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Ray Gallagher’s Accounts of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki Missions

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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.

Date of Interview:
September 12, 2022
Location of the Interview:


Raymond Gallagher: My name is Ray Gallagher. I am from Chicago, Illinois. The purpose in making this tape is because of an event that took a part of my life, and also of the lives of a group of men of which I was associated in 1945, during World War II.

I was assigned to a heavy bombardment group in the Marianas, whose title was the 509th Composite Group. Their job was to carry the atomic bomb to Japan and drop it over the Japanese Empire. It was somewhat known as the hottest outfit in the Air Force. Sometimes it was a little degrading to be known that way, for the simple reason that when we got overseas, we never did do anything until the event took place. In the course of being associated somewhat with veteran fliers, who resented more or less our title, they had every reason in the world to look down on us, rather than look up, because they did not know what we had. Up until two days’ previous to the dropping at Hiroshima, we ourselves truthfully could not say how hot enough that we were.

To begin with, I would almost say that to start this story, about three o’clock on August 4th would be the most appropriate time. We were sitting in our Quonset hut, just playing cards. A runner came along and opened the door to inform the crews that were in this Quonset that there would be a briefing at five o’clock that afternoon. The briefing was just another notification that we would be going on a mission. We all got ready and about quarter to five, we all assembled and moved out toward this Quonset.

But this particular briefing seemed to be a little different from normal. In order to get into the Quonset, which held the briefing, there was an MP at the door. Even though we knew him personally by name, he would not allow anyone inside that Quonset unless they showed proper identification. There were six crews that were allowed into that Quonset, along with top brass from Washington and also, if you want to call it that, top brass from the Navy.

When you got inside that Quonset, there was complete quiet. When Commander [William “Deak”] Parsons stood up and introduced himself, he showed pictures of a bomb that had been recently exploded in New Mexico. The term that he used was “atom bomb.” He tried to be as descriptive as he possibly could be in describing its effect in July, when this bomb was exploded. He tried to impress on us how important it was that this bomb be carried and dropped on its proper target. Of course, just seeing pictures of the display of so-called tremendous explosion did not impress the men as deeply as it did after we had witnessed the bomb being exploded over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

We were told that the mission would take place in a few days, when weather conditions were at their proper, you might say, best conditions over the towns that we were to go into. They had three towns we were to bomb, if one was covered with any kind of a cloud cover. The bomb targets themselves were to be Hiroshima, Kokura, and Nagasaki. The way the bombing mission was to take place was, one hour previous to our takeoff, which—I happened to be in the group that would go to Hiroshima. Two other ships would disembark from the island of Tinian, where we were stationed, in the chain of the Marianas Islands. They would take off and go out over the towns of Hiroshima, Kokura, and Nagasaki, and take weather readings.

We were specifically told that a half-hour before we were to enter the area, which was chosen, and there were hopes that it would be Hiroshima, they were to clear the area and get completely out. We were told that we would rendezvous over the island of Iwo Jima at six o’clock in the morning. Three ships: Colonel [Paul] Tibbets, who was to carry the atomic bomb, whose name was the Enola Gay; our ship, The Great Artiste, which was to have three scientists aboard and also have three instruments, which we would drop into the bomb blast; and the third ship, Major [George W.] Marquardt, which would take pictures of the explosion after it occurred.

We were also told that we would have fantastic coverage, as far as protection, coming out. But going in, it would be a complete surprise. We would go in through three ships by themselves, no fighter escort. Should we have run into trouble over the target and on our way out, we would have three of what were known as Super Dumbo B-29s. The term “Dumbo” was only an identification name. These three B-29’s, should we have trouble, would come into our area, pick us up and bring us down to the sea, at which time they would notify three subs that were underwater in the area. When they were sure of the exact spot, should it be necessary, that we were to ditch into the Pacific Ocean. These subs, they would bring us over their area, these subs would surface. With the grace of God, we were able to land, if it be necessary. They would pick us up and immediately submerge. That was the basis of the flight going out.

We were told that from that point on, which at that time was about a quarter to six on August 4th, we were to leave the Quonset, say nothing to anybody, don’t even talk about the mission among ourselves. We would be notified as to when the mission would take place.

We left the Quonset. We were very much tight, you might say. We went to chow. Our food had no taste. We played around that night, we played cards and just jibber-jabbered and went to sleep. When Sunday came along, at about four o’clock Sunday afternoon, a runner came back into our Quonset to tell us that there would be a briefing at eleven o’clock that night. 

All of the time seemed to drag. We just didn’t know what to think. Your mind goes a little numb, because you are going out on another mission. You always gamble and think of what the chances are of you getting back safe, even though everything is so-called as planned. We wondered how they were going to take you into the target, what the target would be, and how long the bomb run would be.

