The Manhattan Project

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Mack Newsom's Interview

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Mack Newsom's Interview

Mack Newsom was a member of the Army’s 509th Composite Group. Newsom worked as an airplane mechanic and B-29 engine specialist. He was part of the ground crew on the B-29 Silverplate plane Next Objective. In this interview, Newsom discusses the details of his work on B-29s and what he and his fellow mechanics did to maintain the plane. He also describes the working conditions on Tinian, speaking of the climate, accommodations, division of labor, and water shortage on the island. He reflects on the use of the bomb, and how those stationed at Tinian came to learn of Hiroshima. Newsom also recalls going to Cuba when Next Objective was assigned there for temporary duty.
Manhattan Project Location(s): 
Date of Interview: 
May 15, 2016
Location of the Interview: 
Houston
Transcript: 

Cindy Kelly: I’m Cindy Kelly. It is Sunday, May 15, 2016, and I’m in Houston, Texas. I’m here to interview Mack Newsom. My first question for you is to say your formal name and spell it.

Mack Newsom: My full name is Mack Newsom, M-A-C-K. Well, originally it was Victor McKee, but they call me Mack. V-I-C-T-O-R and M-C-K-E-E, McKee.

I was born in [inaudible] Texas in March 21, 1922. I was raised on a farm like most other people were, and I stayed there until I finished high school. Then from there I went to finish basic training in the Army, went to San Antonio first in basic training in the Army.

Kelly: What year was that?

Newsom: It was 1943, January 1943, January the 21st. From there, like I say, I went to basic training and from there went to Lincoln, Nebraska for AM training, airplane mechanic’s training.

Went to [inaudible], Wendover Field, Utah for specialist training, engine specialist. From there, I went to Salt Lake City for [inaudible] to go to work on airplanes.

Then I went to Boise, Idaho and worked on B-24s until about April of ’43, I guess it was. Then from there I went to Fairmont, Nebraska, to be in B-29 first. From there on, I went to Wendover Field, Utah for base support of the B-29s. From there to Cuba and back to there, back there to Tinian. That’s about it, just working on planes.

Kelly: What got you involved? How did you happen to go to Lincoln, Nebraska, for this airplane mechanic training?

Newsom: Well, when I went out to San Antonio, they give us a test to see what we was qualified for. I think that’s the reason they sent me to Lincoln to go into airplane mechanics.

Kelly: Had you any interest in airplanes or mechanics?

Newsom: No. I’d been around them. But that’s what they wanted me to do so that’s what I did.

Kelly: So, how did you find it? You went through several different schools—three, I guess, three different training programs.

Newsom: Well, see they transferred from one to the other. Now, I didn’t know, they just sent me, when I finished one, they’d send me to another one. And there I’d go to another one, you know.

Kelly: Were they progressively more challenging or difficult?

Newsom: Well, I was kind of glad to get something extra to do, I personally always liked to work. I think that’s the kind of people they like to have. Other than that, you know, we just did work on that.

Kelly: Did any of the other classmates of yours, people in the training programs at Lincoln go on with you to the next place and end up at Wendover?

Newsom: Well, most of them went to Lincoln and some of them went to specialist school over at Wendover Field, and from there on I didn’t see hardly any of them. They went to places, you know, went to different things. We just went wherever they sent you.

Kelly: Most of your classmates you never saw again?

Newsom: Well, yeah, I did. The one that I would take basic training and went to Lincoln with turned out to be my brother-in-law here.

Kelly: Oh, ho.

Newsom: I married the oldest girl and I run into him—we both had worked, I had worked for the Hughes Tools Company before I went in and he worked for Hughes Tool, too. Then we run into each other here and, of course, we stayed together from there on pretty close. We was good friends.

We had one boy going over to Houston to basic training. They had a kid on there that he’d give the wrong age and he couldn’t carry his bag, me and Charles helped him carry that. That’s what kind of got us, we’s in the same tents there, and then we knew it there on.

Kelly: So was Charles your brother-in-law, or became your brother-in-law?

Newsom: Became my brother-in-law.

Kelly: Right.

Newsom: He went to England and I went to the South Pacific. I went to Tinian. When we both got out, well, of course, we were working for the same companies, Howard Hughes. We would run into one another here and we ran around together and ended up marrying sisters.

Kelly: Isn’t that fun?

Newsom: Yeah.

Kelly: That’s terrific. All right, let’s move on. You were at Wendover, that was where you began to work on—

Newsom: Planes, that’s where we went from to overseas. We were at Fairmont, Nebraska before we started out with 29’s. We just worked with 29’s until we got—we didn’t have but a few of them until right on the last. I think it’s eighteen and a crew, left three in the States and fifteen was overseas.

Kelly: Wow. Only three then in the States?

Newsom: They did testing out here in New Mexico. They’re the ones stayed here and did the testing there.

Kelly: Where in New Mexico? At the Kirtland Air Force Base?

Newsom: Well, it was New Mexico where they dropped that first bomb?

Kelly: Oh, White Sands. Yeah. Alamogordo.

