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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This broadcast is a dramatic retelling of the Hiroshima mission and the trials the 509th Composite Group faced in the lead up to that mission. The broadcast includes a speech by Colonel Paul Tibbets and a reading of a letter written by Enola Gay co-pilot, Robert Lewis.
In this lecture at Johns Hopkins University, Jacob Beser talks about his early career in the Air Corps in World War II, as well as how he was recruited to the 509th Composite Air Group. He discusses his personal feelings on the morality of the bombs, as well as the situation that lead President Truman to decide to use the atomic bombs. Beser also answers questions on Los Alamos, the targets for the atomic bombings and the idea of dropping a bomb as a warning to the Japanese government. He discusses the Hiroshima and Nagasaki missions and his feelings after the fact. Beser also touches on the Japanese-American internment during World War II, which he considers to be one of the largest blots on American democracy.
In this 1962 radio interview, Robert Lewis, Richard Nelson, Charles Sweeney, and Abe Spitzer discuss their experience as members of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombing missions. Lewis was a captain in the 509th Composite Group and was the co-pilot of the Enola Gay on the day of the Hiroshima mission. Nelson was the radio operator of the Enola Gay on the day of the Hiroshima mission. Charles Sweeney was the pilot of the Great Artiste on the Hiroshima mission and the pilot of the Bockscar on the Nagasaki mission. Abe Spitzer was the radar operator on the Great Artiste on the Hiroshima mission and the radar operator on the Bockscar on the Nagasaki mission. All four men describe their feelings after the bomb was dropped and address whether or not those feelings have changed.