This is an extremely important, important item, because bomb runs, should it be from five to eight minutes is an extremely long bomb run. In itself you are laying out there, in the air, waiting for your enemy to size you up, so to speak, so they could—as far as your height goes—the direction of your traveling and lay whatever they can up to you. If they have fighters in the sky, they are certainly going to come up toward you.

Another big, important item in the bomb run is how they will route you once you reach the coast of Japan. They usually try to route you in over mountains, which cannot have guns emplacements, because the enemies cannot get their guns up into mountains and water. Invariably, the water, they know does not have any Navy in the area, so these are high points that you think about.

At about eleven o’clock, we gathered into the so-called War Room once more. We were instructed as to what our approach would be. We were warned once again as far as where our rendezvous point would be. We were told how we would go out, after the weather ships left at about a quarter to one in the morning, August 6th.

We were to take off at a quarter to two. Colonel Tibbets’ ship would go out in complete darkness. He would take off first. He would fly out at 9,000 feet. We were to take off behind him. We were to drop to 7,000 feet, and the Major, who was to take photographs in his B-29, would take off, and he would go to 11,000 feet. At about six o’clock that morning, Colonel Tibbets circled over Mount Suribachi, right on the island of Iwo Jima. It wasn’t but about two to three minutes later, we came in off his right wing. There we waited for a few minutes and in comes the Major, who was take the photographs there.

We circled Iwo just once and we headed on out. As we took off, Colonel Tibbets just held his altitude at about 11,000 feet and we headed out toward the coast of Japan. At about seven o’clock that morning, he started what was known as his climb. We could feel the vibrations in the ship. When you start to climb, these warships that had the heavy engines in them, and they start to pull.

We were also instructed at our briefing that as we approached the bomb target, there would be complete silence between the men in the ship and the communications between ships. The observation of the drop of the bomb would just be that we would observe Colonel Tibbets’s bomb bay doors opening. As soon as the bomb was released, we were to release our instruments. Five minutes previous to the total bomb run, Major Marquardt would peel off to his left, go out about ten miles, make a right, and come back over the area, which at that point should have had the bomb dropped on it.

We got a weather report about 7:30 that morning, which was sent past us, we were not to interrupt it, and it was sent back to the island of Tinian. Our radio operators picked up the weather report. All three targets were completely open. So it was Hiroshima they were after, and that was where we were heading.

The reasons that Hiroshima was to be bombed in the manner in which it was, was because it was the Quartermaster Corps of the Japanese army. Of course, the terrain was perfect for this type of bomb.

We continued on in. We started our climb into altitude. We reached our altitude at about 30,000 feet. As we approached the mainland of Japan, as it was prefigured as far as the intelligence went, we touched on a chain of mountains, going up the mountain range, following Colonel Tibbets on his right wing, and Major Marquardt on his left wing. As we got to a point, Colonel Tibbets made a left, which brought him into a water range, somewhat like a river.

At that point, that indicated to us that we were going on with what was known as our initial point, initial point meaning the point at which you would start your bomb run. Major Marquardt peeled off to the left. He headed on away from us.

At this point, there were just two ships heading into the town of Hiroshima. We followed next to Colonel Tibbets. We kept complete silence. There was very little flak and it was real low. There were no fighters in the air. The morning was a beautiful, bright morning. As we approached, about a minute away from bombs away, Colonel Tibbets’s bomb doors opened. We saw his bomb doors opened, our bomb doors opened. We kept our eye on the bomb doors of Colonel Tibbets as he continued on, and it wasn’t but about a half-minute later he was steady, straight in. And about a half a minute after that, Major [Tom] Ferebee, who was the bombardier for Colonel Tibbets, let go of the first atomic bomb in history. 

As that happened, we released three parachutes with instruments on them, which were to drift into the bomb and take readings back into our ship. These scientists were to take the readings.

At that particular point, Colonel Tibbets made a sharp turn to his left. We made a sharp turn to our right, and we were to make one degree a second. We were to turn 180 degrees away from the bomb blast. The purpose for that was if we did not, we would be caught in our own bomb. An ordinary bomb run, you would continue right on over the target and clear yourself at a mountain area. In this particular case, with the powerful explosion that this bomb was about to disburse, we had to get away from our own bomb. We were instructed that even though we got away from our bomb, we would feel the percussion of the bomb on the bottom of our ship three times, which both ships did feel, because it was like somebody underneath the ship with a hammer pounding, three loud blasts.

