Young Men and Bombs

Oral history: four American men talk about their connection to the Hiroshima attack—and one Japanese suicide pilot tells of unexpectedly receiving life

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FLYBOYS: The crew of the Enola Gay poses in front of the plane after the Hiroshima mission

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On Aug. 9, I think we finally took off about 4 in the morning. There'd been some bad storms around Japan, and the cloud cover was bad; you couldn't see much. We headed for our primary target, which was the city of Kokura. We were approaching it about [six] hours later, but the clouds had been building up there, even at our altitude. So we decided to head for the secondary target, Nagasaki.

But even Nagasaki's got cloud cover. We decided we couldn't take the bomb back to Tinian, so Sweeney says we've got to drop it by radar or drop it in the ocean--and we sure as heck didn't want to drop it in the ocean. Ashworth walks off somewhere in the plane and comes back 10 or 15 minutes later and says if we absolutely have to drop it by radar, then we can. So that's what we were going to do--but about 30 seconds before the drop, we hear Beahan shout, "I think I've got it!" He'd found a hole in the clouds, so we didn't need to use radar. The bomb hit the city on the other side of these big hills around Nagasaki. Most of the people lived on the side where the bomb didn't go. It saved a lot of civilian lives.

As I was watching the same dust and mushroom cloud sweep over the city that I'd seen over Hiroshima, [Sergeant Raymond] Gallagher started shouting, "The bomb's going to hit the airplane!" That must have been what it seemed like back there--like the cloud was going to hit us. This one shook the plane more than the other did. We felt about three strong shock waves. Even as we were moving away from it, we could still see the mushroom cloud.

About a week or 10 days later, Tibbets and I flew a C-54 transport plane into Nagasaki to take some doctors and other civilians there. I saw people looking out their windows at us. I saw a lot of hatred in their eyes, but I could also see that they were glad the war was over. I went up to the top of a hill where a hospital was. I saw a poor guy begging by the side of it; it looked as if he was still bleeding, and his clothes were all ripped up. I felt so sorry for him. Inside the hospital I saw a shadow on the wall--a person had obviously been walking by that wall when the bomb went off. I had never really appreciated until then that this bomb could do something like that. All I could keep thinking was, I hope there is never, ever another time when we have to use one of these. --Interviews by Coco Masters, Carolina A. Miranda and Tim Padgett

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