japan had been General Tojo at the beginning succeeded by Susuki. At this time the Japanese Army had taken over the country, and there was a General Anami who ordered the people, the civilians, of Japan including the grandmothers or anybody who could walk to take brooms if necessary and put knives on the end, lash them on, use them as bayonets, and go out and kill an American in the invading force and they would go to heaven immediately. But his piece de resistance to inspire his people, "Let them invade and we will have 60 million beautiful suicides." That isn't too appealing to the 60 million people he was talking to, at least most of them anyway. But that was their mindset. They weren't going to quit.
Now we get up to, fast forward to 20 or 30 years from now and we find Americans who think perhaps we were a little too mean. Most of the people to whom I talk are history professors who came to conclusions that were politically comfortable, and they said we'll get the facts to fit the conclusions. They touched upon a certain few truths. For example, Truman had an interim committee which was the formal committee that advised him on whether or not to go forward with the project. Truman didn't know a thing about it until the spring of 1945. He did in my opinion a very creditable job. I've come to realize that he was one of the most honorable and most courageous presidents we ever had. So fast forward to these revisionists who had already been teaching the children in our schools and the students in our colleges that he should not have done that because we're against nuclear war. Join the club, I'm against it. I'm against war, never mind nuclear war. A man said to me one day, I don't mind what you did but I'm against nuclear war. I said, "Have you written your senator? We're building them like crazy since 1945. We've got 2000 of them aimed at Russia. But Russia's got 2000 of them aimed at us." Well, he hadn't thought of that. He thinks he doesn't like it, but he hasn't done anything about it. I don't say that he should. I think the weapons that we used that Harry Truman decided with the advice of this interim committee have kept the peace of unbearable wars away for all these years. I hope they will continue to do so.
I didn't ever perform any activities to discuss these matters publicly until the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II in 1995 when the Smithsonian, which had had the Enola Gay, Tibbets' airplane, lying in a field out in Maryland all dirty and rusty and they were going to put it in the museum. The Smithsonian outside of contributions are paid generally by the taxpayers, by the government. The man in charge of the Air & Space Museum, I might as well tell you now he is no longer there, was paid by you and me. They fixed the front cabin of the Enola Gay and used that for the display. He said someday maybe in another thousand years they would fix the rest of it and put it in a new museum. They have as you know at most first class museums these records where you put earphones on and it is explained as you go along what it is. By the way the display was mostly exhibits from the Hiroshima Museum. I've been to Japan many times and I've been in the Hiroshima Museum. I recognized most of the display. There were 40 or 50 photographs of the Russian submarine and the Japanese submarine which indeed was bad. There were only three pictures of any discomfort from any Americans in this United States of America Air & Space Museum. But the script was the payoff Â¾ America was making an effort to destroy the culture of Japan. Now can you imagine our wanting to destroy anybody's culture? We're too decent as a nation to even think about it. We've never thought of destroying anybody's culture. It's so stupid and silly that it would never occur to us. But he said this in the script and this was a Ph.D. educated beyond his ability to learn. He said, "Or else he has a motive that isn't very clean," which means for some reason being influenced by some spin doctors from another country and doing their will and maybe for a surreptitious reason. Now the next paragraph said that America wanted to colonize Japan. The Japanese are wonderful, resourceful people in arts and what have you. But colonize it, I don't think so. The pilgrims wanted to come here for a reason. But I haven't heard any American ladies or men tell me they wanted to go to Japan and bring their children to Japan or in any other country except if there is an educational reason or something or other. Certainly we didn't want to colonize Japan. I think we can draw that conclusion. But this was in his script.
