Interviewer: At two forty-five in the morning of August 6, 1945, the B-29 Enola Gay took off from North field on Tinian. Aboard the plane were thirteen men a thing called “the Gimmick.” Some fourteen hundred miles and six hours later, the Enola Gay reached her appointment with history. The time was fifteen minutes and seventeen seconds past 8:00 AM, just seventeen seconds behind schedule. The place: Hiroshima. The Gimmick, also known as Little Boy, was a uranium atomic bomb with the explosive power of twenty thousand tons of TNT. Puny by today’s one hundred megaton standards, but powerful enough to kill seventy-eight thousand one hundred and fifty people. Three days later on August ninth, the B-29 Great Artiste dropped the plutonium atomic bomb, called the Fat Man, on Nagasaki. Today, I am talking with men who were aboard the Enola Gay and the Great Artiste on those missions.
In 1945, Robert Lewis was a Captain in the 509th Composite Bomb Group. He was the pilot of the Enola Gay. In the raid on Hiroshima, the Enola Gay was flown by Colonel Paul Tibbets Commanding Officer of the group. Captain Lewis flew as copilot on that mission. Today, Robert Lewis is an executive of a candy-manufacturing firm in New Jersey. He is married and the father of five children all born since 1945.
A few days before the Hiroshima mission, the crew of the Enola Gay were shown movie films of the first atomic explosion, the detonation of a plutonium bomb in a New Mexico desert. Did the men and the crew discuss this among themselves?
Robert Lewis: Well there was quite some discussion—perhaps the most important points that we are interested in is the safety and the resulting turning we were to make to avoid the results of this detonation.
Interviewer: Did any of the men show any qualms about using the weapon of that type?
Lewis: I do not believe so at the time because the simple fact was that our target was the center of the city, which housed the Second Imperial Army Headquarters. And the way we had this planned tis bomb was to detonate at eighteen hundred feet above the surface of the earth and as a result of this high altitude explosion the center force of the bomb would as had been expected, was supposed to just take care of this Army Headquarters. As you know, more destruction was to come from the bomb than was anticipated.
Interviewer: Did any of the men at that time discuss the implications of atomic warfare?
Lewis: No, this was all too new to us and we were more a test outfit than we were anything else because no one had any experience in dropping such a bomb.
Interviewer: One of the officers who was watching the take-off of the Enola Gay said that he never saw a B-29 use so much runway. You were at the controls; did you have any doubts that you were going to get off the ground with the bomb?
Lewis: No, I had no doubts, we used a lot of runway because of the very heavy taking off we had. This bomb was ten thousand pounds and had a lot of gas in it. It took a lot of runway to get us airborne.
Interviewer: From a point of view of a comeback mission, was this a difficult flight?
Lewis: In relation to other bombing missions, from the aspect of the flight itself no, but the unknown quantity that was detached to this flight was the all-important part as far as we were concerned. In other words, there were so many things that could go wrong. This again was the first time this bomb, a bomb like this had ever been dropped by an airplane.
Interviewer: Was there much conversation in the plane on the way to the target?
Lewis: It was general conversation.
Interviewer: Is there anything that comes to your mind now or anything that stuck in your mind?
Lewis: Well we always knew very well that we had this huge monster in the belly of the ship. And we made reference to it jokingly in most cases that we hoped that we would be able to get rid of it safely from our point of view anyway and hoping it would do the job it was expected to do.
Interviewer: Did you have any fears yourself that the Enola Gay might be destroyed in the explosion?
Lewis: We had confidence in what we were doing. I am sure all of us did, we thought enough about our confidence that we lacked in fear.
Interviewer: At the instant of detonation, what thoughts went through your mind?
Lewis: At the instant of detonation, we were trying our best to get away from the effects of the bomb. The only thing that as far as I was concerned and I recall was that we had now reached a ninety percent of our time and a few more seconds and we would be heading directly away from this bomb. If we had waited for a length of time until the affects reached us, that was a concern. I could taste this ozone it was the discharge in the air, it went right through me and I tasted this very poorly.
Interviewer: This was from the explosion.
Interviewer: This was from the explosion.
Lewis: This taste that I speak of was instantaneous or at least it seemed so.
Interviewer: Were you facing the detonation?
Lewis: The plane itself, we had practiced and performed a hundred and fifty degree turn that was away from our IP approach. We turned a hundred and fifty degrees to the right and then we rolled out and then climbed to lose altitude so that if we did a severe shock with the airplane could withstand the stress greater than at slower speeds than it would at higher speeds.
Interviewer: Can you describe what you saw of the explosion over Hiroshima?
Lewis: Once we made our turn and successfully avoided serious damage to the ship and we were aware of this, then we waited a minute or two and started turning back towards the target to see what took place. There was this most awesome sight. And I thought the city that had been in front of us with its dignitaries and bridges and trolleys were all outlined clearly in front of us was no longer visible. The city was on fire already and the fire was stretching through the countryside and the tributaries. This was all a matter of four or five miles, but it was a sufficient strike to eliminate this city.