Newsom: Yeah, they wrote a song about the three of them.

Kelly: I see.

Newsom: Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Kelly: Albuquerque.

Newsom: Yeah.

Kelly: So then you arrived at Wendover. What was that like?

Newsom: When we left Lincoln and went to Wendover, that’s when we started taking this specialist training. That’s where they told us mechanics, they told enough that I could take my hand and stick it to a board and tell you what size a nut or wrench was over on the side. So, if you had to work on them without a light, you would know what you was working with.

Kelly: Oh, my. They were imagining blackouts?

Newsom: Well, when you got over there, you might be working on a plane and the enemy was all around you. You might have a flashlight to work on it with, and you might not have anything. But you’d know what you were working with.

Kelly: Wow. That’s great. So can we test it? Do you think you’d remember if we gave you a wrench?

Newsom: Well, that’s the reason I couldn’t hold a rifle. I’ve got so much arthritis in my hands.

Kelly: Were they heavy, the wrenches?

Newsom: Oh, no. I used to take a crescent wrench and two screwdrivers and do an engine job, set the valves on a B-29. All you had to do was take the [inaudible] off, you take it off and you’d run [inaudible] compression stroke and I could feel it when it come to the top on compression. Then you’d go a whole eighteen centimeters around, just setting as you go. We knew a certain set distance that we set them apart.

Kelly: Wow. So, you could do this very quickly. You must have had a lot of dexterity with your hands.

Newsom: Well, with my helper, me and him could do a complete job engine, what I mean, a tune-up job in four hours’ time. We’d do 18 cylinders in four hours’ time. He’d turned the prop and I’d do the adjusting. He was a big hefty guy, like this guy over here. He could turn that prop by himself. We could do it in four hours’ time.

Kelly: Who taught you how tight to make these things? I assume if you make them too tight, that’s a problem.

Newsom: Well, there’s a certain thickness and you had gauges. I could take a dime and [inaudible] how wide to get them apart. We knew exactly what we was supposed to set them at. They had records on them to tell you what to set them, you know.

Kelly: That’s interesting. It’s by the sound?

Newsom: No, by the feel.

Kelly: Oh, by the feel, by the feel, right.

Newsom: The feel. You’d pull that tab down until it sits on top dead center, and that’s where you would set valves. You’d set intake and exhaust. You’d set your exhaust a little bit wider than you did your intake.

Kelly: There were three from your training group, but were there other people in your crew you were working with at Wendover?

Newsom: Well, when we was there at Wendover, we had four, two men on each engine. We did the complete everything, and then if they had to change a cylinder or something, they had a crew that did them and another specialist. But we just worked strictly on the engines and props and things like that.

Kelly: When the planes were at Wendover, had they already been fitted? Were they already silver-plate, so-called?

Newsom: No.

Kelly: No.

Newsom: No, we went to Cuba. We didn’t have but five planes. We went to Cuba and they did some testing down there, and we come back. They started getting them in from Omaha, Nebraska. They did the overhaul on them in Omaha, Nebraska.

Kelly: Oh, I see. Do you know what they were doing? Why did they go to Cuba, or fly over Cuba?

Newsom: I don’t know. I was just a mechanic.

Kelly: But it was more for their navigation skills, and things like that?

Newsom: Like I say, they did something, I don’t know what.

Kelly: Okay.

Newsom: Our job was keep them engines running. Our job was an engine specialist and that was to keep them engines running.

Kelly: Yeah. Could you tell after a long flight, was there a lot of wear and tear on an engine?

Newsom: Well, see, the engineer on the plane, when he got back, he wrote up anything that was going wrong. They had test book of everything on it, could tell you what pressure on everything, pumps and all. He’d write that up. If it was failing, a pump, we’d take it to, put a screw it in there and take a test on that cylinder. Anything below 80-85 pounds, they had to redo it. Eighty to 120 pounds won’t even keep it running.

Kelly: Can you remember a time when the engineer brought it back and had all these things to do and it took a while to figure out how to make it humming again?

Newsom: Well, he didn’t bring anything back, he just wrote the sheet up. They brought the sheet to us, pinned it on a prop, and we’d go over and test everything wrong with it, doing the things he said was. Like I said, if it didn’t have enough pressure, if it was running low on pressure, if it’s gas or fuel, we’d go checking for leaks. If it was pressure in other ones, they’d take it in for a cylinder change.

Kelly: Did you have all the spare parts you needed?

Newsom: Well, we pretty well had all the time, we’d go get our parts from just like a shop. In Cuba, we had a bicycle, it was about a half mile or so down there. We needed a part, you got on that bicycle and got that part and come back, on the plane where it needed it.

Kelly: Wendover’s a pretty big airfield. I mean, I could see that.

Newsom: Well, that’s where they used to train officers, officers barrack, that’s where the officers’ barracks was. That’s where we did the specialist training.

Kelly: Where did you live when you were there?

Newsom: We had barracks, we had barracks there, regular Army barracks.

Kelly: I was there a few years ago, and there were a number of barracks still there.