We had our goggles on that they had given to us. It was dark. In about a minute, the bomb had exploded. The brightness of the bomb had reached inside of our ship and just lit up the inside of the ship. Once we saw that flash, which we were told at our briefing on Saturday would occur, we looked out. And what all of us saw was something that I don’t think we will ever see, and hope to never see, the rest of our life. The total earth underneath us, the town that was Hiroshima, was completely covered with a huge black cloud. In the center of that cloud was a huge, huge, big ball of fire. At the center, all around it just purple, orange, green, and black. And it was a huge cloud that started its climb up into the sky.

We pulled totally away from it, and we began circling it. We stayed around this area for about fifteen minutes, because we felt there was nothing down there that could hurt us. What we observed was unbelievable. The cloud just kept climbing and climbing and climbing. At 31,000 feet, at about two and a half minutes after bomb’s away, it had passed us. It kept going right up into the sky. We circled this area, as I say, for about fifteen minutes. We all just sat in awe, observing what we had happened. None of us seemed to have words to express or talk. And then we observed Colonel Tibbets, and of course he observed us. When he tipped his wing and headed on away from Hiroshima, we followed him.

We cleared the island of Japan, as the empires would term it. We were right behind him. We all sat back, and then our minds start to register back to what they might call a normal way of thinking. We tried, as best we could, to put together in words just what we had supposedly dropped that particular day. Never in our lives had we ever seen anything like it. A normal bomb run would just be a puff of smoke on the face of the earth, but this engulfed the whole town.

Unfortunately, as soldiers, we did not give that much of a thought to what happened on the ground. Our only objective was that we had delivered what we were told to deliver, and our run seemed to be a total success. The only way we could evaluate what had actually happened was being in—likely another day before returning ships could get into the area to take pictures of what the devastating results of this bomb was. The scientists who were with us in our ship seemed to be well pleased as to what the result of it all was. They had traveled and helped to build this bomb since its infancy, and of course, to be able to go on the mission was a privilege in itself.

We headed on back to Tinian. When we got back to Tinian, about one o’clock, Colonel Tibbets landed his ship first, and as soon as we landed, a general response was waiting for him. When he disembarked, they gave him an award, Distinguished Service Cross, which was quite a high honor for him to receive, and certainly deserving of what he received. We came in about ten minutes after him. We touched down, and we parked, and of course, there were a lot of photographers around. Everybody wanted to know what had happened.

But it’s a funny thing was, that they might have had all the things in the world to say, but they put you at complete silence. They do not want you to talk until you had been what is known as being debriefed. You had to go to a debriefing. At that particular time, top-ranked officers sit you down at a table. Nobody was allowed to talk except for these officers. As he talked, he’ll direct his questions to the person who he thinks can answer that question the best. And when they write it all out, they get a complete story of what happened, fresh in your mind, more so than if you had told it three times and in so telling it, your opinions changed.

From that point on, we were released. We went to medical. We each had a drink, you might say. At this point, it was about four o’clock in the afternoon. We went to our Quonset. We were not allowed to talk to anybody at that time. We went into our Quonset, got ready, and we went to bed.

We slept all the way around the clock. We must have woke up about eight o’clock the following morning. At this point, they brought you up to date as far as what the mission consisted of. But I didn’t touch too very deeply in the feelings of men, as to how they feel when something like this is about to occur.

The best point to go back to would be after we were released from our briefing on Saturday afternoon [before the bombing mission]. We left the Quonset at a quarter to six, with instructions not to talk. As I say, the feelings of men vary and although we are looked upon as heroes, believe me, all men have that certain anxiety in their heart, just, “What is this going to mean to me, or as a group?” you might say.

In going back to our Quonset, we tried to re-associate our lives to the point before we were told we were going to this briefing. We went back into that so-called kidding manner or situation. We tried to bring our spirits high, but we could tell by the feelings of each of us that that waste of thought was well into our minds, as to what would we venture into when we got into Japan. Of course, we had no idea at the time of the precise time of take-off. So we just kind of tried to put our lives back to where it was. You sit down, and you try to write a letter, you try to put all your thoughts down. But for some reason or another, you know if you write something that shouldn’t be written, it’s going to be caught and erased. And even though you would like to put the best letter together that you possibly can, that worrisome feeling is still in your mind.

The following day, we got up and each man seemed to have some precise job that he was going to do, although we did not relay it to one another. The radio operator proceeded to take most of his books out and went over all the instructions that he had been previously told that he had to do. The tail-gunner, who drifted out of sight, he went down to where the ship was at. His main concern that he would get into the ship and make sure that his guns were properly oiled, you might say, they functioned properly, and that there was no slipups as far as any of his equipment goes in the tail of the ship. Because once we are in the air and we become pressurized, that poor tail-gunner is by himself. He is all the way in the back. He is the lone man on the trip.