Interviewer: You anticipated destruction that great.
Lewis: No, no one had. As I spoke before, our target had primarily been the headquarters of the Second and Third Japanese Army and we expected, I did, that if we had been able to pretty well destroy this target we would have accomplished our mission. I did not expect to see the city disappear.
Interviewer: Did you have any thoughts about that? About the fact that so many people were killed, did it go through your mind right then or did that come with reflection?
Lewis: No, it did come, it was easy to see from thirty thousand feet and six or eight miles away that the damage that had been wrought on Hiroshima was a great deal greater than we had ever anticipated.
Interviewer: What were your feelings about that right then?
Lewis: My recollection is that I just wondered to myself how severe damage it was.
Interviewer: At that time what were your private thoughts on the use of an atomic bomb in warfare?
Lewis: I do not believe I made any such reasoning that that time. The most important thing that ran through my brain between the time we dropped the bomb and arrived back at Tinian, I felt that before we arrived back at Tinian, the war would be over. I felt that this was such a severe blow such a terrible bomb that the Japanese Empire could not withstand another one and would never dare do it at the point they were at at that time.
Interviewer: I take it then you were surprised when you—
Lewis: I was surprised we went ahead and dropped a second one to end the war.
Interviewer: Looking back at the action today, through the perspective of seventeen years, have you formed any opinions? Has your opinion changed about the use of the bomb?
Lewis: As far as the use of the bomb is concerned, in 1945 this was something brand new. As I said before it was more of a test than it was of anything else. However, in relation of the use of the bomb today, I have certain feelings as to what in my mind would justify the use of any nuclear bomb. I like to think that we would not be the first ones to use it. By that, I do not mean that we would a half hour late, maybe five minutes late.
Interviewer: The story in the New York Times on August the seventh this year mentioned Claude Eatherly. He was a recipient of the Hiroshima Award for contributions to world peace. The story is stated and I quote “Claude Eatherly was an Army Air Corps Major flew the plane that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. The fact is of course that Eatherly did not fly the plane that dropped the bomb; he flew a weather reconnaissance mission that day. Since 1945, Eatherly has been consistently in trouble with the law on a variety of charges. Some doctors and lawyers have asserted this problem stem from a guilt complex over his role in the raid. The people that made it their business to publicize Eatherly’s case have consistently exaggerated his part in the raid. The success of such misrepresentation can be judged by the fact that now, a reporter from the New York Times accepts as fact and states in the story starting on page one that Eatherly was the pilot of the plane that dropped the bomb.” In relation to Eatherly’s case, have you ever had qualms or conscience concerning your thought in the Hiroshima raid?
Lewis: The first question I would like to answer there was the fact if the New York Times printed this, they had all but to go and ask their science editor Bill Lawrence who was on the scene that day and he knows well that Claude Eatherly was not involved in the dropping of the bomb. On the second question, I do not have any qualms about the fact that I was involved with the dropping of this bomb to the points that its effects bothered me, kept me awake or let me do things that were not normal. I certainly wish that if in any war or any fighting that women and children could always be safeguarded but this is no longer possible in a total war. As far as the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima, this is unfortunate, but I do not feel that any members of that crew need suffer as a result of their participation in this bombing.
Interviewer: As far as you know from your friendliness with the other fellows, do you know if any of them had any qualms or mentioned any qualms to you about their participation.
Interviewer: Whether you think it was justified or not, do you ever wish you were not involved in that raid.
Lewis: No, leave history as it were.
Interviewer: What is the reaction of people you meet when they learn for the first time that you helped drop the bomb on Hiroshima?
Lewis: Most people feel that I am some sort of an oddity to them. They read so much about this bombing and the development of the bomb and so forth that they would like to get a firsthand account, which I do not blame them for because I know that if I met Colonel Glenn his first trip around the world, I would be very anxious to ask him questions. This is just normal of anybody who has participated in something somewhat historic.
Interviewer: A group of pacifists picketed the launching of the nuclear submarine recently. One of them carried a placard reading, “The best defense is non-violent resistance”. What do you think?
Lewis: I am not a pacifist and I certainly do not agree with anyone who complains that the best interest of this country lie in the fact that we should eliminate our defenses.
Interviewer: Many are saying nuclear policy ran an ad and stated and I quote “There were those who think that superior armaments will solve the problem based on those who believe in the strength of a just cause”. I think that statement is misleading and it ignores the fact that it might be wiser to put your faith in a combination of those two rather than completely reject one or the other. However, if an either/or decision should ever be necessary, do you think the United States would be wiser to put its faith in superior armaments or in a just cause?
Lewis: Unfortunately, I would have to agree that we have to put our faith in superior arms until such time as it can be proven to us that all mankind is going to forgo this new developed destructive faces of war machinery.
Interviewer: Do you think that we can continue to manufacture tests and stockpile nuclear weapons without one day using them either by design or by accident?
