Robert “Bob” Krauss is the Official Historian of the 509th Composite Group. He and his wife, Amelia Krauss, published The 509th Remembered, which profiles the service members of the 509th Composite Group and the events that surrounded the group and its role in dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In this interview, Krauss discusses how he became interested in collecting and preserving the history of the 509th and became the official historian for the 509th CG. He also narrates the stories of airmen from the 509th Composite Group and recounts his relationship with some of the airmen, including Donald Albury, Ray Gallagher, Fred Olivi, Paul Tibbets, and others. He reflects on the atomic bombings, the legacy of the Manhattan Project, and visiting some of the Manhattan Project sites today.
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.
Nancy K. Nelson is the widow of Richard H. Nelson, who was the VHF radio operator on the Enola Gay on the Hiroshima atomic bombing mission. In this interview, Nelson discusses how she met her husband after the war. She describes his experience training to be a radar operator and in the 509th Composite Group. She recalls how he and other members of the missions felt about the atomic bombings. Nelson also discusses her experiences going to 509th Composite Group reunions and her husband’s friendships with General Paul Tibbets and other members of the 509th including Tom Ferebee, Dutch Van Kirk, and others. She also describes her husband’s visit to Japan and other reunions and events where he shared his wartime experience.
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.
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.
Bob Caron was the tail gunner on the Enola Gay on the mission that dropped the Little Boy bomb on Hiroshima. When Caron agreed to join Col. Paul Tibbets on this secret mission, he did not know until the Enola Gay was in the air that the mission was to drop the world’s first atomic bomb. In this recorded message to his friend, Joseph Papalia, Bob Caron discusses the personalities of Enola Gay pilots Tibbets and Lewis. He explains the friction that has developed between some of the crew members, their response to the publicity of the flight, and their involvement in docudramas and books about the mission. Finally, Caron remembers one small contribution he made to the mechanics of the B-29s, and why the 509th Composite Group spent so much time testing B-29 planes.
In this tape, Ray Gallagher gives an account of the Hiroshima mission from the perspective of a flight engineer on the observation ship: The Great Artiste. He discusses the trip to Hiroshima, how he felt when the first bomb was dropped and the reactions of the top brass. Gallagher also gives a step-by-step account of the Nagasaki mission: taking off from the runway on Tinian, flying to Kokura and then to Nagasaki, and barely making it to Okinawa. He explains how a problem with refueling Bock’s Car affected the mission, and what the mushroom cloud over Nagasaki looked like from the plane. He also discusses his feelings on the necessity of the atomic bombs, and the tension the men experienced during the mission. At the end, Gallagher provides his thoughts on heroism.
Robert “Bob” Hayes worked as an airplane mechanic on Kwajalein Island, maintaining Boeing B-29s. He talks about life in the Pacific during World War II, being trained to use a flamethrower on Iwo Jima, maintaining complicated airplane engines, and witnessing the Bikini Atoll nuclear tests.
George Allen flew B-29s during World War II. He was in Alamogordo, New Mexico, when the Trinity test was conducted, and witnessed the explosion from far away. He shares his thoughts on the Manhattan Project’s effects on the war, as well as the difference in attitudes about war between then and now.