Alexandra Levy: I’m Alexandra Levy with the Atomic Heritage Foundation. We’re here on September 13, 2018, in Chantilly, Virginia with Robert Krauss. My first question is to, please, say your name and to spell it.
Bob Krauss: Robert Krauss. R-O-B-E-R-T K-R-A-U-S-S.
Levy: If you could tell us a little bit about your life and career, and your involvement in the 509th Composite Group.
Krauss: Sure. I was born in the Bronx in 1943. In 1961, I left to go to college in Illinois. I was following a career in biology. I actually wanted to be a forester, and that kind of just fell through. I needed to work when I was in college. I got a job, and I was working for most of my life in manufacturing. I worked as a materials manager, a purchasing agent, a supervisor, all, again, in heavy industry. Iron castings, steel fabrication, that sort of thing.
One of my jobs—they’ve always been high-pressure jobs. One of my jobs was fifty miles from home. What I would do during the lunch hour, I would go to the library and I was reading books on World War II. I was fascinated by the book Enola Gay by [Max] Morgan-Witts, and I just wanted to do more research. There were some questions in the book as to how many planes were used on the mission and so on. I just thought, “Well, these fellows are still alive.” I had done some family research on World War II history on my own family and my wife’s family. I thought, “Gee, I’m going to see if I could find these fellows, and just try to learn more about what they did.”
This was the middle 1980s. Back at that time, the men were getting hate mail and hate phone calls at the anniversary of the bombing. I found out that it wasn’t really very easy to find the men. But if you had the confidence of one man, he would then pass you on to the next person.
The first person I found was George Caron. George was a tail gunner on the Enola Gay, and he was somewhat public. You could find him, because he was a member, at that time, of the Commemorative Air Force and he was going to air shows with FIFI, the B-29, during the summer months.
I found George, and George was kind enough to pass me onto Ray Gallagher. Ray Gallagher was the assistant flight engineer on what was later called The Great Artiste and then also on the Bockscar for the August 9 mission. Ray really befriended me. He and I became very close friends. Between the two of them, I slowly, but surely, got to know members of both crews. In 1990, I investigated going to the reunion in Wendover, and it was at that point that I met many of the men in the 509th. We started in 1990 going to the reunions. We’ve been to every reunion of the 509th since 1990.
In the year 2000, a vote was held as to whether they wanted another reunion. Nobody would step forward. Well, I need to go backwards here a second: I had a historical display at that reunion. I was showing my collection, and we met a gentleman by the name of James Petersen, who is now the President of Historic Wendover Airfield. Jim was talking to me all week and all during the reunion, and we sort of came up with an idea between the two of us. We became fast friends, and we had the common interest in the 509th. We sort of cooked up an idea that maybe we could do a reunion.
When the vote was held and nobody would step forward, against my wife’s wishes, I raised my hand said, “If you’ll go to Wendover one more time, we’ll do the reunion.” I didn’t say anything about Jim at that point, but Jim was very instrumental in that reunion. He got the airfields involved. We had a great celebration out there. The people enjoyed it so much that they asked my wife and I to run the next reunion. Seventeen reunions later, that’s what we did. We ran seventeen reunions, and we had a great time doing that.
Levy: What is your official title as part of the 509th?
Krauss: Originally, it was just “Reunion Chairman,” but last year, the remaining veterans did bestow the honor upon me of “Official Historian.”
Levy: When did this reunion start and how many people—veterans—typically participated over the years?
Krauss: To my knowledge, I would say the first reunion was probably in the 1960s, early 1960s. More than likely, it was organized by Jacob Beser. Then, they held a reunion every—I believe it was every two years after that.
When my wife Emilia and I started doing the reunions, we did it on a yearly basis. When we did the 2001 reunion, we thought it was going to be the last reunion of the 509th. I don’t remember who all the speakers were prior to us taking over; they usually had a speaker every year. But we decided to really bowl them over. If this was the last reunion, we’re going to do a really good job on it.
My wife and I came up with a commemorative booklet for them. It was an 8.5 x 11 brochure with pictures of their experiences, and pictures of the crews at Wendover and stories of their experiences. We brought in Didi Moorman and Dora Dougherty. They were the two WASPs [Women Airforce Service Pilots] that Paul Tibbets trained to fly a B-29 called Ladybird. He did that when he was part of the B-29 testing program, because many of the men were afraid to fly the B-29 because of the engine fires. A lot of men didn’t want to fly it. Paul came up with this idea that if a woman could fly it, a man could fly it. They started on this tour through the Southwest, and it was ended rather quickly. But he got the point across.
We had Didi and Dora there. Then, we had two survivors of the USS Indianapolis. We had Hap Halloran in there, who was in a different bomb group. But he had been shot down in Japan and he was put on display in a zoo in Tokyo naked, and he was badly mistreated by the Japanese.
That was our first reunion, and ever since then, we always had a very good keynote speaker.
Levy: How many veterans of the 509th Composite Group are still alive today?