The engineer was going to watch the instruments as far as the rhythm of the engines go, the oil pressure, and the electrical system, as far as gas flows, and the weight of the ship, and begins to go over all of his so-called studies or equipment. He wants to make sure that his ship is in tip-top shape. He leaves the Quonset, and he wanders down to where the ship is parked. His main concern is, he wants to conference with his crew chief. He wants all the details as far as what was done to that ship in the last twenty-four hours. If he has written up anything that was a defect on the ship, he wants to  know if it was taken care of. If it was a minor item, he disregards that, because the major items are the most important. He wants to know that that ship is in tip-top shape to be taking off, when the call comes through that there is a mission about to begin.

The radio operator, he leaves, he goes and he confers with the navigator. The two of them together, should we have to use radar going in on a mission in which there is a cloud cover, works in conjunction. The two of them have control of the ship. They will bring the ship in and out if there’s a complete coverage, and at any time there is a break in the clouds, the bombardier or pilot will take over the ship.

My job was to be on hand in case anything has happened to the engineer. My job was also to be in control of the electrical system. So I had books that I had to go over to make sure that anything that could occur, I was on top of it.

It seems like a funny thing to say, but we had been training for a whole year for this particular moment, when it came, to be ready for it. And yet you have five enlisted men constantly going over what they were trained for a whole year to do. They could almost do it with their eyes closed, but you might say it was not a lack of confidence, it was just a double double-check, to make sure they were ready.

Of course, when word came that there would be a briefing and assembly at eleven o’clock, I think the most disheartening feeling is when you know that you are definitely going out. All the bravery in a man seems to just more or less fall to the side, as to prove you are brave. You have had your inward thoughts, and your inward thoughts may be selfish, but they basically boil down to one thing: “Are we going to make it and come back?”

At about a quarter to eleven, when we leave our Quonset, there’s one asset of an aircrew that a lot of people never heard of. That is, when you leave your Quonset, you leave all personal items behind. Invariably, a crewmember of another crew that will not make that flight, and that particular flight or any other flight, will come into your Quonset. He will take a barracks bag and lay it on the bed of the last bed in the Quonset, just before you leave. Each man, as he walks by this barracks bag, puts his wallet into this barracks bag. He puts everything that was his about home behind him. The only thing he will carry is his watch, if he has any jewelry, and also his dog tags. Anything that is assigned, as far as Army Air Force goes, goes with you, but anything personal as far as money or pictures or any that can identify you, other than your dog tags, has to stay behind.  And that one moment in which you drop your wallet into that barracks bag and he holds it until you return, as if you took home and you put it all behind you.

Now you are on your way. There is no turning back. There are no more coloreds. We all travel as a group. We are talking, trying to hold a conversation. We get to our briefing, and from that moment on, it’s all a go, there is no stopping. You’re just almost, not mechanical, but you have gone over this situation so often, that you just automatically do what you’re supposed to do. [Inaudible] dropping of the first atomic bomb in history on the town of Hiroshima in Japan, and also what the feelings of the enlisted men were before we were sent out on the mission.

But now, after the bomb has been dropped, the feeling on the island seemed to change greatly, as to just what the bomb did on the ground. It was next to impossible to know exactly what happened underneath this huge cloud, which was created when the bomb exploded over the town of Hiroshima. The next group of men who will play just as great a part in history as the group that carried the bomb up to Japan, are about to come into what you might call the next scene. It was their job to put together just what occurred on the ground, and put it into a report, which will be sent back to Washington for all the top officials to check over and see just how great this bomb was, which we carried up to the Japanese empire.

The time in which they had to make this report became much of an anxiety, for the simple reason that the other ships would leave Guam the following day and go up to take readings and pictures of the area. Unfortunately, if the conditions were not proper as far as weather went, they could not get the proper photographs. Fortunately, the area had cleared itself, and early on August 7th, the Air Force had ships over Hiroshima, taking pictures of what the devastation was of the blast the day previous. They headed on back to the island of Guam as soon as they had completed their job. At about eleven o’clock, on August 7th in the evening, we were called to into a small Quonset. At that time, top ranking officers that were on the island representing Washington itself, presented to us the results of the blast that had occurred the previous morning.

We, of course, sat in awe as to what they were describing. They had previously taken pictures of Hiroshima. They knew its landmarks, and they knew all the mountain areas. They knew everything about the town. After they showed us pictures of before and after, we were then able to realize just how much damage the bomb had done.

Very, very little was left out by the Japanese Empire itself as far as what happened, you might say, in that town. The only news that went out was somewhat of a report that was picked up by the Navy, in regards to an unusual type of bomb being dropped on the town of Hiroshima the previous day. And to the time the report was released, they did not have too great of details as to what effect it had. Only that it had been a little more damage, as they presented, than a normal heavy bomb run would normally do.