Lewis: Well, we have lived since 1945 without the use of this bomb again. I had maintained in my own mind after this war that if this bomb is ever going to be of value to anybody if it is going to act as a deterrent against any aggressor, I just hope and pray that this will be the case for the rest of mankind’s history.
Interviewer: Do you think the United States has gone far enough in trying to achieve disarmament?
Lewis: I believe that we have made sincere efforts and that we have perhaps not made every possible effort but I do believe we have made just efforts to bring about a just peace.
Interviewer: Do you think the Soviet Union has gone far enough in trying to achieve disarmament?
Lewis: From our viewpoint, and from what I have read I do not believe they have. They have constantly given us all kinds of problems trying to reach a peaceful solution to nuclear disarmament and the like. This whole last ten/fifteen years has been nothing but a constant battle ground on these points and seeing that we have been turned down in every most instance.
Interviewer: The Soviet Union has proposed a ban on test of nuclear devices and nuclear weapons they refuse to have that inspected. Do you think the United States should be justified in agreeing to such an uninspected ban?
Lewis: Not unless we feel that we can detect any test that they might make without a physical check if our scientists develop sufficient means whereby they can detect it, perhaps we can go into this. I like to think that if country has nothing to hide along these lines, they’re willing to open up their doors.
Interviewer: In some combination of circumstances, you were asked again to take the controls of a bomber on a nuclear mission, would you be willing to do so.
Lewis: I would not hesitate if the circumstances were such, we were at war. It would be part of my duty as an American citizen.
Interviewer: Do you have a bomb shelter at your home?
Lewis: No. I do not even have a cellar.
Interviewer: In 1945, Richard Nelson was the radio operator aboard the Enola Gay. Today he is a salesman for an industrial manufacturer. He is married, the father of two children and lives in Wesley, Massachusetts. Mr. Nelson when you flew on the Hiroshima raid did you know that the Enola Gay was carrying an atomic bomb?
Richard Nelson: Yes, we had been briefed three nights before even shown pictures of the test bomb in New Mexico that had been blown up in June of 45’.
Interviewer: What is your outstanding recollection of the flight itself?
Nelson: I supposed the outstanding recollection would be the excitement, the knowledge that we had to perform a good mission, the realization that this would be perhaps the end of the war.
Interviewer: How many missions did you fly besides the Hiroshima mission?
Nelson: Oh golly now you have got me where I probably cannot even answer correctly. I will say six or seven. All of these were actually practice drops for the A bomb mission.
Interviewer: What was your attitude towards the using of the atomic weapon against Japan at that time?
Nelson: At that time I was still, I had barely graduated from the teenage and had no feeling whatsoever. I knew that it was an important mission, I knew that probably this would be the end of the war and I think my emotions at that time were towards the war ending, rather than what this big bomb would do and what it did do.
Interviewer: Has your perspective on it changed over those years?
Nelson: Naturally, I think I am quite a bit more, I will not even say quite a bit more, but more mature now and it has certainly been brought to my attention many times exactly, what this mission did mean. So attitudes naturally change. If I could place myself back seventeen years and the same conditions were prevalent today as then I would certainly not hesitate whatsoever in doing this mission over again even if I was the age I am now.
Interviewer: Immediately after the Hiroshima raid, I assume that the members of the crew must have discussed it between themselves. What was the general feeling among the men?
Nelson: I think a feeling of elation. I think again, remembering what your emotions are during wartime we all felt this had ended the war. I think we were surprised when a second drop was necessary. We felt strongly that the war was over. A one-word answer to your question would be a feeling of elation immediately following flying back in the aircraft and subsequently the few days afterwards. Of course then the war was finished and again elation picks up again.
Interviewer: You at the time immediately after Hiroshima raid, did you visualize the United States as being hit with weapons of this—
Nelson: No goodness no, this was again, may I refresh your memory, I was twenty and I believe a young twenty. In other words I had not matured as rapidly in the war as perhaps I would have in college at the same time, but no. First of all it was not anything nice to see. It was spectacular certainly but so huge that it was outside of your comprehension. Because of this you normally just reject thoughts of this; you do not even want them to enter your thought process.
Interviewer: Have you ever had qualms of conscience about your part in the raid on Hiroshima?
Nelson: Well, first of all I will say that your term allows degrees. If we take into consideration degrees that I have had qualms. I do not feel that it was wrong; I feel that it was vitally necessary at that time. I think that nowadays people cannot realize that morals change, not only for service personnel but also for civilians during the war activity, an all-out war effort. We are conditioned to fight. The Japanese are conditioned to fight. A bomb drop of this magnitude sounds much more, I do not even want to use the word serious, it sounds more horrible now than it did seventeen years ago.
I think that if we recall what the philosophy of the Japanese nation was, what their predominate religion was, what their attitudes on fighting the war to the finish it definitely establishes a necessity of this bomb drop. We can believe what their attitudes were at that time, certainly, they are different now and that is why I qualify my earlier statement. If conditions were the same now as then, I would again participate in it. If conditions were as they are today, I would be hesitant.