Krauss: My wife and I do the newsletters; we try to do at least six newsletters a year. When we started doing the newsletters, we incorporated at least two to three pages of history of the 509th that, maybe, they hadn’t seen or heard about before.
Right now, the mailing list, we show approximately twenty veterans left out of, I believe, it was 1,770 men on the unit, approximately. So, there’s only 20 left.
Levy: Who are still alive who flew on the Enola Gay or the Bockscar on the strike planes on the target missions?
Krauss: There are no survivors from either of those atomic missions. Now, Russell Gackenbach is alive, and he flew the Enola Gay on the second mission, as the Kokura advance weather B-29. He’s the last one to have seen a cloud in the air. Because he also flew on Ship No. 91, which was later named Necessary Evil, and he flew on that ship during the Hiroshima mission.
Levy: Mr. Gackenbach is the only one alive who saw the mushroom cloud on either mission.
Krauss: Correct. He and Carl Ackerman, who was a pilot also, they’re the last two crew members alive, of any of the planes.
Levy: Of any of the planes.
Krauss: Correct. Ackerman was what I want to call a substitute crew member. He was used when they needed him.
Levy: You’ve done a terrific job collecting documents and artifacts relating to the 509th. What got you interested in collecting those items, and can we talk about some of the gems of your collection?
Krauss: Sure. My mother-in-law, her husband was a flight surgeon in the Army Air Force, and she used to get a magazine called Retired Officer. On the back page, all the time, was an ad for something, I can’t remember exactly what it was. But there was always a crew picture, and the crew picture was autographed and it a World War II flight crew. I thought to myself, “It would be kind of neat—everybody’s heard about the Enola Gay and the Bockscar, but nobody really knows anything about the other planes.” Certainly, I didn’t.
I just took it upon myself. I started collecting pictures of the Enola Gay and the Bockscar, and having them autographed. But I thought, “What a great idea to come up with pictures of the other crew members from the other planes, and also pictures of the other planes.” I felt that I was fighting time, because men were passing away while I was doing this. I just kind of really made it a mission to just chase down these pictures and get them autographed.
I came up with a rather large collection of both autographed and un-autographed pictures, numbering in the thousands. I spent quite a bit of my own money. What we would do is, I would borrow the original picture. There was a professional photo lab within two or three blocks from where I worked at the time. I would take the original picture to the photo lab. He would make a copy of the picture with a copy camera, creating a negative, and then he would chemically reproduce an 8 x 10 picture for me. What I would then do is share with the men copies of these pictures. In return, my payment was, “Autograph a picture for me.” That’s how I accumulated the collection that I’ve got.
Now, at some point, you have all the pictures you can get of the planes, so I started going off into other tangents, like scenery or their living quarters. I was trading those pictures for more autographs. This is how I came up with such a large collection.
But one thing I wanted to say was that the men were really cooperative. Just the other day, I was looking through a file and I found a letter from Len [Leonard] Godfrey, who was the navigator on the Fred Bock crew. In 1993, Leon said, “I’ll be more than happy to work with you because I think, someday, you’re going to be our official historian.” That floored me, because I totally had forgotten about that letter. I look at that as quite a compliment. But the men were very cooperative in working with me.
If I may, I just spoke about Len Godfrey, but I wanted to bring up Fred Bock. Fred Bock—of course, the Plane No. 77 was named after him. It was called Bockscar, which is spelled one word.
Fred had a summer home about thirty miles from where we live. Fred was one of the first people I met. This was in the 1980s, and, again, when everything was sort of secret. He would have in his hands when we talked a copy of the roster, and he would never let me borrow the roster. He might give me a name and a phone number to contact a person if they were willing to talk, but I could never put my hands on the roster.
But what I would do with Fred is, every year when I came up with new pictures, whether they were pictures of their living compound or pictures of the planes, I would visit Fred. We would spend half an hour, or it was half a day, at Warren, up in the dunes in Michigan. And he had a summer home overlooking the lake. His wife would sit there. She would be reading, and Fred would take out a magnifying glass. He’d be checking out serial numbers on the planes, and so on.
But what Fred instilled in me, really, was the fact the planes did not fly with their nose art. Basically, they had two sets of numbers. They were numbered 1 through 13 when they first arrived on Tinian. Then when it was thought that Tokyo Rose knew of their existence, they camouflaged the planes by changing the numbers on them. For example, Bockscar, if you look at numbers on an original photo, you’ll see that the two 7’s are not matching. The original number for Bockscar was 7, and then it was changed to 77. They called it a “victor number,” and that’s how they referred to it.
But Fred always instilled in me that the Fat Man bomb symbols that you see on the [Bockscar] plane are the missions that the crew flew, not the plane. When you think of the fact that these planes had no nose art, the only people that really knew what plane they were getting into was basically the flight engineer or anybody who had something to do with writing a serial number, which was on the tail of the plane, into their logbook.
There has been a question as to whether the Hiroshima advance B-29 which was called Straight Flush, that was the Claude Eatherly crew—they may have flown with a nose art. Part of the crew said they did; the other part said they didn’t. But it depicts a picture of a Japanese soldier going into a toilet.