At this point, the Japanese must have known that they couldn’t stand up against us, and they were going to call it quits shortly. So we all got ready and sacked in, so to speak. We woke up next morning about eight o’clock, with the anxiety of turning on the radio and hearing that news that so many had waited for, for three years, that the war was over. But unfortunately, the Japanese did not pass that word out, so we just had to sweat them out, so to speak. This was August 8th. And about two o’clock in the afternoon on August 8th, word comes out to our Quonset, that there would be a briefing at eleven o’clock that night, we were going out again.

As it was understood before, on our plane, Colonel [Paul] Tibbets would drop the first bomb, as far as his crew went, and Major [Charles] Sweeney, who I flew with, was to carry the second bomb.

Well the feeling in our hearts, when we heard about a briefing, certainly was very, very low, because we had already witnessed what had occurred in the air. Little did we realize but the trip that we were to take, which would involve about sixteen hours flight time, was going to be the longest sixteen hours in the lives of men that they will have ever lived. Because not only in dropping the bombs was a risk, but the events that took place, which I will relate, were something unbelievable.

The utmost thought in the minds of all the men, I am sure, who would be going out on this next atomic bomb mission was the one main thing: “They must know that we’re going to come back. Surely, they would be ready for us.”

The time just seemed to drag by, from the time we were notified that there would be a briefing at eleven o’clock. But eventually that time drew near, and once again, we played the same role. At a quarter to eleven, we were getting ready to leave our Quonset. As we walked by that last bed in the Quonset, the barracks bag was laying there, with the gentlemen that would make the trip that next morning, and as we passed by, each man dropped his wallet into the barracks bag. Truthfully, as I dropped mine, and I’m sure the thought must have occurred to others, I didn’t think I would ever pick it up again.

At the booth, we met the Lieutenant. It was a very short briefing. We were told that on this mission there would only be two targets, that there would be a choice to pick from: a primary target, which was a town called Kokura, and the secondary target, which was a town called Nagasaki. There was one difference, as far as the flight arrangements went.

This particular evening, they had a heavy weather front laying out in the Pacific, north of the island, which meant that for a rendezvous point we would not be able land the boat over the island of Iwo Jima, as previously we had done when we went to Hiroshima. We were instead instructed to go to a small island off the coast of Japan, about twenty-five miles off the coast, and its name was Yakushima. At that point, we would rendezvous with the other two ships. The two other ships will have gone in and had been on their way out by the time we got to Yakushima. So there was no more to be said, as far as our rescue goes, for the simple reason the plan laid the same as it did for Hiroshima.

From the briefing, we went to chow. We sat there and once again, you ate, but you had no taste. After we got out of chow, there was a truck waiting for us to take us down to what is known as a “line” in Air Force talk, which means you’re going to where your plane is parked. We got a little more talkative at the time. We had all of our gear with us, and we headed on down to where the ship was at. We disembarked from the truck. There was a lot of photographers around there, a lot of lights. A lot of the gentlemen had come out to the island to witness this event, as far as the crew taking off and all the prep. They also wanted to wish us well, as far as our flight goes.

I knew getting ready to go on a flight, there are certain preparations that you and the rest of the crew do, which are nominal preparations, you might say. So talking with these men was not too lengthy. I got up on the wing of the ship and I checked all the gas tanks to make sure they were topped off, there was gas in all of them. The oil tanks were checked. The engineer [John Kuharek] got into his seat; he made sure that all his gauges were properly set. The pilot [Charles Sweeney] walked the ship around, back and forth, to make sure that there was nothing unusual about the ship. The crew chief [Fred Clayton] came up and he conferred with the pilot, the co-pilot [Don Albury and Fred Olivi], and the engineer. In the meantime, the navigator [James Van Pelt, Jr.] and the radar operator [Edward Buckley] are already aboard ship checking their equipment out. The radio operator [Abe Spitzer] has already boarded and he is checking his equipment out. After all these checks have been made, we come back out of the ship and we just stand around.

The time is drawing near now, and the pilot tells us all to get ready to board. Well, you shake hands with your ground crew, different men wish you well, and you get aboard your ship, which we would normally do on any other flight. As they cleared away from in front of the ship, the engineer started up his engines with the coordination of the pilot. They started number one engine, and number two engine, and number three engine, and number four engine.

The engines were running just beautiful, and all of a sudden, the engineer and the pilot started to confer over the intercom on the ship. And before we knew it, the pilot cut all engines off, turned off all the engines, and told everybody to get out of the ship. I went on around, got down on the ground out of the ship and gathered around the front of it with the pilot. We learned then one of the things that was the biggest parts in the flight, the dropping of the second atomic bomb.