Newsom: Yeah. Well, we had about the most decent barracks we had while we was in service.

Kelly: Yeah. They were wooden clapboard.

Newsom: Wooden barracks, yes.

Kelly: Yeah, very nice.

Newsom: Two-story barracks.

Kelly: Two stories, yeah. The hangars were tremendous.

Newsom: Yeah. Where they was teaching, they had to cut off the engines where you could see what they were doing when you was learning how they worked, you know. That’s where we got our training, on those cut-off engines. Everything from, I think we had Buick engines. They were for these B-38s, and they had regular engines for all the rest of the planes.

Kelly: If the engine is cut off, there are four engines, how do you get it in and out of the hanger? Do you push it?

Newsom: They had all those things where you could—

Kelly: Little truck?

Newsom: Walk around just like you walk around that thing there, and look at it. They’d turn it, though, and show you what each cylinder was doing and what you did, how to set rings in it and everything. See, we went to where they build engines and everything, but they quit sending us there and started using civilians when we finished there. When we went overseas, they [inaudible], so I ended up going to the South Pacific. That’s the reason I had to go to South Pacific, I guess.

Kelly: Well, when you got to the South Pacific, did that cause problems with the humidity and the sand? I mean, did you have extra problems working in that—

Newsom: Oh it’s real nice, 120 in the shade. You wore cut-off britches, no shirt. You come back, you have to wear pants. Whenever you come back from overseas, we all had very good suntans, I’ll tell you.

Kelly: Did you swim to cool off?

Newsom: Oh, you could go in the bay, yeah. But you had to be careful.

Kelly: What was in the water?

Newsom: Everything.

Kelly: Everything.

Newsom: Personally, I didn’t do any swimming. I can swim, but I didn’t go in. The island is fifty-five miles wide and fifteen miles long. The east part is flatlands, and that’s where we had everything. The north part is mountains. They had a Navy yard on the northwest side, and we was on the east side.

Kelly: Where was the mechanical work done?

Newsom: We did it right there, right around the plane.

Kelly: Right. The airfield is in the north, right?

Newsom: Yeah. Well, after we got overseas, we actually had two compartments. We had eight men to take care of the engine that stayed with the plane. We did all that. I was one of them. We did up to 100-hour inspections. Now, they had another crew that did the rest of the work, changing oil,  just a regular whole crew down there that did that. We only did up to 100 hours after we got overseas. We did the whole while we was in the States.

Kelly: So 100 hours, I mean, that’s more than two weeks of work. You did 100 hours in what time period?

Newsom: 100 hours of time on the engines.

Kelly: Oh, with the engines.

Newsom: That’s what counted, about 100 hours. We’d change the oil and set the valves and everything like that on them, and check for leaks or anything on them. But anything over 100 hours, it went to the main shop and they did it.

Kelly: That’s a lot of flying, 100 hours.

Newsom: Well, when you fly about 25 hours over there and back, it’s about four trips, put 100 hours on one of them.

Kelly: I see.

Newsom: See, we did 25, 50, and 100-hour inspections. The main crew did the rest of it, anything that had to be changed. They had the engine change crew, and they had regular mechanics and equipment to do it with at the main shop. See, I only worked on the plane on the [inaudible] that had settled. But from the barracks there went back and forth with nine men that worked on it.

Kelly: You had those two crews that were all on the ground, and then there was another crew. Tell us about the other crew that actually flew with the plane.

Newsom: They were the flying crew.

Kelly: Right.

Newsom: You had your pilots, co-pilots, engineer, bombardier. Then they had the radio operator, radar man and tail gunner. You didn’t have but one gun in it, it’s in the tail. That’s the reason they were so powerful, because we trimmed them engines over to put fuel injections on them so that instead of 1800 engines, they had 2200 horsepower engines. They had 18-cylinder engines.

Kelly: And they all came back?

Newsom: We all came back.

Kelly: That’s quite a record.

Newsom: Yeah. We carried fifteen planes over and brought fifteen back.

Kelly: Those were pretty expensive planes, too.

Newsom: Well, they said those engines were $150,000 just for one engine, so that’s a pretty expensive engine.

Kelly: Yeah. The whole thing must’ve been millions in today’s dollars.

Newsom: I wouldn’t have no idea. I just know that when we first got them, some of the engines were burning up at five, six hours. We finally had to get all the bugs out of them, so that they would last quite a few hours. I don’t know what went wrong with them, but they had taken them back to the factory to get them redone. But anyway, you take $150,000 engine, that’s lots of money to burn up in eight or ten hours.

Kelly: Wow.

Newsom: But, they finally found what it—I don’t know what it was, they didn’t tell me. I wasn’t really interested. I just wanted to know what to do with what was there.

Kelly: Can you comment on the quality of the engines? Have you an idea that these were really great engines, because all the planes lasted?