What I was told by Jack Bivans, the assistant flight engineer, was that Paul Tibbets told them that they really shouldn’t have it on the plane. Because if they were shot down, Japanese people would be offended, and who knows what would have happened to them?
Levy: What about the names of the planes? Were those given before or after the missions, for the most part?
Krauss: The names of the planes were given after the mission. I would say that the nose art for the planes was probably done after the bombs were dropped. The men had probably a lot of time on their hands. They did fly training missions, still, but I think it was at that point when they started doing the painting of the nose art.
I’ve never really been able to find out who painted the nose art on the planes. There is a picture in the 509th album of one of the fellas by name of Porter Richardson, who was a was a radar countermeasure crew chief, and he was a nose art painter. You can see him sitting on a scaffolding, painting the nose art on Bockscar. But who painted the others? I don’t know. I was told that the crew members traded alcohol in return for the nose art being painted on the planes.
How they came up with the names? I can tell you that the Big Stink was named—I was told by one of the crew members that they called it that because they had so many troubles with the plane when they flew it. So, they just named it that way.
Straight Flush was named after Claude Eatherly. Eatherly and his co-pilot [Ira] Weatherly liked to play cards. When they were flying a mission, one of their conventional bombing missions, they would set it on autopilot and they’d be playing poker inside the plane.
Levy: What about The Great Artiste?
Krauss: The Great Artiste was named after Kermit Beahan. When you look at the nose art, it’s an image of Kermit Beahan with what looks like a period zoot suit—at the time, that’s what they called them. He’s got his thumb up in the air, which is typically what a bombardier would do. They called him “The Great Artiste,” because that referred to his proficiency with the ladies, shall we say. Again, that was named after the war was over.
Levy: Can you tell the story about how the Enola Gay got its name and nose art?
Krauss: To my knowledge, Paul Tibbets did not want a picture of a naked lady or anything like that on the plane. knew that the crew would be famous, and what they were doing would be known for many, many years. He just decided to name it after his mother, Enola Gay Haggard. It was done just before the mission, on the same day. I was told it was done by a Seabee or maybe somebody within the unit, I’m not really sure on that.
Levy: Was there any consternation among any of the other crew about the name, or Tibbets being the one to select it?
Krauss: When Paul was part of the B-29 training program at Eglin Field, I want to say he met at least about fifty men there. He met Georg Caron there, who was the tail gunner in the Enola Gay. He met Ray Gallagher there, who was the assistant flight engineer on The Great Artiste. He met Don Albury there, who was the pilot—actually, the airplane commander of The Great Artiste. He met Charles Sweeney there. Of course, he met Bob Lewis there. Bob Lewis was the airplane commander of Victor 82, which was the number of the Enola Gay.
I did not know Bob Lewis, so I don’t want to say this with authenticity. But there are many books out there that state that Lewis was upset that that name was painted on the plane. You can read about that. But, again, I didn’t speak to Lewis and I didn’t speak to Paul about that.
Levy: Can you talk about how the crews were all assorted to different planes, and how that’s caused some confusion about who might have actually flown on which plane on certain missions?
Krauss: That’s a tough question. They were assigned their planes at Wendover. There were two sets of B-29s. They had a set of planes that were modified by the 216th Base Unit. They took older B-29s, and they took the turrets off and they put just plates over them or whatever.
Paul used the codeword “Silverplate,” and ordered new B-29s for them. They were specially modified. They had no top turrets. They had no side turrets. They had the fast-acting bomb bay doors, and their propellers were reversible.
But these crews were all assigned to a plane at that point. They did have more pilots than they could use. Those crews were put into the 320th, which were five C-54 transport planes. If they still had extra pilots, they were then sent on to other units.
Levy: At Tinian, when they were selecting the crews for the missions, in some cases, some of the crews ended up on planes that they were not regularly assigned to?
Krauss: That happened, basically. It was predetermined.
When I told you about the people at Eglin Field, these all became—Paul knew who they were. They were all good friends. Paul knew that they were well-trained. He knew that they knew how to operate the B-29s.
When he started up the project at Wendover, he called up Tom Ferebee, his former bombardier, and he called up Theodore “Dutch” Van Kirk, his former navigator. When the bombing came about for August 6, the original bombardier and the original navigator were removed from the plane, and Dutch and Tom were put in their place.
The justification to that for me was that these fellows flew 50-plus missions over North Africa. Paul knew them. He knew how they would operate. He knew they were good. Even though the 393rd Bomb Group was a well-trained unit, Paul knew that he could depend on these two men. Unfortunately, the two fellows that were removed from the plane became very bitter over that. They did fly conventional bombing missions with pumpkin bombs, but they just didn’t make it to that mission.
When you look at who made up the crews, many of these people came from Eglin Field. For example, Don Albury was an airplane commander, but he was a Second Lieutenant. Most of the plane commanders in the 509th or 393rd were majors or captains. But again, when you look at that Great Artiste crew or the Bockscar crew, you’ll see that everybody in there came from Eglin Field, as I recall.