Interviewer: Did you ever make any effort to find out exactly what the results were at Hiroshima?
Nelson: By available material yes. Every article that is written, any book that is written certainly followed and followed closely, yes.
Interviewer: Do you think that enough has been done by the United States to try to achieve disarmament? Do you think that we could or should go further than we have gone?
Nelson: If this is not a weighted question I will give you an answer saying yes I believe, no I will say no we have not gone far enough. I do not want to suggest any radical ideas on this. I am sure that our premise is correct but perhaps our efforts are not as thorough as they could be.
Interviewer: Have your children ever expressed curiosity about it?
Nelson: My children are four and a half and seven and a half they do not even know what a war is. They think an Army man is what you see on the streets thumbing a ride.
Interviewer: Do you anticipate ever explaining this to them?
Nelson: I doubt whether it will be necessary. Someone else will be able to explain it better than I in the next fifteen years when they will be interested in it. I certainly would not be reluctant to answer any question they wanted, they can ask me now and I can give them an answer.
Because of the implications on this mission, all of us that participated in it I am sure are asked to speak publicly at various affairs. Because it is more controversial now than it was then, I have restricted my public speaking on this subject to churches and schools just because this group of people will ask any question. They have no reluctance to ask you a personal question about the ramifications or anything else. That is why I think it is easier to talk to this group than the people that do not have enough nerve to ask you if you speak at service clubs and they’re trying to be polite to you.
Interviewer: What kinds of questions do those children ask?
Nelson: Goodness, basically they almost acknowledge the fact that you were a pretty terrible person by participating in this until you explain some of the aspects of it. If you talk to them, communicate with them then they after you are through speaking answered their questions they no longer think you are such a terrible person.
Interviewer: What are your feelings when you see a group of demonstrators, marchers whatever they may call themselves carrying their placards and marching on the streets and saying – outlaw an atom bomb.
Nelson: I get angry. I think first of all most of them are not realists. I participated in it and I still wonder about our participation. In other words, it was such an event of such magnitude that it perhaps keyed my thinking higher or made me more critical of analyzing these things then the average person. When the average person who has not had the direct association with it, just because they are do-gooders, gets together in a group I wonder what their qualifications for suggesting these things are.
Interviewer: In other words having seen the power of nuclear war you still would prefer to fight a nuclear war with all its terrible consequences rather than to accept domination or to surrender to another.
Nelson: Absolutely. I say that both having participated in the last one and now being a father of two children.
Interviewer: After 1945, many people suggested that perhaps instead of actually using the atomic bomb on a city it would have been wiser to have a demonstration explosion something of that sort. What are your feelings on that?
Nelson: I think it is ridiculous. Had we asked the Japanese to witness this exhibition, so-called exhibition, who would have witnessed it? The Japanese military? They certainly would not even draw the war to end when they knew they were whipped and they were whipped when we dropped the bomb. We could not have used an exhibition to these people and certainly, they would not have communicated with the people who would have been impressed by it, so an exhibit is ridiculous. Now it would have perhaps subjected us to extreme danger, even participating in such.
Interviewer: Well we know that at that particular time the Japanese had made certain tentative overtures towards some sort of cease-fire. Do you think that it would have perhaps have been more to our interest if we had explored those overtures further before using a weapon?
Nelson: Well as I understand this and I suppose you are quoting from a recent book written on this, President Truman as I understand it he did not know whether these were bona fide offers or not. Now, I still say that dramatic effect of the bomb had implications both during World War II and for the eight/ten year period after it where I believe we were justified and it was a necessity. I’m sure that I sound like I’m rationalizing, but I do, I sincerely believe that the bomb, as dropped, whether we knew the Japanese had made request. As I understand from books, these were not thoroughly bona fide requests for, they carried certain conditions. Perhaps we met these conditions, but at the time, perhaps they weren’t in our line of thinking.
Interviewer: One of the arguments that people who believe in disarmament at any price offer is that there can be no winner of a nuclear war. You have witnessed nuclear war, do you believe that there can be a possibility of winning a nuclear war?
Nelson: I don’t believe that it has any direct relationship with the original question on whether armament is necessary or not. No, I’m sure that with the bombs we have today, no one would be the winner. This is undoubtedly, I mean everything points to this fact, however I think the strongest nation can act as a detriment to a condition where there’d be no winner. And by stronger, both sides are strong even if they’re not equal on a weapon of this nature.
Interviewer: Another point that is brought up often is that people point out the fact that as long as we continue to manufacture, to test and to stock atomic weapons, they seem to feel that it’s inevitable that either by design or by accident they will be used. Does it seem inevitable to you that they will be used?
Interviewer: Do you think we can reach such a balance that despite having these many, many thousands of weapons, none will ever be used or precipitate a general–
Nelson: Inevitable suggests to me a foregone conclusion that they’re going to be used, and I am not that much of a pessimist – in fact I’m an optimist, I don’t think we will face an atomic war, or a hydrogen war, or war of this magnitude. Regardless, I still believe strongly that we need to continue testing if they test. I, being a layman on subjects of this, I’m certainly concerned. I have two small girls and I am concerned about the fallout problem, but not to the extent that I would stop testing. If they continue to test, we continue to test is my attitude.