Newsom: See, I worked on two different engines, on Pratt-Whitney, Pratt-Whitney on B-24s, clean engine. What you call had Wright engines, they had 85-gallon oil tanks sitting behind it. For each engine, you’d figure 85 gallons of oil, and then, man, they threw oil all over that thing. We had to clean them up every time they come in. But if the engines were losing pressure, then that engineer, his instrument would tell them all that stuff. Then we’d check it and if it’s below 80 pounds, we’d just send it down and they’d changed the cylinder on it. But the rest of time, we just went over it and checked it for leaks, you know, oil leaks and gas leaks and things like that.

We had to change the oil and they had a sump that held two gallons. You changed that sump every twenty-five hours, changed the oil out of it. But, you had an 85-gallon behind it that supplied it. It did pretty good. They did a good job, I’ll say that for them.

Only thing I hated about them is that they throwed that oil all over, and we had to clean them up every time they got in. Each man had to clean his engine and part of the wing. You know how they go to the sides of the fuselage and on the engines, we had to clean that up every time they come in, because it’d throw oil all over. But the oil they used, we didn’t worry about that. If the pump showed that it had low pressure, then we knew we had a leak.

Kelly: Were there any problems that kept recurring that you had, you remember, that every time the engine came back there was always something wrong with the such-and-such?

Newsom: Well, that throwing that oil on them, every trip they made we had to clean them when they got back. But it was two of us to each engine, so that wasn’t no big problem. If we didn’t have nothing else to do, well, we’d rest, you know.

Kelly: You had quite a bit of training, and then when you got to practice, how much do you suppose you learned on the job?

Newsom: Well, what I learned on the job was the places it would leak, like your [inaudible] rod from the piston down. See, the reason why the B-24s didn’t leak. They had sleeves on them to tighten them up, but they had just rubber hoses to tighten them up and they leaked almost ever [inaudible]. You had to go over and make sure they were tight and there wasn’t no leaks on them. If they’re bad, you’d change them. But that’s what made the Pratt engines throw oil so bad. That’s the only complaint I had about the Wright engine was throwing that oil, because I had to clean, we had to clean it up every time.

The first planes we got just had plain gasoline engines. The cylinder was [inaudible]. Then the ones we got, we changed over to fuel injection, and that give us 18 horsepower more per cylinder, and bigger props. That’s the reason why them things would fly so fast.

Kelly: Wow. Interesting. Did you ever operate in the dark?

Newsom: Well, not over there. We didn’t, no. Most of the time, they’d leave out at night wherever they was going and come back the next morning some time, and we’d be there waiting for them when they got in. We did most of our work in the daytime. If something like that happened, we would have, but we very seldom [inaudible] that we had do.

Kelly: What’d you do during the night when they were gone?

Newsom: We’d go to our barracks and sleep. Did you ever sleep on a cot without any bedding on it?

Kelly: Oh, is that what you had?

Newsom: We had a cot, a pair of coveralls for a pillow.

Kelly: Wow.

Newsom: You didn’t need no cover, because it’s 120 degrees outside right then.

Kelly: There was a breeze, you say?

Newsom: I say you didn’t need no bedding or cover, because it was hot enough. Oh, we had I think it was a quilt or something, but we didn’t need a blanket. But we told them guys that’s over there in the ditches, they didn’t have it that good. So we didn’t worry about that.

Kelly: So how hot was it?

Newsom: I said 120 degrees.

Kelly: 120. That’s the daytime temperature?

Newsom: Daytime, yeah.

Well, when we first got over there, they told us, “You don’t pull off no shirts or nothing, because you’re going to get blistered.” So we had to take it easy. We cut our pants legs off and go without a shirt. But, working in all that grease, that wasn’t a good way to work. Of course, at night, it wasn’t no 100 degrees at night, when the sun went down, but in the daytime, when you was working out there, it was hot.

Kelly: So if you said that it was not good to, with all the grease, not to wear a shirt, did you wear what you’re wearing now?

Newsom: No, we had regular shirts and regular short pants that we wore over there, and we had some coveralls we could’ve wore if we wanted to, but they were real nice and let us do like we wanted to as far as staying cool. But, they made sure that you got a good suntan before you went out there, because you’d burn, it would burn you. And they didn’t want you in the hospital.

I think you were going to ask me about that picture on the nose of the plane.

Kelly: Oh, yes.

Newsom: Next Objective. Well, they said we put it on, but I didn’t have nothing to do with putting that on there. The people that had it before where they worked it off of us, I think they’re the ones that put that on there. I’m not sure.

Kelly: So, tell us a little bit about the plane. Its name, tell us the name again.

Newsom: Our plane?

Kelly: Yes.

Newsom: It’s Next Objective. Enola Gay. Mr. [Fred] Bock’s plane was Bockscar. I don’t know how many I could—I forgot a lot of them.

Kelly: The nose cone art that we see on your Next Objective, that lovely woman, that was done after its missions?

Newsom: No, that was done before we went overseas.

Kelly: Oh, it was before. Oh, okay, right.

Newsom: Yeah. It was right up on the front nose. If that plane had went down, I don’t know what they would’ve got out of it. Most of them was named after their pilots. Like Bock’s, he renamed his Bockscar. Most of them, that’s what they named it after, the pilot. 