Charles Sweeney was the 393rd‘s Squadron Commander. When he flew with the crew, he flew with the Albury crew. What that would do was that would put Don Albury, who was the airplane commander, into the co-pilot’s seat, and then Sweeney would fly the plane. Don Albury had a co-pilot by the name of Fred Olivi, and Fred would then be off the plane. Fred made the atomic mission because he had asked Dan Albury if he could go on the mission. Don then went to Charles Sweeney. Charles Sweeney said, “Why not?” That’s how there were thirteen men onboard the Bockscar, when the Enola Gay had twelve.
Paul told people that if he had known Fred Olivi was there, he would have stopped it. But I knew Fred. Fred was a very good spokesperson for the 509th. He did very well on justification of the bomb.
I have found—I have paperwork belonging to a fellow by the name of Vernon Bibi, who was a staff flight engineer. He ended up on The Great Artiste for the second mission, and there’s no records that he’s on that mission. Yet, I have his documents. I have his original documentation, the original flight orders for that mission. I have his combat records for that mission. I have his calculations showing the weight of the bomb versus the weight of the plane. By the time I received this paperwork, The last fellow alive was the radar operator Bill Barney. I asked Bill, I said, “Do you remember Vernon Bibi on the plane?”
He says, “No.” But everything shows he was there. Bibi did say he was on it.
There was a lot of that sort of thing. Unfortunately, within the records of the 393rd, you can look at the mission orders, I have something like fifty mission orders, and they’re not really complete. They don’t show who was on all the planes.
Fred Krug was the 393rd weatherman, and Fred Krug wanted to fly a mission over Japan. The guys in Straight Flush took Fred Krug on a mission over Japan. Yet there’s no record that he was ever, ever flew that mission. He didn’t get credit for it. But that sort of thing happened all the time.
Levy: I know one thing you wanted to talk about are people or relatives who may claim now that their family member was involved in the atomic bombing missions, or were part of the 509th.
Krauss: Sure. Well, then, we did a book called The 509th Remembered, and we did fourteen years of book signings with Dutch Van Kirk. One of the things I wanted to do was to make sure that we had a very accurate roster in the back of our book. Now, Dick Campbell, a historian who’s now deceased, and Fred Bock coordinated their notes, and they came up with a complete roster. We used that roster. We double-checked that roster. We found that one man was listed twice, and we found that there was one man that was not listed. But we made sure that was in the book.
One of the problems we encountered when we did tours with Dutch Van Kirk, and we did tours all over the country, from as far south as Florida, to west as Texas, north into Massachusetts—it seemed like whenever we did a signing, there was always somebody who came up and said, “My father loaded the bomb,” or, “My grandfather was on such and such plane.”
We would look up in the roster, and they weren’t there. This became very frustrating, because you have a hard time telling this person, saying, “They were not there.” Yet, somebody in their family said they were. You’re in a situation where you’re almost calling them a liar.
It got to the point, it happened so much towards the end, we just said, “Oh, that’s interesting.” But the roster, and the Campbell book and the Krauss book, is accurate. If they’re not in that roster, they just weren’t there. They were not on Tinian.
Now, when the 509th came back to the States, and the men had enough points to get out, which was approximately November/December of 1945, the Army Air Corps needed to fill that unit back up again. There were men brought in from other units, and they did become part of the 509th Composite Group. The Composite Group, to my knowledge, was disbanded in 1946, in April. They then became 58th Bomb Wing 509th. But the word “Composite Group”, at that point, was dropped.
Levy: For people who don’t know—you mentioned the 393rd and the 320th. What were all those in relation to the 509th?
Krauss: These were individual units that comprised the 509th. You had the 603rd Air Engineering. You had the 1st Ordnance Special Aviation. The 393rd Bomb Group was the nucleus; they were the planes. The 320th was the transport division. Each of these units had their own specialties. The 603rd Air Engineering, these were people that would have been mechanics. They would be fixing plane parts or fixing gauges that were in the plane. The 1st Ordnance Special Aviation, these were the fellows that would lower the tail gun on the plane. They would work on the machine gun. They would load the bombs, because the 509th did practice with 500 pound bombs. They also went out on pumpkin missions with 10,000 pound bombs loaded with Torpex.
When you look at the nose art on the planes, again, you’ll see a black fat man. That fat man was for each mission the crew flew. If they participated in an atomic mission, they would get a red fat man. That fat man sort of looks like—if you haven’t it—it sort of looks like Alfred Hitchcock, from the side view.
Levy: The combat missions were using the pumpkin bombs. Those were done over Japan. Were they meant as practice for the atomic bomb missions?
Krauss: Yes, that’s correct. Right. Originally, the 509th was training, and the reason they had all these crews, they were going to drop atomic bombs on Germany. The only trouble was that they couldn’t develop the atomic bomb before Germany surrendered. The fact that Germany surrendered in May, and the atomic bomb was tested at the Trinity Site in July, that basically saved Germany.