Well, I was incensed and of course, so were the Air Force associations and so were many other associations and so were millions of Americans who knew about this thing. To be sure a lot of veterans groups took the bull by the horns and brought this to the attention of the United States Senate and as I say, he is no longer with us. But the fact that they would even dare to do something like this made me personally angry. I had never written anything about my participation or about the mission. I felt that was all up to Paul Tibbets. I had such admiration and respect for him that it should be his call to speak for us. Now others could do it if they wanted to but I chose personally not to until this anniversary. I was with Colonel Tibbets who is now General Tibbets in Dayton just about that time and I said to him, "I think I will write a book about this and get the truth in all the pages so that posterity will have these facts on paper by somebody who was there. My crew and I were the only ones who were on both missions, and we indeed therefore went through all the training and watched the political scene on the side as we were doing our training and read so much about it because we were so close to it after the war was over and ever since." He said, "I wish you would. The more of us who write what we know about this, just put down the facts and tell the truth, the better off we'll be. And the left wingers or the right wingers or the politically correct or thinking they are politically correct will have somebody who at least was there or have some refuge to which to go to to get the truth." So I did write the book and fortunately it has been well received. I must give credit to my co-authors, Jim and Marion Antonucci, husband and wife, they are both attorneys and I think they are both good writers because they helped me a lot with the book. We've had marvelous reaction from it and we still get letters every day from people saying they think it is wonderful and they're buying it for presents in large numbers and for themselves and for their grandchildren and for lots of different reasons. So that's how I happened to become a writer after age 75.
I love the Navy and I love the Army and of course I love the Air Force. I love some of our great presidents who have been great leaders and who want to keep America strong. It's sad that there is evil in the world as there was at the time of Hitler and Tojo and Mussolini and Stalin, but there always will be evil. I hate war, but I guess we just have to be prepared. Maybe if we stay well prepared, there won't be any war.
The Twentieth Air Force under General LeMay from March until August, were fire bombing Japan with anywhere over each city from 300 to 800 airplanes per night times 20,000 lbs of napalm fire bombs in each airplane. When they dropped those bombs, they created fire storms. Japan was devastated on the order of at least 10 times as many killed by our fire bombs in five months than were killed at both Hiroshima and Nagasaki and they still wouldn't quit.
The bomb shook the plane very badly and we made turns in the opposite direction as quickly as we could to get away from it. I'll give you the mathematics Â¾ 30,000 feet trajectory explosion immediately upon drop, we turned into a semicircle and we were about 10 miles away when the bomb went off. We were smacked very hard on the bottom of the airplane. We had talked to some of the scientists a couple of days before and asked what they thought it would do. And one said well maybe it won't work. Another one said maybe it will blow up the whole city, and another one said maybe blow up the airplane too. But that was a small cost to pay, we were young and stupid. On the other hand, we weren't that stupid that we didn't want our country to beat the Japanese, and if this was a magic wand that might cause them to quit, cause the killing of the Japanese people as well as our own sailors and marines and soldiers, save that constant killing... I had lost a lot of dear friends already. Everybody had lost a lot of dear friends already. Let me give you this scenario just briefly. What if Truman hadn't used it? I can tell you there were 15 million men in uniform at that time, there were 45-50 million American mothers, wives, sweethearts and sisters who were much interested in that war. But the following July let's say, six months later, after a slaughter had taken place on the invasion, somebody told the American public that we had this weapon all along and did not use it. Moreover, let me just say, there was joy in the world when they used it. If you ever saw, you young ones, in the books and newspapers of those days, there was joy in every city in the world that the war was coming to an end.
We would not have landed with the bomb on board. We would have released it somehow or other. We would have dived the airplane into the target. I told that to my crew. I said, "You were with me the other day on Hiroshima and now Colonel Tibbets did a great job," I was trying to get their adrenaline going, you know the pep talk between the halves or something. I said, "Now we're going to deliver this bomb. We're not going to bring it back. If we have to, we're going to dive the airplane into the target." I don't think it would have gone off if we did, but they didn't know that. Well, I would have never done that. I would have taken them out to our ship and bailed them out and maybe take my bombardier back with me and dive it into the target. But when you're young like that, you feel that, at least I felt, you're only paying your dues if you have to.
I have a lot of good friends in Japan now, and I had a very distinguished man say to me one night when we were having coffee and cognac and Cuban cigars up in my suite which he was paying for because I was his guest and he said, "We love you Americans. You ended the war and that foolish Tojo and Susuki and Anami wanted to keep it going." The man on the street didn't have a say or a vote in a dictatorship but the Japanese people were glad it was over.