Kelly: I see. Do you have an idea what the Next Objective was supposed to refer to?

Newsom: Just a redheaded woman.

Kelly: I see.

Newsom: I guess, that’s all I can think of.

Kelly: Were there any women on base at Tinian Island?

Newsom: Uh-huh, not where—

Kelly: You can’t remember any.

Newsom: Oh, we had “gooks,” we called them, that lived there, you know. They was people that lived on the island. But of course, they was in camps there.

Kelly: Did they have a role did they? Were they stewards or did they have jobs?

Newsom: No.

Kelly: No.

Newsom: No, they lived, they had them in camps, they had tents and things for them. But you’d see them go by on trucks. I don’t know what they was using them to work on. I don’t know what they was doing. But you’d see them every now and then going by the barracks, on trucks going by.

But one of the bad problems over there was water. We didn’t have clear water. It was only one lake that had any fresh water, and that was one of our problems.

Kelly: So there was a lake?

Newsom: Yeah, there was a lake that had—

Kelly: Then who would carry the fresh water?

Newsom: That’s only fresh water there was on the island.

Kelly: I see.

Newsom: That’s what they got our water from. Every now and then, you’d be out in the shower taking a bath and one of them, each Japanese said it was in their mouths. They had to come out to get the water [inaudible] keep getting him a drink of water, but I was taking a shower. It’s unusual, but we had one old guy that run six of them and the patrols would run them down and catch them. They wouldn’t do nothing, but put back in the tent. I don’t know what they done with them. But, see they had to live in caves and stuff out there in the mountains. See, half the island is mountainous, and our part was flatland. That’s where they’d come out of them mountains down there, looking for food.

Kelly: Do you have any idea what the economy was before the Army Air Force came to Tinian?

Newsom: I don’t know what it was, but they told us that they was around 2500 of them still in those dens and things in the mountains. But that’s the reason why that every now and then one of them would come out trying to get fresh water and something to eat. But we didn’t ever have too much trouble with them after we were there a while.

Kelly: I guess the airfield was the biggest of all of the Pacific Islands. Can you describe it?

Newsom: Yeah. It’s on the flatlands and the water’s around it like this and it’s back here and the island, you’re going in the mountains. And it’s all flatland and [inaudible] go round and round and round. I could even show you where my plane sat.

Kelly: That’s a good idea.

Newsom: I say “My plane,” I was assistant engineer on it. We had a boy who been in the Army eight years and I’ve been in there going on three, and he just was a stripe above us so he had to be the crew chief. But he was a good man, he was good to work with.

Kelly: What was his name?

Newsom: Andy Anderson, Anderson.

Kelly: Anderson. So you were working on it three years, you say?

Newsom: Well, that’s how long I’d been in the Army. I had four brothers above me, brothers that was in the Army. I was the youngest, and they just wanted to go in. They went in at first until they got to me, and I was the last.

Kelly: How old were you when you graduated high school? Eighteen, when you went in?

Newsom: Nineteen.

Kelly: Nineteen.

Newsom: I worked for Hughes Tools about eight months, then the Army got me. The reason I got to stay until I was twenty was because I four more brothers ahead of me that went in.

Kelly: But you worked as a team, right, or not?

Newsom: You mean the brothers?

Kelly: Well, the eight of you mechanics.

Newsom: Oh, yeah, yeah, we worked two of us on each engine. I’d take number three engine. One, two and I had three and there was number four. Your two middle engines was your hottest running engines. That’s the ones that burned up, because they didn’t get as much air. The fuselage didn’t get much air, and so they run hotter.

Kelly: That’s number two, you say?

Newsom: I’d take number three and they had number two.

Kelly: You had number three.

Newsom: Yeah.

Kelly: Interesting. So it was hot at night. Could you sleep?

Newsom: Oh, yeah, you’d sleep.

Kelly: You slept. You were tired?

Newsom: You learned to sleep, yeah.

Kelly: It’s near the equator so the sun was pretty regular about setting promptly and getting up?

Newsom: Yeah, it’d come up and down practically every day. Every now and then, you’d have one of those little old storms that come across the island, but very few.

Kelly: So how many months were you there?

Newsom: Let’s see, about eight months.

Kelly: Eight months.

Newsom: We was over there about eight months.

Kelly: You remember what month you went over?

Newsom: I believe it was April. I’m not sure. The ground crew come back in, just after the bomb was dropped, and we didn’t get to come back until they got to Roswell, New Mexico. That was about six weeks later. I think we got back here around—the 21st day of November, that’s when I was discharged from Roswell. The rest of the crew, we didn’t get back until they got over here. They come by boats, so it actually taken them a while to get here, you know.

Kelly: And you flew back?

Newsom: Yeah, we were on the plane. I was with it all to where it went. That’s the reason I went to Cuba with it. That’s the reason we went over that way, I flew over and flew back with the plane. But when you get there, my job was to work on it, not fly.

Kelly: That’s interesting. It was so long ago to think we just flew to Cuba.