But these men were highly trained in the 393rd. Again, that was the nucleus of the crews, and those crews were assigned to Wendover. They were trained by a fellow by the name of Tom Classen, and Tom Classen is an unsung hero in the 509th. Not a lot of people know him or recognize his name, but Tom received a Distinguished Service Cross before Paul got his. Paul got the Distinguished Service Cross for the Hiroshima Mission; Tom Classen got his over Bougainville.
He actually was in a firefight his B-17 with Japanese fighters. He landed in the water, and his crew survived for many, many days in the water. I’m not looking at the reference on this so I can’t say how long it was but it was at least several weeks. They finally ended up on an island in the Solomons, and they were eventually rescued. I think Tom and several others took off in a boat, and they ended up finding an air base and getting their men off the island. But that’s how Tom received his.
But he really trained these men quite well. They were all young. They were all in their twenties. They’re flying a million-dollar airplane, and they all felt that they could drop an atomic bomb—possibly even better than some of the other crews.
Levy: Most of them didn’t know that they were—until after the atomic bomb missions—what it was that they would be dropping. Besides Tibbets, is that correct?
Krauss: They were told they couldn’t talk. There is a truism that if they did talk, they were sent to Alaska, somewhere. That actually did happen.
There were people that were able to figure out what was going on. Fred Bock told me he was one of them, because he recognized the names of some of the scientists that were in Project Alberta, which was basically a unit that was attached to the 509th. It was fifty-four scientists who final assembled the bomb on Tinian.
Fred Bock recognized some of their names, but they didn’t dare talk about it. Because if they talked about it, they had the potential of being sent out of the unit. When they were formed at Wendover, Paul, right away, stood up on a truck and he told the guys, “You’re going to be on a mission that’s going to win the war, and you just can’t talk about it. What you see here, let it stay here,” that sort of thing. They were immediately given two weeks furlough. Some of the men were furloughed home and were checked on, and some of them did open their mouths and talked. They got a real talking-to from Tibbets when they came back to base.
Levy: Wow. Can you talk about some of the 509th veterans that you knew? You mentioned that you were good friends with Fred Bock and a few others.
Krauss: Sure. Over the years, we probably met at least 300 of the veterans, over all the reunions. I became very close to some of the fellows. Two of them I became close to, the first one was Ray Gallagher, and there are interviews are very out there, which you can watch. I believe there a tape on your website of Ray talking.
Ray is what I would call “the common man.” He was not highly educated, but Ray gave me the perspective in the beginning. He said, “War—,” and he calls it in his video with the Greenwich Workshop—“War is a monster, and it had to be stopped.”
Basically, Ray told me, he said, “To fully understand this, so, if you’re going to argue Monday Morning Quarterback the atomic bomb, you have to understand. You have to live those times.” That’s what Ray did. In his video, he’s sitting around a table with his family. He’s talking about how this brother was in the Navy, and this brother might have been in the Army, and how they would walk down the street and see the flags in the window of the deceased, the red star and the blue star. Red star, I think it was they were in the service, and I think blue star—no, gold star was deceased. That’s right.
Ray really put it in a perspective for me, and he was just quite a nice guy. We corresponded, and saw each other at the reunions. Ray was given dispensation by Paul Tibbets to be in the 393rd. He’s another one of the Eglin Field fellows. Ray wore eyeglasses. You weren’t supposed to be in the Army Air Force with glasses, but Ray wore glasses. In all the pictures you see of him—except for in our book, we do have a picture of him with the glasses on—you won’t see him wearing the glasses.
But towards the end of his life, one day, I called home, was talking to my wife, and she said, “You just got a package in the mail.”
I said, “Really? What is it?”
She said, “It’s from Ray Gallagher, and it’s a pair of glasses.” He sent the glasses that he wore in the mission, which are very special to me.
The other one that’s special to me is Don Albury. We did book signings with Ray Gallagher, but we also did books sessions with Don Albury. Don was just really a great fellow. He was very loyal to Charles Sweeney. I know there were comments over the years that there were other people that might have done a better job on that second mission than what they did, but Don was always defensive of what they did and that it was successful.
One night, we were at a book signing. One night, we were at dinner and we were sitting there, casually talking. [00:39:00] Don says to me, “You know, Bob, I still have my flight suit.”
I said, “Really?”
He said, “Yeah.”
I said, “Where is it?”
He said, “It’s hanging in my garage.” He says, “Do you want it?”
I said, “Sure!” I said, “I’ll be a proud owner, and I’ll take really good care of it.” He gave me the flight suit and the hat that he wore on both missions. We framed it and when we do book-signing events or shows, we take that flight suit along. Now, that was given to me.
Sort of a long story, but we ended up purchasing the flight suit that Paul Tibbets wore on the first mission. In fact, as near as we can tell, the Distinguished Service Cross is still in the same position that General [Carl] Spaatz put on the uniform when Paul got off the plane.
