Nancy Nelson is the widow of Richard H. Nelson, who served as the radio operator on the Enola Gay on the Hiroshima atomic bombing mission. In this interview, she reminisces about her life with Dick, their involvement with the 509th Reunions, and her recent experiences speaking with veterans’ groups.
Norris Jernigan served in the 509th Composite Group at Wendover, UT, and Tinian Island during the Manhattan Project. In this interview, Jernigan describes being assigned to the Intelligence Office of the 393rd Bomb Squadron. As a clerk, he prepared information for briefing missions and typed subsequent reports. He recalls his surprise at being transferred to Wendover and learning that the 393rd had been selected to be part of a top-secret project. Jernigan discusses what it was like serving on Tinian, the relationships between the different squadrons, and the atmosphere of the island during and between the atomic bombings of Japan. He remembers the intense secrecy surrounding the work at Wendover, the friendships he made, and the shock of spending time in sunny Cuba for training after the cold Utah winter. He also describes seeing the Enola Gay in pieces in 1980 before it was restored by the Smithsonian, and reflects on the atomic bombings and the Manhattan Project’s legacy for today.
Benjamin Bederson worked at Oak Ridge, Los Alamos, Wendover, and Tinian on the Manhattan Project. In this interview, Bederson describes his childhood in New York and in Russia, where he witnessed the impact of the famine in Ukraine, and his relief upon returning to the United States. He discusses his wartime work, including conducting experiments relating to Jumbo and the X unit switches for the Fat Man atomic bomb. He recalls some of the friends he made, including Peter Lax and William Spindel. During his time on the Manhattan Project, he also met Soviet spies Ted Hall and David Greenglass.
Larry DeCuir served in the 509th Composite Group during World War II. In this interview, he discusses his experience being stationed on Tinian Island during the war and working on the X unit of the Fat Man bomb, which was designed to trigger the bomb. He also reflects on the level of secrecy involved in the Manhattan Project. DeCuir describes the housing on Tinian, and recalls witnessing the B-29 planes take off from Tinian airfield for missions over Japan.
Russell E. Gackenbach was a navigator in the 393rd Bombardment Squadron. He flew on both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki missions. His crew flew aboard the Necessary Evil, which was the camera plane for the Hiroshima mission. Gackenbach photographed the mushroom cloud over Hiroshima. His crew flew again during the Nagasaki mission as the weather reconnaissance plane for the city of Kokura. In this interview, Gackenbach describes his wartime experiences, from enlisting in the service, to training in Wendover, UT and Cuba with the modified B-29s, to flying on both atomic bomb missions. He recalls the personalities of other members and leaders in the 509th, including Col. Paul Tibbets and his crew pilot, Capt. George Marquardt. He also describes his life after the war, including being honored at a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game as their “hero of the day” and participating in 509th reunions around the country.
Joseph Papalia is an official historian of the 509th Composite Group, the US Army Air Force unit created specifically for dropping atomic bombs. Papalia, who served in the Air Force in the 1950s, became interested in the 509th later in his life. He began attending 509th reunions, held annually, and became friends with many veterans of the group, as well as with other historians who focused on the unit. In this interview, he describes how the reunions have changed as the veterans have grown older or passed away, as well as how they view their role in the atomic bombings and their legacy. He also tells anecdotes about members of the unit, including Colonel Paul Tibbets and Captain Bob Lewis. He shares examples of the 509th memorabilia and artifacts that he has collected over the years.
Jack Widowsky served as the navigator on the B-29 Top Secret at Wendover and Tinian during World War II. He participated in the mission to bomb Hiroshima as the navigator of the Big Stink, which was the backup strike plane on Iwo Jima. He flew as the navigator of the Laggin’ Dragon, one of the weather reconnaissance planes, during the mission to Nagasaki. In this interview, he discusses his time in the 509th Composite Group. He begins by narrating his introduction to the 509th after enlisting in the Air Force. He describes the copious travelling he did as he and his crew trained to be a part of the team that would eventually drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Two important themes of this interview are the intense security and secrecy the project necessitated, as well as the jovial camaraderie enjoyed by Widowsky and the other members of the 509th.
Mack Newsom was a member of the Army’s 509th Composite Group. Newsom worked as an airplane mechanic and B-29 engine specialist. He was part of the ground crew on the B-29 Silverplate plane Next Objective. In this interview, Newsom discusses the details of his work on B-29s and what he and his fellow mechanics did to maintain the plane. He also describes the working conditions on Tinian, speaking of the climate, accommodations, division of labor, and water shortage on the island. He reflects on the use of the bomb, and how those stationed at Tinian came to learn of Hiroshima. Newsom also recalls going to Cuba when Next Objective was assigned there for temporary duty.
Colonel (later General) Paul Tibbets was the pilot of the Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the “Little Boy” atomic bomb over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. In this documentary Tibbets co-produced with the Buckeye Aviation Book Company, “Reflections on Hiroshima,” he recounts his memories of the day the atomic bomb was first used in warfare. Tibbets recalls how he became a pilot, and explains how the Manhattan Project’s “Silverplate” program produced a special version of the B-29 capable of delivering the atomic bomb. He also discusses the target selection process and describes the “odd couple” of J. Robert Oppenheimer and General Leslie Groves. He remembers seeing the mushroom cloud over Hiroshima and feeling the shock wave of the blast, and shares his views on the role of morality during war.