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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Russell E. Gackenbach served as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 393rd Bombardment Squadron and in the 509th Composite Group. He flew in the Necessary Evil during the August 1945 Hiroshima bombing mission and in the Enola Gay during the Nagasaki bombing mission.

Gackenbach was born on March 23, 1923 in Allentown, Pennsylvania. He enlisted in the Aviation Cadet program of the Army Air Corps military service in January 1943. After first “flunking out of pilot training” Gackenbach was commissioned as a navigator in February 1944. He went through pilot training at the University of Miami in Coral Gables Florida. He was also sent to Cuba, Utah, and Texas as part of his training in the 393rd Squadron. 

On August 6, 1945 Gackenbach was a navigator aboard Necessary Evil, one of two B-29’s that accompanied the Enola Gay. The mission of Gackenbach’s aircraft was strike observation and photography. In the aftermath of the detonation of the Little Boy bomb, Gackenbach took a photo from 31,000 feet and sixteen miles from Hiroshima. The crew of Necessary Evil did not know at the time that they had dropped the first atomic bomb. He recalls being ushered into a debriefing immediately upon their return to the base.

Gackenbach had a role in the Nagasaki mission on August 9, 1945. He was part of the crew of the Enola Gay, whose role this time was to report on the weather at the primary target, Kokura. Because of the cloud cover and smoke from a previous day’s raid, the bomb was unable to be dropped visually over Kokura. Bockscar, the name of the aircraft charged with weapon delivery, moved on to the secondary target, ultimately detonating the Fat Man bomb over Nagasaki.

After the war, Gackenbach attended Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, where he received a B.S. in metallurgical engineering in 1950.

Russell E. Gackenbach's Timeline
1923 Mar 23rd Born in Allentown, Pennsylvania
1944 Feb Commissioned as a navigator in the United States Air Force.
1945 Aug 6th Navigator aboard Necessary Evil during the Hiroshima bombing mission.
1945 Aug 9th Navigator aboard the Enola Gay during the Nagasaki bombing mission.

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