I think what probably happened was that Paul just rolled up that uniform and put it in his footlocker, and it stayed there up until the 1970s when it was donated to a traveling museum. The owner of the museum died, and the widow eventually put the flight suit up for sale, and I was fortunate enough to be able to buy it. With it, I’ve been able to put together a binder of provenance on that flight suit. We do know it flew the mission. In fact, we actually have pictures of Paul wearing that suit in his office at Executive Jet Aviation. We’ve taken that with the Albury flight suit, and we display it.
Don also thought a lot of me. He had a brother who was killed over France. He was in a B-25, he was on a mission—and it’s a famous picture, you can look it up—his plan was shot in the engine area. You can see the plane going down, and the engine is just spinning off on its own. Don thought enough of me to give me his brother’s Purple Heart and his Air Medal. We also have that in our possession, and we take that to shows as well.
We’ve been to his brother’s gravesite. When the war was over, they recovered the remains of the crew. And they are buried in the Zachary Taylor Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky, and we visit there from time to time. Very sad site. The area that he’s buried in, there are many flight crews, and it’s really sad to walk in this area and see five, six, seven, eight names, all in a common grave.
But Don was another one, and you’ll see that in a taped interview by him where he said, “The war, they just wanted to stop the fighting. They wanted to stop the killing, and they were very happy that the atomic bomb did that.” I’ve heard that from Japanese people as well.
Levy: Who else in the 509th did you get to know at these reunions? You mentioned Paul a few times.
Krauss: We got to know Fred Olivi pretty good. We started doing our book signing events with Fred Olivi. Over the years, when I first started collecting, we did all our photos in black and white. In 1994, at the Chicago reunion that Fred chaired, the Smithsonian came forward, and they asked if anybody had any color slides. They wanted to borrow them. I kind of watched to see who raised their hands for the color slides. The men who had the color slides, eventually, they actually ended up giving me the slides.
What I did with Fred—by now, going to the photo lab and having these negatives made and the copies made, this is getting expensive. It’s a lot of money out of my pocket. I talked to Fred at the ’94 reunion, I said, “Fred, would you like to do some signing events with us?” What I did was, I cooked up a deal where I would pay him to sign the pictures, and I would sell the pictures. That’s, basically, what became the foundation of my cash flow, how I was able to build this collection.
In all the years we did this, I’ve never had—except for one occasion—somebody actually come up and say, “How could you do this?” As I remember, we were at a gun show, and Fred was there. This young girl came up, and I noticed she stood in the background and listened to Fred talk for a long time. Then, she came up and she said that, “How could you kill all these people?” Fred was very good. He justified the use of the bomb, and he was able to make her understand, by living those times and why they did it.
I did a hear a lot of stories from Fred. Fred was a very happy-go-lucky Italian gentleman. He knew a lot of the people in the 509th and he introduced me to a lot of them.
Those were the people that really stand out to me. Again, I knew so many of them. I knew Chuck Sweeney, a very happy Irishman.
Levy: You mentioned you did a lot of signings with Dutch Van Kirk. Did you get to know him well?
Krauss: Yes, I forgot about that. Yeah, Dutch was almost like a second father to me. We did fourteen years of book signings with Dutch, and we had a lot of fun with him. He was very happy-go-lucky. He was also an excellent spokesperson on the bomb. It got to be in later years, when he would be up doing a talk, he’d forget a name. He’d say, “Bob, who was that?”
I’d say, “Oh, that was Bob Furman,” or that was whoever.
Levy: Did you know General Tibbets well at all?
Krauss: Yes, I knew General Tibbets. I kind of say that, because I actually got chewed out by General Tibbets. I know what it was like to get chewed up by him.
When we first did our book, it was a paperback book. Paul had been to—I think it was the Wichita reunion, which was the year before we went hardcover in our book. He really liked the book. He said, “I’d like a case. Would you send me a case?”
Well, I got a problem now, because I basically have sold out of these paperbacks, and I’m transitioning into hardcover. This is not something that I can do right away. This is going to take six to nine months.
We go to this show in Louisville, Kentucky, and I’m in line. I’m going to have Paul sign something for me, and I’m paying to have him sign it. He looked at me, and hejust gave me a holy heck, because, “Where’s my books?” Oh, he just let me have it. I thought I was done, right then and there. He eventually got over it. But I think what helped me was he liked my wife, Amelia. He always gave her a big smile, and gave her big hugs. So, yeah, I knew him.
Levy: Did he come to many of the 509th reunions?
Krauss: I think he did before we did the reunions. In our seventeen reunions that we did, he came—as I remember it—to only one of them, which was the Wichita reunion.
Levy: Did he stay in touch with members of the 509th closely, as well, then?
Krauss: He, himself, personally?
Krauss: I can’t answer that. I think he stayed in touch with Dutch Van Kirk and Tom Ferebee and probably Dick Nelson, because they were doing book-signing events together. But as far as other people are concerned, I don’t think so.