Interviewer: Do you have a bomb shelter of your own?
Nelson: Rather than build a bomb shelter, I’d move out to the middle of the desert, and we just can’t stick our head in a hole like this.
Interviewer: In August of 1945, Charles W. Sweeney was a major in the 509th Composite Bomb Group on Tinian. On August 6, he commanded the B-29 Great Artiste, which flew a wing position to the Enola Gay in the raid on Hiroshima. His plane dropped instruments by parachutes, which measured and reported by radio, the blast. Major Sweeney witnessed the atomic destruction of Hiroshima.
Three days later, on August 9, he commanded the Great Artiste and carried the plutonium atomic bomb called “The Fat Man” and dropped it on Nagasaki. Today, in one of history’s considerable ironies, he is the Civil Defense Director of the City of Boston. He is married, the father of nine children, and Brigadier General in the Air National Guard. He recently returned from a year’s active service in Europe.
We go back for a moment to 1945. I understand that Nagasaki was not the primary target on that raid.
General Charles Sweeney: No, Nagasaki was not the primary target on the 9th of August. The primary target was a munitions complex in the city of Kokura, but because of weather conditions primarily in the Kokura area, we were unable to release the weapon there, and had to go to our preplanned secondary target, which was Nagasaki.
Interviewer: Did you have any thoughts of returning to base without dropping the bomb?
Sweeney: Never, none whatever.
Interviewer: Would that have been possible?
Sweeney: As a last resort, either we would have dropped by radar, although we were instructed of course to drop by visual means, or we would have dropped on the target of opportunity.
Interviewer: Charles Sweeney, what was your own personal attitude towards the use of the atomic bomb in 1945?
Sweeney: My personal attitude was ours is not to question why, ours but to do or die. I must frame this in the circumstances of 1945 when the world had been at war for six years and this country had been at war for practically four years. We were sick and tired of war. Mothers and wives were sick and tired of the casualty lists. Mothers and wives wanted the war to end as did all of the men in the jungles and all of the men who had been overseas in the Pacific for three years. Of course, the war in Europe had ended by that time.
Interviewer: Has the passage of 17 years changed your perspective at all on the use of the bomb?
Sweeney: No, it has not changed my perspective, in the light of the circumstances in which it was used. The decision was made, as you know, by the President of the United States with the advice and counsel of several very high government officials, not that they were all in agreement. But nevertheless, they advised the President and the President made his decision and the Air Force executed the orders.
Interviewer: If you were called upon today to take the controls of a plane and to go an atomic mission again, would you do so?
Sweeney: My answer would have to be qualified in the light of circumstances. If it were necessary to keep America free, yes, then I would do so.
Interviewer: At this point, I became quite long winded. I have edited the tape solely for the purpose of structuring my questions, and in no way change the meaning of General Sweeney’s remarks. The question was, General Sweeney, some people contend that nuclear war is self-defeating. That death and destruction would be so enormous as to preclude victory for any nation. Do you believe the United States could win a nuclear war?
Sweeney: Yes, we can hope to win such a war, destruction would be great of course, it would be terrible. I hope that it never happens. But I believe that if such a war were to break out, that it would, the first phase, the war would be in phases. The first phase would be a matter of two or three days, and then a regrouping of forces. So those who had the best capability, that nation or group of nations, which had the best capabilities of regrouping its forces and attacking again, would be victorious. By that I mean protecting what you have in the first blast so that – total national resources, wherever they may be in the world. I’m talking about our overseas bases among other things. And having a strike capability of course as a defensive strike as a matter of defense.
Now that’s a contradiction of terms, but having a strike force capability of destroying the enemies capability of launching atomic weapons or nuclear weapons, I think that there would be a pause after the first few days, in which an assessment would be made by both sides, and that side which had the greater capability thereafter would be victorious. Now I think that shortly, during the second phase, there would be a capitulation by the nation, which was on the losing end.
Interviewer: General Sweeney, as the Civil Defense Director of Boston, you obviously must know something about the possibilities of casualties in a nuclear war. Now, when you speak of the first phase of such a war, what would your guess be as to the number of casualties say the United States would suffer in such an engagement?
Sweeney: Well, let me start off by saying the first engagement may take place not in the United States and not in any other major country. By that, I mean the country that is normally referred to as our primary antagonist. It could occur at our overseas basis. For example, attacks could be made against our overseas bases, which are in the forefront of those bases capable of retaliating. This would give us some warning.
For example, if our bases in the Pacific and if our bases in Europe and on other continents were attacked—and presumably this would be the first attack—then we would have some warning in this country. But as of 1962, I think that if that were true, and the United States was subsequently attacked, that the casualties would run in the tens of millions. It’s hard to actually estimate. Of our total population of 180,000,000, we might lose as many as 30,000,000 people, this is strictly a guess.