The engineer learned, while he was in his seat in the ship, that—he started to transfer gas from one tank to another. Because of the distance which we are about to travel—we were going up near the tip of Russia—we carried two 640 gallon auxiliary tanks in our rear bomb bay, because we needed extra gas for the flight. The engineer learned that the pumps that would take the gas out of our rear bomb bay tanks were inoperative. He could not pump any gas out, which meant if we couldn’t get the gas out, we had to have an alternate spot as to where we would stop, or even if the flight was to be called off.

The pilot conferred with a few of the higher ranking men that had come to see us off. It was decided we would leave with the condition existing in our ship, even though we had that extra deadweight of gas, which we would never be able to use. On our way back, we were to land at Iwo Jima and refuel there, and then head on back to the Marianas.

So we got back into our ship, the engines were started again, we taxied on out, and we were on our way. Lifting the ship for takeoff, you move back to the extreme furthest point of the runway. We needed every inch of runway that we could get that morning, because of the excess amount of weight which we would be taking off with. The bomb itself was close to ten thousand pounds, along with the extra gas, which we weren’t going to be able to use. We went all the way back to the furthest point and started on our way down. It seemed forever for those wheels to pull up off the ground, and as soon as they pulled up off the ground, we were out over the ocean.

The other two ships followed, as I mentioned before, followed about five minutes apart, as far as intervals went. When they got to our altitude, about 9,000 feet, one ship proceeded up to about 10,000, the other ship stayed 1,000 feet below us because of us traveling in the dark. We turned out our lights on our wings so that no one possibly could know that we’re up in the air, and we headed on out to Yakushima.

At eight o’clock in the morning, the pilot notified the crew that he was going to start into his climb, which meant that he would be going up to about 30,000 feet, and also indicated to the men that they had to get into their flak suit. At that moment, everybody gets a little more tense, because the observation in the sky becomes a lot more close. You are coming in close to enemy territory, and you are constantly scanning the sky for any fighters that possibly would be out in the area at the time.

We traveled on until about nine o’clock, and as our navigator and radar operator had done such a wonderful job, sure enough into our radar came the dot on their screen of Yakushima. We approached the island and kept circling it. After arriving there a little after nine, about five minutes later, along came one of the other ships that had the scientists aboard, and they came in on our right wing. So we just kept circling and we kept waiting. But it seemed that we waited too long. For some reason or another, the ship that was carrying the crew that was going to take pictures had gotten somewhat delayed or lost in the storm that we had to come through. They did not rendezvous with us.

We stayed there for forty-five minutes, over this island. The feeling that went through the men, as far as the Japanese knowing we were coming, must have been something fabulous. I personally explained the feeling, in which I could no longer accept fear. It went beyond the point of thinking about anything. Everything behind my life seemed to have just passed behind me, and there was no place else to be but where we were at.

At a quarter to ten, because of our gas situation and waiting around for forty-five minutes, the pilot tipped his wing, which indicated to the ship on our right that we are going to head on in. We had already received notification that the town of Kokura and the town of Nagasaki were clear and open for bombing.

We went up what was known as a large inlet or river that was called Yakushima Straights. Down in the water, you could see what appeared to be like oranges, which were mines. The whole straits were mined by the Japanese Navy. But as we went up these straits, you could see small airfields to the right and to the left. You could see what would appear to be small reflections from the sun on the wings of ships. They started to send their ships up towards us. But fortunately enough, being at the altitude we were, by the time they started their climb and got up into our area or altitude, we were well on our way.

We kept on down the Yakushima Straights, and it wasn’t too long when the navigator notified the bombardier that we would be going into our bomb run, that our initial point of turn was approaching. The bomb run itself would only be probably about four minutes, which everybody was happy about. So we approached this initial point. The pilot turned the ship over to the bombardier [Kermit Beahan]. The bombardier steadied the ship. He took over the ship and we started on down towards Kokura.

As I mentioned, it would be a four-minute bomb run. About a minute away from bombs away, Major [Kermit] Beahan, our bombardier, opened the bomb bay doors. The ship on the right, who had the scientists, they immediately opened their bomb bay doors. Their jobs were to drop three instruments into the blast, which would come off of the bomb, which we would drop on Kokura.

The ship was held steady. It seemed like that minute seemed to have been an hour. Because when the bomb should have been dropped, the bombardier notified the pilot that he could not drop the bomb. So the pilot immediately made a sharp turn to his right, out of the mountains, and the situation had to be evaluated. As we were going towards these mountains, we began to get flak from the ground from a town called Urata, which would be similar to our steel mills here in Gary. They have very good gun emplacements by their Navy. While we hung out over the mountain range, the bombardier notified the pilot that he couldn’t drop the bomb immediately over the town because his aiming point had a cloud hanging over it. His aiming point was a stadium in the center of this town.