The people that Paul met at Eglin Field were not combat-trained. There were people in the 509th, such as Tom Classen. Of course, Paul Tibbets, Tom, and Dutch, they had all been on combat missions. But there were other people, like Jim Price and James Hopkins, these fellows had all flow missions. Their ego was such that some of them felt that they could have done a better job on the second mission, the Nagasaki mission.
But, again, there were difficulties on that mission. They took off in a storm; there was lightning. There was some indecision for a period of time as to whether they should take off. There were 660 gallons of trapped gas. There was a spare tank inside the plane, and they weren’t sure that they were able to access that fuel tank.
Later on, I knew Fred Clayton, who was the crew chief on that plane. The day after the Nagasaki mission, Fred Clayton and the Fred Bock crew did take that plane up in the air to see if the fuel transfer pump would work, and it did. But John Kuharek, who was on Sweeney/Albury crew, had a difficult time getting fuel from that tank.
The way I look at that is—I want to use the term “idiocentric,” if that’s correct. For example, I might have a car that I know how to start, but you may not know how to do that. Well, the fellow who was the flight engineer on Bockscar, Rod Arnold, knew how to work that tank, but John Kuharek might not have.
Then the other problem they had on that mission was the fact that the photo plane had not shown up, and they lost time circling around at the initial point, waiting for that plane to show up. T hen the decision was finally made to go on. I think they were forty-five minutes at the initial point, so they were using up precious fuel at that point.
They went to Kokura. Los Alamos mandated that the bomb be dropped visually. They could not see the target, because Kokura or a city nearby had been targeted, and there were smoke and clouds over the city. Beahan could not see it. The decision was made to go on to Nagasaki. After making three runs over Nagasaki—I believe on the third run—Kermit Beahan claimed he could see it, and so they dropped the bomb. The decision to go on to Nagasaki was made by the Navy commander on board, Fred Ashworth, so this did not sit well with Paul Tibbets.
That’s why there’s been commentary afterwards that there may have been people—or people within the 509th thought they could have done a better job.
My feeling on that was they accomplished what they were supposed to do, and the war ended. They did that on August 9. On the 14 of August, the Japanese sued to surrender, sued for peace.
Levy: I’ve heard different stories about why that photo plane failed to meet at the rendezvous. Do you know what the accepted story is?
Krauss: It was piloted by James Hopkins. As the story goes, they were getting ready to take off. Rhe scientist on board who was to operate the Fastax camera was Bob Serber. He was a member of Project Alberta, and his camera was a camera that could shoot many pictures per second. Serber did not have his parachute. Hopkins told him to go back and get his parachute. But in the meantime, he took off. Here’s Serber on the ground, and they were up in the air. Nobody knew how to operate that camera.
It is thought—in my talking with Dick Caron, who was the radar operator, and Stan Steinke, who was the navigator on that ship—that they were at an altitude above. They finally met up with the other planes after the bomb had been dropped. They all met in Okinawa when the planes landed. Of course, the Bockscar, when it landed, two engines were out of fuel, if not three or all.
Levy: Thanks for that explanation. If you would like to discuss your book, The 509th Remembered, and about how you came to write it. If you want to, you can hold it up.
Krauss: Okay. Well, this is our book, The 509th Remembered. It’s also the same name as our website, which, thankfully, you have linked on your site.
If you remember, we talked about how my wife and I did a book in 2001 about the stories from the men at Wendover. Each year that we did a reunion, we added to that book. Every year, the men were getting a souvenir book.
Finally, in 2005, we felt we had enough stories to finally go hardcover, and that’s when we put this book together. We since have added more sections to the book. We’re planning on doing another one for the 75th anniversary, but that’s going to be a while down the road.
Levy: It sounds like your wife shares your passion for this history.
Krauss: My whole family does. My son goes to shows with us. He helped set up the displays. He’s very much aware of our displays. My wife typed every word in the book. Basically, what she did was she edited all the stories, and then she typed them all. All I did was arrange the stories chronologically, and inserted the pictures. It’s a family project.
Levy: What is it like to visit Wendover today, for those who haven’t been? What can tourist see, and how the site’s been preserved?
Krauss: That would be a good question to ask James Petersen, who’s the President of Historic Wendover Airfield. It’s really a neat experience because to my knowledge, it’s the only existing World War II airfield that’s left. Jim has done a remarkable job on rebuilding the hanger called the Enola Gay Hanger. He’s just rebuilt the officers’ club. You can see the original barracks that the men were staying in are still there. It’s very worthwhile seeing it. The isolation really is very stark. You can see why they chose Wendover.
Several of the guys—[William] Locke Easton comes to mind. He was a pilot on Next Objective, or what was later called Next Objective. and he told me that he sat, one night, listening to telephone calls going out of the base. All the lines were tapped, going in and out. Most of it was done by the 3095th MPs, which that was the MP—military police—unit of the 509th.
Levy: The Enola Gay is not very far from here in Chantilly, Virginia. Can you talk about that?
Krauss: We had a reunion here, I believe it was in 2005. That was not quite a year after the plane was put on display. They opened up the bomb bay door for us, and the veterans were able to rid up on a scissor lift and look inside the plane.