Interviewer: Once again, I have edited the tape sole for the purpose of shortening my questions. Some people believe that it would be a better thing for the United States to disarm unilaterally rather than start the possibility of a nuclear conflict in which tens of millions of people might perish. They would do this even if it meant accepting domination by a foreign power, do you agree?
Sweeney: I don’t feel that way at all. Being dominated by them means, in the final analysis abject to slavery at one point or another, in my opinion. I believe there is great hope that we can live on this earth in harmony and in peace. We seek to steal nothing or to take nothing by force from any other nation. We are the strongest nation on earth in my opinion at the present time, and there is no reason for us to merely accept voluntarily a status of slavery versus that of being just plain free Americans.
Interviewer: As the Civilian Defense Director of Boston, I take it you’re responsible for the planning, for the planning methods to safeguard the population here. Is there really any realistic way to try to protect the population if they are subjected to a nuclear attack?
Sweeney: It’s all relative of course, a direct hit will kill so many people within so many miles of the direct hit. There is the danger, on the other hand, of radiation fallout causing illness and death from an explosion that occurs some distance away. I would say this, that there is definitely a need for preventive measures or what we call Civil Defense measures to protect the population because, it’s better to have say, instead of 30,000,000 killed in one formula, say 10,000,000. If we save, 20,000,000 out of 30,000,000 in the country we’re so much better off.
Interviewer: Do you think that it’s possible that the rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union can be contained. That is, do you think it’s possible that we can continue to arm and to develop new and more powerful weapons all the time, and not use them?
Sweeney: Well, that’s a matter of conjecture, and I will say that history does not give us an optimistic view point. So there always have been conflicts. Our only hope is that we will realize the devastating nature of the weapons in existence today, and that we’ll never use them for that reason.
Interviewer: Well do you think that in view of that, in view of the awesome nature of these weapons, that we are truly doing enough that we are going far enough to try to find some formula by which we can prevent their being used.
Sweeney: Yes I do. I think the United States is doing everything it possibly can to reach an agreement with all of the nations on earth. I don’t know much more that the United States can do itself.
Interviewer: You have, at the exact instant of detonation of the bomb, did any feelings strike you at that very moment as to the nature of the act itself?
Sweeney: Only from a military viewpoint. We were, of course, interested in the fact that all of the effort and time wasn’t wasted, that is to say, if all of this effort had gone into this project and if the decision had been made and of course the decision had been made, then it became a question of conducting a successful mission. Now, our feelings, mine and I think those of the rest of my crew and the other crew, were did it work or didn’t it work. I think when we saw the evidence that it probably had worked, we were somewhat relieved. You will, of course, understand that we were under some tension for many months, the training was intense, the mission was important and we were, indeed, under great tension. Therefore, there was something of a feeling of relief that the thing was over.
Interviewer: You visited Hiroshima Nagasaki after the war was over, didn’t you?
Sweeney: Yes, I did.
Interviewer: What was your feeling on visiting the city then, did you speak to any of the people there, or –
Sweeney: Yes, I did, I naturally couldn’t speak the language, but I did find some people, some newspapermen who had studied in the United States and I talked with several of the people there, through the interpreter.
Sweeney: And the Japanese people are fine people of course, they are stoic, they just displayed what we come to think of as their natural emotions. I can’t think of any particular conversation that comes by memory right now.
Interviewer: When you’re attempting to plan a Civil Defense for Boston, do those visits to Hiroshima and Nagasaki ever go through your mind?
Sweeney: Oh yes, I know the devastation that – mind you those weapons in those days were mere firecrackers compared to what, pardon the expression, by comparison to what the weapons are today. I naturally try to assess the possibilities of what might happen in this area of my jurisdiction, which is the City of Boston.
Interviewer: General Sweeney, you have nine children yourself, do you have a bomb shelter?
Sweeney: Yes, I have.
Interviewer: In 1945, Abe Spitzer was the Radio Operator aboard the Great Artiste. Today, he’s a salesman, he lives in White Plains, he’s married and has two children.
Mr. Spitzer, the 509th Composite Bomb Group was formed specifically to deliver the atomic bomb. Did you join that group voluntarily or were you assigned to it?
Abe Spitzer: I was assigned to it, just like any other part of the Army; you’re given some task and then sent there, you just belong.
Interviewer: When was that?
Spitzer: This goes back to 1945, the early part of ’45. Oh, let me change that, it was the latter part of ’44 I should say.
Interviewer: Then you had extensive training for the mission.
Spitzer: Yes. We started the whole training program with just one airplane, and the outfit wasn’t activated until about April or May. But originally, it started off as purely test runs, dummy missions to determine just how we would operate, what altitude, what weight, what capacity we could carry. This went on for about eight months.
Interviewer: When did you first begin to realize that you were going to drop a new bomb of enormous power?
Spitzer: Towards the latter part of our initial program where we were beginning to activate an outfit. At that time, the thought began to creep into your mind as to what this was all about. One particular time I asked my pilot, who then was Captain Sweeney, today he’s General Sweeney, what this was all about. And he said “We don’t know, it’s just something so hot and so important that if successful, it would shorten the war by about six months.”