Newsom: Well, yeah, about sixty-some years ago, wasn’t it? Or was it fifty? I forget.

I went in for the first day of January, ’43 and I come out the 21st day of November ’45. So I was in thirty-four months.

Kelly: Right. What was your favorite time in thinking about those thirty-four months that you were there?

Newsom: My favorite time?

Kelly: Yeah.

Newsom: Well, I don’t know. It’s all about the same. You had a job to do. That’s what I was put in there to do and that’s what I felt like doing. I think I must’ve done pretty good. I had a pretty good rating as a worker [inaudible]. I didn’t want that plane to go down and the crew go down with it. I was strictly interested in doing a good job for them. That’s the best I could do.

Kelly: When did you learn what the mission was of the plane that you were working on, or the planes? When you learned the mission of the 509th Composite Group?

Newsom: They told us when it was over with. We didn’t know anything until it was over with. But of course, they told us what was going on. When they went, we weren’t ever there when they left at night, because we got through working on them. We could go to barracks, and they’d take off at midnight and go to Japan and wouldn’t get back until the next morning sometime. We generally wouldn’t be there when they left even, because they generally had taken off at night most of the time. That gave us give the daytime to work on it, you see.

Kelly: So on the evening of August 5th, I guess, morning of August 6th when the Enola Gay and the other two planes took off for their mission to Hiroshima, was it just like any other night? Was there any hint that it was—

Newsom: We didn’t have no idea what they were going for. We didn’t know until they got back. But the flying crew, they didn’t talk to us. All we knew was what we was to work on.

Kelly: How did you learn what happened on August 6th?

Newsom: Well, the next day they told us what had happened. We had a little party. They gave us a cold-cut dinner and a couple of bottles of beer for it, and they told us what had happened. Everybody knew at the same time what had happened.

Kelly: So, you had a little party, but there was no rest for the weary. You kept going, right?

Newsom: Yeah. Of course, we had a place that had coffee and things that we’d go to after we got off of work, and drink Coca-Cola. We had a few things to go to there. But the mess hall made all the donuts and things for us, you know, and like that. And they had a place to go to get you a few drinks if you needed it when you got off work.

Kelly: Did they have a radio broadcast, or how did they announce the dropping of the atomic bomb? Or did they just gather everybody together?

Newsom: We just had a gathering down there. Everybody’s talking.

Kelly: Everybody was talking about it.

Newsom: Yeah, well, you know, [inaudible] then they just going on around like that. But my job was, I had to go clean up my plane [inaudible]. And they was having a good time and I didn’t get back until close to it was over. But, all in all, it was okay.

Kelly: Yeah. How did you feel about it?

Newsom: Well, you can’t help but feel sorry for the families. We had people that they had held prisoners who were in those—lucky for us—dugouts underground. Most of them was in them, and that’s what saved them. The bomb didn’t. What it did is it got everything above ground, you see. But you can’t help but feel sorry for anybody.

But what I didn’t like, Japan started it. They throwed the first bomb when they bombed Pearl Harbor. I felt like they had it coming to them for that. Not the people over there, the officials over there. The bad part about this is they was getting in the holes and hiding, too, you know, but if it’d been just them, well, then it’d been real good. Other than that, I felt sorry for anyone that lost people over there.

Kelly: Did anybody say what was coming next, or you all just went back to work and then learned about—

Newsom: Well, they dropped that first one, and they gave them a chance to surrender and they wouldn’t do it. They told them then that there is something else coming. It took the second one, their people, they take heed to it. I’ve talked to many Japanese persons over here and they’ll tell you that there would’ve been a jillion more Japanese killed, there would’ve been so many more, if we hadn’t done that. They say we saved lives by doing it. But you got to feel sorry for the people that got it.

I’d say, I only worked, I only kept the plane running, that’s my job. I don’t feel that I did anything wrong. I did what I was told to.

I felt that I was given a good deal. When my dad passed away, Colonel [Thomas J.] Classen flew me home. When they went overseas, they let everybody go home for vacation. I had too much time, so Colonel Classen flew me home again. So I feel like I got my share.

Kelly: Yeah. What happened once you got home? What did you do after that, when you were released from Tinian Island and had a chance to come back stateside? Where did you go?

Newsom: I stayed with the plane. We flew right into Roswell. We were turned loose, but when we got there, well, I checked my plane in. The captain, [Ralph] Devore, our pilot, he said his engineer wanted me to take his place. Wanted me to stay on, sign for three years and he’d give me another start right then and guarantee me a Master [Sergeant] in years’ time.

I was a tech and he was guaranteeing me a Master [Sergeant] within a years’ time if I’d sign on and be his engineer. But I had a job at Houston with selling beer that I could so much in a week as I could’ve made as a Master Sergeant in a month. So that was my reason not to even want to stay on.

Besides that, I was ready to come home anyway. I came home. But I could’ve stayed on. I was offered a job. He knew me, is the reason why he wanted me to stay on as his engineer, because I did the same work he did only, I had the main work to do and that’s the reason he wanted me. Well, he trusted me, and that’s the reason why he wanted me to stay on.