They did a wonderful job on restoring it. I would imagine if they wanted to, they could probably fly it. It’s in that kind of condition. It is total 100 percent complete. I was told there was 10,000 hours put in on polishing that plane. I think when you see a B-29 like that, all of a sudden, you realize how big it is. You don’t think of it that way until you actually see it.
Levy: Yes, I was incredibly impressed by how big it was when I saw it. Have you seen Bockscar at the Wright-Patterson Museum?
Krauss: We’ve been there several times. Yes, I’ve seen it. It still belongs to the Air Force; it’s still on the air force records. They’ve done a nice job. They’ve redid it. It, like the Enola Gay, sat outside for some time.
As a matter of fact, when it arrived at Wright-Patterson, they thought it was The Great Artiste, and they actually had “The Great Artiste” painted on it. But they created the nose art. It’s fairly accurate, and it looks very good. It’s a great museum. I recommend going to the Smithsonian. I recommend going to Wright-Patterson.
Levy: Do any of the other B-29 Silverplates survive today, or are those the only two left?
Krauss: Of the fifteen that were built for the 509th Composite Group, those are the only two that survived. That’s quite a statement for the unit, that two of their planes are still out there.
Levy: Definitely. Have you ever flown in a B-29?
Krauss: No, I have not.
Levy: Have you seen FIFI fly?
Krauss: I have. I’ve also seen Doc fly. I was also instrumental in negotiating a ride for Norris Jernigan this past summer to fly inside Doc. Hopefully, next year, I can do it.
Levy: That’s great. I’ll have to ask Norris about that.
How would you describe the legacy of the Manhattan Project or, more specifically, the 509th Composite Group today? What would you like people to know and remember about the men involved?
Krauss: It’s my belief—and I’m going to go back to what Ray Gallagher said to me again. It’s that the war had to be stopped, and they did the right thing. They had to stop the killing.
There is no doubt in my mind there would have been an invasion of Japan. The Japanese would not stop. It was a different culture back then. That’s why Ray kept saying to me, “You had to put yourself back in those times.” The Japanese people today are different from what they were back then. They had the culture of Bushido, which was a warrior culture. Again, they just wouldn’t stop their fighting. They were training women and children to fight hand-to-hand combat. Our troops would have landed, and there would have been more killing, both Japanese and Americans.
The legacy is that they did stop the war, they did stop the killing. We’ve had many years of peace since then.
Levy: What are your thoughts on the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, which was established in 2015, with units at Los Alamos, Hanford, and Oak Ridge? How would you like to see this history presented?
Krauss: I think you guys are doing a fantastic job. I’m not going to tell you what to do, because I think you’re doing the right thing. I’m glad to see that you’re working really hard to preserve it. You’ve got a wonderful website; you’re doing a great job. It’s all I can say.
Levy: Thank you. Did you know Morris Jeppson?
Krauss: Yes, I did. Yes, I knew Morris Jeppson. I have letters. Well, nobody really knew where Morris Jeppson was, until the 1995 reunion at Albuquerque. And, all of a sudden, out of a clear blue sky, here’s Morris Jeppson. In fact, at that time, I believe Morris even thought that some of this stuff was still secret. But we became fast friends, and we corresponded back and forth quite a bit.
Now, at one point, Maurice was asking me for assistance on selling those Hiroshima plugs. I’m selling those Hiroshima plugs. At one point, Maurice did put them on eBay. If you were alert to the fact that they were on eBay, he had them for sale for $50,000, which would have been quite a buy at that time, had you bought them, because we now know they sold for $165,000 at an auction. But Morris was very good. Very intelligent.
Levy: The sale of the plugs was what brought Clay Perkins into the fold of interest in the 509th?
Krauss: Correct. Clay sent me—I can’t remember if it was Clay or if it was Morris that sent me a picture of Clay in Morris’ kitchen area with a woodburning set. And they’re burning the initials of Morris Jeppson into the plugs. When I saw that, I said, “My God, they’re wrecking up an historic item!”
The next reunion—I think it was a reunion we had in New Orleans—I’m talking to Clay. Clay said he wanted to bring the plugs and show them to us and put them in a case. I brought the display case, and we showed them. We’re standing there talking, and Clay’s got the plugs in one hand, and then he puts his hand in the pocket and he brings out another plug. He had an exact replica.
Then, I finally understood why he had the initials burned into the original set of plugs, because that shows that those are the original plugs, because it was so easy to make a replica of it.
Levy: The original ones have his initials in it?
Krauss: That’s correct. A little bit of trivia in there.
Levy: I’m trying to think if there are any other veterans that you mentioned. I know you mentioned George Caron earlier. Was he somebody you got to know well?
Krauss: I did. We visited him at his house. When we went to the reunion in 1990—I think it was ’90 or ’92, I’m not clear which one it was—well, he didn’t go to one of them, and we stopped at his house on the way. I had corresponded with George, and also we had been to his house. I have a nice picture that I treasure of our young son shaking hands with George.