So for there on in we knew we were working on something really important. But no one actually, could determine what it was.
Interviewer: When did you first hear the word atomic associated with it?
Spitzer: On the return flight from Hiroshima.
Interviewer: Would it have been possible for you to have withdrawn from the 509th?
Spitzer: Yes, they told us that this was a mission that wasn’t proven, we didn’t know what to expect, it was determined on the ground by setting off on a steel tower, but it had never been proven from the air. You had your choice of whether you went along on the crew or whether you backed out. So actually, you weren’t compelled to go.
Interviewer: Did anyone in the entire group back out?
Interviewer: You witnessed the bombing of Hiroshima. Watching that mushroom cloud rise over that city, what emotions did you feel?
Spitzer: It’s tough to explain how I felt at that time, where things are so new and so strange to you, and to recall seventeen years ago what happened, is a little difficult. But it’s a sight that you never forget because it was so unbelievable to see, to my perspective, it looked like I was looking down at the sun as this red ball of fire was climbing up into the sky. It was something that you had to see to actually believe, it is almost indescribable.
Interviewer: Was there any discussion among the members of the crews about the morality of atomic warfare?
Spitzer: None that I know of.
Interviewer: What duties did you perform on the Great Artiste [misspoke, meant Bockscar] on the flight to Nagasaki?
Spitzer: My job was to get the weather reports, relay it to the pilot as to which target was available. On our bombing run, it was my job to play with a lot of switches, lot of toggle switches, and I believe that was to more or less activate the radio charge. I’m not familiar with the actual operation of the bomb itself within itself. But I knew there were lots of tubes that were in there and it had to do with switches being put on. Two minutes before bombs away, when they opened up the bomb bay doors, it was my job to set the switches on.
Interviewer: A munitions depot in the City of Kokura, not Nagasaki was the primary target in the raid of August 9. The weather over Kokura was bad but still your pilot Sweeney made four attempted bomb runs. Because of the weight of the bomb and the heavy fuel load, your plane was virtually unarmed, you had no escort, you were the target of anti-aircraft fire and zeros did attempt to intercept. Were these the most harrowing moments of your life?
Spitzer: No, because after the first run, after the second run particularly, you don’t care anymore. I think the worst experience I’ve had, I mean as far as a peculiar feeling in my stomach was the first raid going over a target the first time, not knowing what to expect, not knowing what you might anticipate.
Interviewer: What raid was that?
Spitzer: That was our first raid and I think it was over Tijama.
Interviewer: That was a conventional bomb?
Spitzer: That was a conventional bomb, yes.
Interviewer: When was the decision made to switch from Kokura to Nagasaki?
Spitzer: Well when we saw the fighters climbing, and they were coming too close, the flag was getting a little too heavy, and we knew he couldn’t see the target anymore, and our instructions were to bomb visually. By that time, we were starting to lose a lot of important fuel and we decided we’d try the secondary target, which was Nagasaki.
Interviewer: Did you have a clear run there?
Spitzer: For the moment, it didn’t seem like it, because up until about ten seconds away, we were going to bomb by radar. At the very last second, the bombardier took over and he said that he could see it, and it was quite a thrilling moment because we were all keyed up having to leave the target initially. We had been up in the air for several hours, the tension was very heavy and you knew that you were running out of fuel and you just wanted to get it over with. There was quite a little discussion going on as to what we would do in the event we couldn’t see Nagasaki. Those were the tense moments, and being on the flight deck, I could hear all the conversation going on between the pilots and everybody that was involved in it.
Interviewer: What do you think would have been done if you couldn’t drop on Nagasaki?
Spitzer: That’s not for me to say, I don’t know.
Interviewer: You didn’t return to your base on Tinian after the bombing run, why was that?
Spitzer: We ran out of gas and that was the climax I think, in my experience, where we landed in Okinawa. We had just enough gas for one turnaround pattern. We were shooting flares for landing; we broke through the pattern because we knew we couldn’t make it again. The worst part about it was, the most harrowing experience to me was that I was trying to make contact with the tower and we couldn’t, there seemed to be a skipped distance. Apparently, they could hear us but we couldn’t hear them. Consequently, we had to take things into our own hand and come in by dropping flares. When we got down, we measured the gas, and we just had enough for one turn, so we were pretty close.
Interviewer: Did the people at Okinawa know that you had just come back from dropping an atomic weapon?
Spitzer: No, we had quite a comical experience because originally you know, we set out with three airplanes. We lost two on the way, and we came in—
Interviewer: When you say you lost two, how do you mean lost two?
Spitzer: Well one ship, which was supposed to be the photo ship, take pictures, never did show up. One fellow was supposed to drop the instruments and be on our right wing, he was – I’m not sure whether he was with us or not, come to think of it, I don’t remember.
Interviewer: That was the function that your plane, Bockscar, performed in the first raid?