Kelly: Well, that made you feel good.

Newsom: Yeah, it did.

Kelly: Great. But when you say you went home, so where did you go? Did you go back to the farm?

Newsom: I went back to the farm. That’s my mother—that’s where I was raised in Texas, that’s just out of—you know where Centerville, Texas is, when you’re halfway between here and Dallas? It’s about fifteen miles out of Centerville there. That’s where I was raised and went to school at Centerville, the last part. I finished high school there.

Kelly: So were your parents glad to see you?

Newsom: Well, my mother was. My dad was gone.

I had four more brothers older than I was. My next to oldest brother, he worked for the OSS [Office of Strategic Services], and the other one went to England. He was across the channel on D-Day, with heavy artillery, but he made it. Both of them made it, made it back. The other one never did go over, he stayed here. He was in Virginia. I think he was parachutes. [Inaudible] Bailed out, packing parachutes and things like that, going and picking them up when they’d jump.

Kelly: Did you and your brothers talk about your different war experiences?

Newsom: You know, he doesn’t ever talk about it. You know, like I say, I wasn’t really in it, I wasn’t out front or anything. They’d done taken the island when we got over there. All we had to do was to hope one of them didn’t come out at night. But we didn’t have anything to talk about, until after it was all over with. After we got back in the States, a lot of them would talk to you about things. But it was just a job with me.

Kelly: If you had to do it all over again, knowing what you know about your brother’s experience in the OSS in Europe, which would you have chosen?

Newsom: I’d have chosen the Air Force. I learned to like it. I never had been in with planes before. In fact, the reason I didn’t, when I got out of school, to go to engineering—they wanted me to go to engineering school on B-29s. But the reason I didn’t, because I’d promised my mother and daddy if I didn’t have to, I wouldn’t fly. After I went to them schools and had to do whatever they wanted me to, and that’s what I did.

Kelly: What did you do after the war, then?

Newsom: I come back and went to work for [inaudible].

Kelly: I see.

Newsom: I worked twenty-one years for them, until they closed up.

Kelly: Great. And then you had a family?

Newsom: Yeah. I met her, her uncle owned a grocery store and she was working at the grocery store, so I ran into her. Then my brother-in-law started going with her younger sister, and that’s where we both ended up with the same family.

Kelly: How many children did you have?

Newsom: I got two. There they are. The first was a girl.

Kelly: Yeah, there they are. That’s great. How about your sister, did she have children?

Newsom: My sister? Well, you mean her sister? Or mine?

Kelly: Well, the one that you married off to your friend, who became your brother-in-law?

Newsom: Oh, yeah, that was her sister. She’s got—how many kids does, three girls and a boy, isn’t it? Three girls and a boy, yeah.

Kelly: Good. So you were both very productive.

Newsom: We tried.

Kelly: Great.

Newsom: I retired in ’83. I’ve been on the farm. I got a little cow pasture up in the country.

Kelly: Good, good. And, how old are you now?

Newsom: Ninety-four.

Kelly: What does it feel like to be ninety-four?

Newsom: Well, I don’t know, I ain’t never been that way before. But I was ninety-four on March 21st, 1922 [Misspoke: 2016].

Kelly: So, if you could write or talk to, let’s say, to your  great-great-great-great-grandchild, let’s say you’ve got a fifteen-year-old boy, what would you tell him about your experience in World War II?

Newsom: Oh, Lord, I don’t know. There’s very little things that’s changed, so there’s very little you could tell that would make any sense to him. I don’t know, I just tell them to take what you need to be put in and go with it.

Kelly: Is there anything we haven’t talked about that you want to share?

Newsom: Well, I could tell you one little problem. The only thing that I had to get in the island, General [inaudible] over the island, he didn’t like us. He was just going to take everything and split it up when they got over, he didn’t know what it was. It was a composite group, we were working out of Washington and he was, too. Well, they had to get him straight on that.

Then when the war was over we had six weeks to wait. He was going to make us get out there and march every day. Colonel Classen asked us, said, “Ya’ll want to march or go on K-rations?” So, we went on K-rations until our time was up and come back home. So, that’s the only thing I had against him, he wanted to make us march. Colonel Classen said we wasn’t foot soldiers, we had done enough, we didn’t deserve to march.

Kelly: That’s great. That’s great.

Newsom: That’s the only complaint I had about it.

Kelly: Yeah. You didn’t mind the long hours?

Newsom: No, no.

Kelly: Early rises?

Newsom: If you do, you got to do it and somebody’s got to do it. I felt like I was a lot luckier than some of them that didn’t come back. I had a cousin that went through all that over there. He’d tell you that he’d have liked to have been on something that he could work on and not been scared of.

Kelly: What do you know about what your brother did in the OSS? Where was he stationed?