So the pilot just told everybody to cool it, you might say. We are coming in again, so we approached the area again, in the same direction in which we initially approached it, turned the ship over to the bombardier, and on in we came again. This time, a minute away once more, our bomb doors opened, steadied the ship. On our way in, again we waited, again we couldn’t drop the bomb. Once again, we were starting to catch flak at a closer range from these gun emplacements down in the ground. They almost had our range now, and the next time in, they were sure to be able to put it up at our height.

We went out over a mountain range once more, but our problems start to get a little more tackier at this point. We could only make one more pass at this town, because the engineer started to notify the pilot that we were playing too close with our gas situation. So the pilot brought the ship back once more, found the initial point, bombardier picked it up, went in. A minute away, bomb doors open, waited for the bomb to drop, and as our luck would run, we weren’t allowed to drop the bomb.

The pilot notified the bombardier, “We’re not coming in again.” We went out over mountains. As we went over this here town of Urata, they had our range. They were coming into it, they were putting stuff on our right and on our left and in front of us. Fortunate enough we got into the mountain range. We hung out over there. We had a conference, the men up in front. The officers conferred that we did not have any more gas to be lingering around this town. If we lingered around any longer, we wouldn’t even be able to get back to Iwo Jima.

So our next alternative was to head for Nagasaki. They made a correction on the ship from the navigator, and the two ships headed down into Nagasaki. On the way into Nagasaki, there was a conference up in front with the pilot and also a Navy Commander, whose name is Commander [Frederick] Ashworth. He armed our bomb while we were in the air. His instructions were, that bomb had to be dropped visually. Well now, they had a problem. If, for any reason, Nagasaki would have a cloud coverage, what would we do with the bomb? Would we carry it on out into the ocean? And if we did, we could never get it back to an island to land it and save the bomb. So Commander Ashworth had quite a decision to make. He sat down and told the pilot, “I’ll give you an answer as we come into Nagasaki.”

We kept flying on in. The navigator and the radar operator kept guiding us in to Nagasaki. We had somewhat of cloud coverage, and as we approached, the cloud covers got heavier. So now, the decision had to be made whether the bomb would go by radar, or would we carry it back into the ocean with us? Commander Ashworth came up in front and he told the pilot, “We are going to get rid of the bomb. If it goes by radar, it will have to go that way.” So the radar operator and the navigator had full control of the trip, because they were bringing us in by radar and we were in cloud coverage.

We got us into our initial point. Our bomb run would only be about five minutes on this trip into Nagasaki, but once again, a problem was created. The engineer notified the pilot that they would only have once chance to drop the bomb. We would be able to make one pass into Nagasaki. We could not return for another pass because our gas situation is now at a critical stage. We cannot even make it back to Iwo Jima. Our next point in which we can get back to would be Okinawa.

The pilot told Commander Ashworth we had no choice now but to go in as it was, get rid of the bomb. We could not even carry it back with us. So Commander Ashworth was in full accord with it.

We were on our bomb run, a minute away from bombs away. The bomb doors opened, the radar operator and the navigator had full control of the ship. We were going in, and at thirty seconds away, all of a sudden out of the clear sky, the clouds opened up. The bombardier said he could see the target. He took control of the ship, made a slight correction, and by the time he made the correction, he hit his release button, and away went the bomb.

We made that sharp turn again to get away from our own bomb. We had all our gear on, our glasses. We turned into the center of the ship and waited for that reflection in the ship. When the reflection came into the ship and lit up the ship, and we also felt the concussion on the bottom of our ship, all the men began to turn and look out.

The first thing that I wanted to see, and everyone else, was the cloud itself approaching. I could not see the cloud. I was on the side of the ship, in the center. I stood up and I looked straight down, and what I saw was the cloud underneath us. I hollered through my intercom mic to the pilot that if we didn’t get out, we were going to get caught in our own bomb blast.

Unfortunately, the pilot, in his anxiety, did not watch his turn a one degree a second, and we weren’t in our complete turn. When I told him that, he made as sharp a turn as he possibly could with the ship, and the ship totally vibrated when he made his turn. As we pulled away, the tail gunner called the cloud is right at his level and the thing was going up. We made one complete circle of the town. We did not have time to do much observation, as far as the damage went. We got a good idea as to where the bomb hit.