The B-29s were almost always loaded to the max. They had to have maximum fuel and they had maximum bomb loads and they would take off typically at 6:00 in the evening and each end of the runway was over the water. These were airplanes carrying fire bombs. We were on the same island and we would watch them sometimes, and if they lost one little bit of power on the takeoff in one of their engines, they were max loaded with 16,000 lbs of fire bombs and maximum fuel. If they could salvo their bombs quickly enough they could stagger up in the air, but some of them did and some of them didn't. After the war, I commanded a fighter wing and took them to Europe in 1961 when the Berlin Wall was built. I was flying F86s. I wasn't this fat then. One of my youngsters said to me, "Dad, how did you get into the cockpit?" I said, "Well, I've got a couple of people with a shoehorn and they get me in." I loved every airplane there is. The jets, the single seat fighter is what the air force guys call "hog heaven."
In 1961 the Berlin Wall was being built. The Allies had to get 200 airplanes over there right away. I commanded a wing that had 86 airplanes in it. So I took the whole 86 and the whole wing, 2500 men over to a base in France.
"Bock's Car," belonged to Fred Bock and that was the name of his ship. My airplane was "The Great Artiste." I took "The Great Artiste" on the mission, carried the instruments, dropped by parachute, had three scientists in the back taking the reading. As they were going down in parachutes, and that night when Tibbets told me I was going to take the mission, I could have with pride said, "Well, I'm going to take the Bock's Car." But I commanded all of them, I commanded 15 of them. I wasn't going to make my men work and take all that complicated equipment out of "The Great Artiste" and put it in another airplane just so I could fly my own airplane. I could have taken any one of the 15. But I wanted to take Fred Bock with me because he was such a great pilot. Well they all were, but Fred was capable. So I said "Let's swap." He flew "The Great Artiste" and I flew the "Bock's Car." They were all the same with us.
When I saw the bomb leave Tibbets' airplane, he's here and I'm here, and we got a 30 second tone signal from him so we'd be better to drop the canisters with parachutes for instruments, and I saw it leave and start flying on a trajectory toward Hiroshima, the release was probably 10 miles back. And, knowing what it could or may do or may not do. Well, I said to myself it's gone, there are no strings attached to it, we can't get it back. Whether it works or not is in the hands of the divine or maybe some bunch of engineers. It went off and we knew it went off by the flash and then by the concussion. If the concussion had been so great that the airplane was blown out of the air, we might not have gotten back.
We were told if there was a cloud, not to fly anywhere near it because of the radioactivity. But, we saw it already. It was a monstrous scary thing at first then it turned every color of the rainbow and then the white mushroom broke off at the top in the cold, dry air up at 30,000.
Those on the mission were told about three days beforehand when they got a general briefing that they could step out, no questions asked, we had plenty of replacements.
Big headlines came out one day in the Inquirer and some of the other newspapers that said, "Nuclear bomb pilot goes crazy" We had one pilot who was an extremely good pilot and he had a few idiosyncrasies but he was certainly a fine officer, well let me say passable, but he was a good pilot. No reason not to have him. He wanted to stay in the Air Force and he didn't make the cut. He didn't have a job after he got out. He stayed in about a year after the war was over. And actually he was at school, military school or technical school and he was caught cheating as I understand it and he was drummed out of the service. So he went to New Orleans and started running guns to Costa Rica and he got caught. And he said, "Well, I'm crazy and I dropped the atomic bomb." He never saw the atomic bomb. He was in our organization, but he never saw it. He was on one of the airplanes, a weather airplane but they were never near us. So it went on for years. He got off because of his claim. Newspapers thought it was great for the headlines. He robbed a general store in Texas that happened to have a post office. He wasn't thinking too clearly. That's a lesson for you, if you're going to rob a general store, don't rob one that has a post office. And he got off again. Now he went back six months and robbed another general store with another post office. Finally they sent him to the pen. All the time this was supposed to be the guy that dropped the bomb because he said he was and the newspaper people never checked it out. Then a couple of years later they came out, many of the newspapers, and said they had it all wrong in a little article about this size.
My navigator became a MD. My bombardier went to work for NASA when it was formed. My co-pilot became a captain for Eastern Airlines. The rest of my crew all got fine jobs. I was the only one that missed. They were perfectly normal.