Newsom: He was north, in Virginia, you know where that [inaudible] is there. Well, they had these parachuters that jumped out of airplanes, and he packed parachutes. He done everything that you would call up there, when they’d go out. If they didn’t have a cook, he’s a cook. If they didn’t have a barber, he’d cut their hair. He barbered for them. When they got through, they wanted him to stay as a guard in Washington, but he said he wanted to come home, too.

The other one, well, he was with the heavy artillery when they crossed the channel over there. He was some of the first that went to England. He was in about four years, I guess. He went in the first crew that went across the seas. The other one was in Washington.

I was all around. Well, about twelve different places I went, camps. Of course, they were in different camps here until he went over with just basic training and all that. Then they went over at the first. The other one in Washington, he was scattered around here, two or three places, and he ended up there in Virginia, somewhere in Virginia there.

I think I was a pretty good automobile mechanic. I’d done quite a bit of that before I went in to take basic training. I think that’s the reason why they sent me to mechanic school, because they knew that I, you know, mechanical aptitude. But that’s the only reason I can give for them to send me so many different places, you know. I was like a 747 MOS [Military Occupational Specialty], I got a 684 MOS, and got a 750 MOS. That’s 747, that’s airplane radio, and then I was a specialist and I was the crew chief, for our crew chief on the B-29.

Kelly: Well, speaking of that, can you tell us what happened to the Next Objective, the airplane you labored on?

Newsom: Yeah. I got a letter on that. I don’t think Major Devore, I don’t think he was still over that. I think they changed it to somebody else, but they was flying missions out close to El Paso and the Wright engines caught on fire. The pilot and the engineer got all the people off the plane. Of course, when one catches on fire, you generally try to blow it out. The engineer tried to blow it out, but they couldn’t blow it out. So they thought all about, and they went down with the—you know where the nose wheel is?

They went out through there to jump out, and all of them went out except the engineer, and the pilot stayed until last. He [the engineer] went out and he hit his head on the hard front wheel. and, he never did open his parachute. But, the pilot got out, see, but the pilot’s the one said that he thought he hit his head on that wheel, that’s the reason he never did open his parachute.

My daughter, she’s got all that stuff on it at that time, because I got a letter on it, what happened to it. I was just curious to what happened to it after I got out. You know, you kind of get attached to something, and I was just curious. I hope it wasn’t one of our people that was engineer on it. But they were making engineers out of enlisted men. To start off with, it was all officers. But when they come back, they started making engineers out of mechanics that was on there. That’s the reason why he wanted me, because I’m a mechanic and he knew me, too. So he wanted me to stay with him. I was sorry I couldn’t, but I didn’t.   

Kelly: Interesting. So, that was just a few years after the end of the war, right?

Newsom: Yeah.

Kelly: So it made it through all those missions over to Japan and back, and down to Cuba and around.

Newsom: Well, I didn’t go to Japan.

Kelly: Right, right. But the plane made it.

Newsom: Oh, yeah, the planes did.

Kelly: Yeah, right, right. You took good care of it.

Newsom: We was with it all the time that it was on the ground. We was with it all the time there. I think we had a pretty good crew working on all of them, because we brought all of them back. Oh, they had places where, you know, had hit them, but it didn’t do nothing to knock them down or anything.

She’s [my daughter] got a bunch of pictures of them that we had taken while we were down there [in Cuba]. From my drinking days, too, the pictures she’s got of them. I don’t doubt she wants to see them.

Kelly: Sure. No, I think those would be great. Tell us what the pictures have.

Newsom: Well, they just have sitting around the table drinking, you know. Whether you know or not, you know how servicemen are. We’d end up and on weekends and sometimes we’d spend the night there and come back the next day. But that was before Cuba got too tedious about what they did down there.

Terri Mathis: Daddy, tell them about the stripes. Tell them about the girls fighting over your stripes.

Newsom: See, they would come out to the camp and we’d have a party for them and we’d have party dances. I got to know one of them pretty well and she had a twin sister. And so when we got ready to come back, well, she wanted a souvenir. She cut my stripes off and her little sister wanted the other one, and she cut the other one off. But she didn’t want her to get the other stripe. They did it for the souvenir, that’s what it was for.

But they were really nice kids. They come out there and throw those parties for us, you know. They’d bring them out there and we’d have dancing and things. The last time when they knew we was going to leave, so they wanted souvenirs, and they wanted my stripes. So I gave them both of my stripes.

Kelly: You didn’t need them anymore.

Newsom: Well, I could get more when I got back to camp anyway. Every time you got another stripe, they’d give you some more anyway.

Kelly: That’s great.

Newsom: They wanted them stripes for souvenirs.

Mathis: Well, not necessarily about him, but he was talking about his brother earlier. He was actually one of the first ones that hit the beach in Normandy.

Kelly: Oh, is that right?

Mathis: He lost the hearing in his ear.

Kelly: Oh, his brother. Oh, is that right?

Mathis: Yeah.

Newsom: The one I told you that went to England. Well, he crossed the channel on D-Day with them and they blew him out of the foxhole and ruined one of his ears.

Kelly: But he survived?

Newsom: Oh, yeah, he survived.

Kelly: Amazing.