Our next objective was to head on out to Okinawa. As soon as we cleared the coast of Japan, the pilot told the radio operator to send out “Mayday,” word for rescue, to come in and guide us because we are definitely in trouble. The engineer had notified the pilot that we only had two hours of gas left, and it was a two-hour flight going into Okinawa, and we had just left Nagasaki at twelve o’clock. So the pilot, as I mentioned before, notified the radio operator to get in touch with these here Super Dumbo’s [rescue planes] that we were in trouble and we needed help.

But unfortunately, because of the delay that we had at Yakushima, waiting for the other ships to come in, and because of the three passes we made at Kokura, these ships, for some reason or another, thought the bomb had been dropped. They pulled away from their assignment and went back to their own outfits.

So here we are, hanging out off the coast of China. We dropped down to about 5,000 feet hoping for help, and there’s no help to be had. We couldn’t do nothing. The pilot trimmed the ship as best as he could for gas conservation, you might say, or conserve gas. He just tried to play those engines as close as he could. We headed for Okinawa.

When we got in touch with Okinawa, we were about five minutes out of Okinawa, we notified Okinawa tower that we were in trouble, we had to land immediately. They did not recognize us, because they had a bomber going out of B-25’s and B-24’s that were going to head out to Japan. They had the right away of the runway and they didn’t recognize our problem.

As we approached into the island of Okinawa, the bombardier told the navigator and radio operator to shoot all flares that we carried aboard, shoot them all out to let them know that we were coming in, with wounded aboard, with whatever warning that was necessary to clear the runway, we had to get down. We headed on down; as we were approaching the runway, there was a B-24 on the edge of the runway, ready to take off. He started on down the runway, and as he started on down the runway, we touched our wheels down as he was on his way down. He was halfway down and we were right behind him. He became airborne. We were safe on the ground by this time.

As we hit the center of the runway, as far as the distance we had traveled after touchdown, our two outboard motors went dead. We had run out of gas on the two outboard engines. We went to the edge of the runway, we stopped the ship, turned around. A jeep came out to have us follow him. We went over and we parked the ship off to the side. The kid in the jeep came out of the jeep and he came towards our ship.

As soon as he did, one of them men got down out of the ship and he told the kid to stay away from us. The kid couldn’t understand why he couldn’t come over and talk to us. Our pilot says, “You’ll talk to nobody.” He gathered everybody around the wing, and Commander Ashworth pulled out a group of maps. We all decided to where the bomb actually went, as far as its touchdown point, and in the direction of the explosion. He was the one that was going to have to answer to the men from Washington when we got back to Tinian.

We stayed on the island for two hours. We fueled up, topped our tanks off. Crews went and had chow, came back, loaded up, and we headed on back to Tinian. We didn’t get into Tinian until about 10:30 that night. We had actually been in the air for sixteen hours that day 

When we landed at Tinian, as soon as we landed, there was a top-ranking officer waiting for us and he had a truck assigned, which was parked out in front of the ship. We all got out of the ship. Once again, a ground crew came towards us to want to know what the events were that took place that day. Immediately, this top ranking officer came forth and told us we’ll talk to nobody. Complete silence again. We were put into this truck, sent off to the mess hall, and we ate our supper in the corner of the mess hall. All these top-ranking individuals that had gathered on the island, were at the other end of the mess hall, and they were all desirous to know just what we had run into. But once again, we were instructed, we will talk to nobody except the interrogating officer.

When we got all through with chow, an officer came over to us and asked us all if we had completed our meal. We all said we had, he says, “Follow me.” We all got up, we walked out of the mess hall, we walked across the road into a Quonset in which they were going to hold interrogation. At this point, once again, this interrogating officer will direct all questions to the proper people who can answer the question the best. We sat there, and this interrogating officer wanted to know the story. It was a long story, and he put it all down as to what had happened that day, the events that were good, the events that were bad. Why the bomb had to be dropped the way it was, our gas situation, and also our flight into Okinawa in which we were just able to touch down before our two outboard engines quit.

The events after that interrogation became history. All the detail that could be released was let out to the news media. Of course, they let it out and told the world as to what happened.

For the purpose in making this tape was to tell just what the feelings of both crews were that carried the atomic bombs to Japan. After the war, it was felt as if these two bombs played a terrific part in stopping the war. I personally, not because I was on both missions, felt the same way.

There has never been too much written in regards to how the men themselves actually conducted themselves under the point of stress when we were carrying the bomb. I hope that in making this tape, that there can be some full realization felt as to how a crew feels before, during, and when they come back. As I once mentioned before, heroes are cowards that conduct themselves in an orderly manner under a point of stress. 

Copyright Joseph Papalia. This transcript may not be quoted, reproduced, or redistributed in whole or in part by any means except with the written permission of Joseph Papalia. Exclusive rights granted to Atomic Heritage Foundation.