Spitzer: That’s right. When we landed, and there was a lot of excitement on the field because they had the fire engines there and they had the ambulances, when they saw the flares, they didn’t know what was happening. When they saw the flares coming down they figured there must have been some accident on the plane itself. So there was a lot of commotion. We got into the mess hall and while in the mess hall, there’s a lot of conversation going on. I overheard one remark was they said, a P-38 just dropped another atomic bomb over Japan, so I knew they weren’t aware that we had done it. They were under the assumption that a fighter plane had dropped it.
Interviewer: In other words, the other people in the Air Force didn’t know very much about it either.
Interviewer: Have you ever felt guilt over your participation in these raids?
Spitzer: No, I truthfully can’t say I did.
Interviewer: Would you take part in another atomic raid?
Spitzer: If necessary, I would.
Interviewer: If tomorrow you were to sit down as the American Representative at a disarmament conference, would you do things radically different than the way we have been doing them?
Spitzer: That’s a hard question for me to answer. To me everything seems to be so jumbled up I think it would take more than just one individual to straighten this mess out.
Interviewer: Have your children ever asked you about the part that you played in this?
Spitzer: Yes, they have and in fact, I have a book on the market, that’s called “We Dropped the A-bomb.” I’ve also had some recordings of different programs and so they’ve heard about it. They’re studying science today and of course what we had in those days are completely obsolete, they’re so far advanced, so far ahead of what I had learned at that time that I cannot even keep up with them. But I am sure, I imagine that they feel a certain amount of pride in this to think that there are so few people involved in this whole atomic bombing raids.
I always felt that as far as I was concerned, it didn’t make any difference to me if I was hit with a bullet or hit with a bomb. If you’re bound to be killed, you’re going to be killed. My personal feeling is that more people, more lives were saved as a direct result of using the atomic bomb, then if he had to continue the war for another six months. There’s no question that it did shorten the war.
Interviewer: Well how do you feel about the possible use of atomic weapons today? In other words, do you think that it would be morally legal for the United States to become involved in an atomic war?
Spitzer: Well to me, war itself should be outlawed, I mean there’s no question about it, war is a war. What difference does it make what you’re fighting with, whether you are fighting with arrows or guns or bombs?
Interviewer: In other words, the act is the same, the act is death.
Spitzer: That’s all, that’s a conquest.
Interviewer: It’s quantitative not qualitative.
Spitzer: I can’t see any possibility for any nuclear war because years ago when you had a war it was for two purposes, to gain the riches of the land or to conquest the people, and to become a power. With a nuclear warfare today, you wouldn’t have any land to conquer, people to enslave and the powers would destroy each other. So my personal believe is that the fact that we all have nuclear warfare, is one of the deterrents for a coming war. That’s my observation, that’s my thinking.
Interviewer: What do you think of those people who say we would be better than Red then dead?
Spitzer: You know people are afraid of walking across the street, some people are afraid of heights; I personally feel like the feel that I like to do what I want to do. You can’t live forever.
Interviewer: David McReynolds of the War Resisters League recently addressed a group who were protesting the launching of an atomic submarine. He said, and I quote, “We look a little odd, but compared to those who propose nuclear war, we are the stable ones. The rest are insane.”
Who, in your opinion is sane, is it David McReynolds, or is it our people who make our policy in the United States?
Spitzer: I can’t answer that. You know I often would like to ask the average person as to what they think because being involved in something as historical as the first atomic bomb, or I should the use of the first atomic bomb in warfare, it’s a little difficult for me to actually compare myself with others, because I felt that we did something which helped end the war, it saved lives, it certainly has improved on our method of living, had it been used just for peaceful purposes.
The outbreak of the actual use of the atomic bomb was secondary, because I think what we have to look forward in the future due to nuclear activity, is certainly going to be for the betterment of mankind. The threats of war always existed. It seems to me I was born during warfare, I’ve been through the first and depressions, and it’s just a constant fighting. After the war, you pick up the paper and what do you see, there are fights all over the world. They’re small skirmishes, but there are fights.
Interviewer: Do you think the United States should disarm unilaterally just to try to prevent the possibility of a nuclear war?
Spitzer: No, I don’t buy that. I think as long as others have it, we should have it.
Interviewer: In other words, having seen the awfulness of nuclear warfare, you prefer to take your chances on such a conflict, rather than see the United States disarm unilaterally or accept domination by another power.
Spitzer: Oh definitely.
Interviewer: Do you have a bomb shelter of your own?
Spitzer: No, I don’t, I don’t believe in it.
Interviewer: Why don’t you believe in it?
Spitzer: Listen if any one of those things ever hit, I want to be right in it so I don’t know what’s going on.
Interviewer: It’s 1945, millions of words have been spoken and tons of books written about the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The purpose of these interviews was to try to discover the thoughts of the men who were personally involved in the bombings. These men were selected solely for geographic reasons. They were the only crewmen living close enough to New York to be interviewed. I will draw no conclusions, I leave that to the listeners.