Announcer: You are listening to Extension 720. Here once again is your host, Milt Rosenberg.
Milton Rosenberg: As we are tonight talking about the Hiroshima and Nagasaki missions, whose 43rd anniversary comes this weekend, we are talking with Robert Messer, Professor of History at the University of Illinois Chicago and with two participants in those missions. Ray Gallagher was on both. Fred Olivi was the co-pilot on Bock’s Car, the second—the plane that dropped the bomb over Nagasaki. Robert Messer has just been revealing for us the historical analysis and debate and offering his own views in response to the basic question, were these trips necessary? Ss they used to say I think during that war. Is this trip necessary? Were these particular bombing missions necessary?
You have heard the kind of speculation we have had from the historians. You are two participants and surely you have wondered and thought about this in later years, because the world was very responsive to these bombing missions and continued to question whether they should have been done. What were your own thoughts, not necessarily a few days after the mission, but since then? It has been forty-three years since then.
Ray Gallagher: Since it has happened, I have often thought about the people who were on the ground. I did not think about them the two days that we made the trips. Likely, in all honesty, I can say I did not think about them maybe until about a month or so later. But as you get into your years and you see pictures of these different situations and people at the memorials, your heart goes out and you say, why did it happen? But it had to happen.
Now the reason I say it had to happen is, because it was analyzed that we were going to lose an awful lot of people. Little was it realized, but it was a known fact that the Purple Hearts that were printed during World War II and the Bronze Stars, there were enough of them to be issued for the Korean War and for the Vietnam War for the Purple Hearts. Now Purple Hearts are given for wounds or for death. For the Bronze Star, it is given for battles. So if we had enough of those that were minted in World War II, we certainly must have analyzed, the loss must have been going to be something fantastic.
Rosenberg: They had been minted for use in the Japanese invasion?
Gallagher: For use in the Japanese invasion. Even though we were on the crews that dropped these bombs, we still realized before the war was over that we were still going to go on and go into Japan. Somehow or other, we were going to play a part in going into Japan.
Fred Olivi: I think that dropping the second atomic bomb was necessary, because during the invasion or the planned invasion of the Japanese Empire, they expected a million casualties. To my way of thinking, if it saved American lives and also Japanese lives, I feel that it did a service in ending the war.
Rosenberg: What has happened to the 393rd Bomber Squadron? How many planes were in it originally, about twenty or thereabouts?
Rosenberg: Fifteen. That would have meant how many men, roughly?
Olivi: Well a crew consisted of eleven men, I think.
Rosenberg: But there were support people as well?
Rosenberg: So the total squadron?
Olivi: Maybe about 1,500 in the entire group.
Rosenberg: Most military outfits, especially in victorious armies, even in armies that are not victorious, then develop a camaraderie which lasts for twenty, thirty, forty years after the war. Has that happened with the 393rd Bomber Squadron?
Olivi: We have our semi-annual reunion every two years. This year it will be in Boston, at the end of the month. As far as the crews themselves are concerned, there are not too many that come all together and are meeting at the same time and talk about our experience, as far as the mission goes.
Rosenberg: So that roster of guys that we ran down, those who were on Bock’s Car on the Nagasaki flight, these eleven men or so do not get together very often?
Olivi: No. I get together with [Captain Kermit] Beahan. I have seen him more at the reunions. Captain [James] Van Pelt, he came to the last one. But outside of that, we did not see any of the enlisted men there.
Rosenberg: Is that unusual, would you say?
Gallagher I would say it is unusual but for its reason, I cannot come up with an answer. We used to correspond through the mail. We would be in their Christmas list. We would write letters, but as time went by, we did not forget one another. We just neglected to write one another.
Rosenberg: What kinds of lives have you two guys had? You were both Chicagoans. You went off to war. You both came back to Chicago. Ray, you were with the telephone company for a long time.
Gallagher: I was with Bell. I went to work for Bell in 1945 and I was with them for 38 ½ years. I retired in ’84 and since then I have still stayed away from Bell, but I am still in the communications business.
Rosenberg: Fred, you remained in the reserves, did you not?
Olivi: Yes, I did, from the minute that I was discharged from active duty. I just walked across the room and enlisted in the reserve and stayed in the reserve until 1972, when I retired as a Lieutenant Colonel.
Rosenberg: But you also became pretty important in Chicago life.
Olivi: Yes. The job with the City of Chicago was supposed to have been temporary, because I was interested in becoming an airline pilot with any of the airlines.
Rosenberg: Oh, yeah?
Olivi: I used to go to Midway and I filled out my application to become a pilot. But of course, I got out in 1947, and this was two years after the end of the war. They had pilots coming out their ears at the time. When I went to the employment office and asked them about getting on, they said, “How many hours do you have?” At the time, I had about 2,000 hours. He said, “Come with me.” He took me to the office and he showed me this list of pilots, and they had hours such as 5,000 and 7,000 hours. These were instructors that flew every day, of course. So they had the advantage of being hired before I did.
Rosenberg: Once you were a flight master and instead you became in Chicago a bridge master, is what I would call you.
Rosenberg: You were the man who was the manager of bridge operations and maintenance.
Rosenberg: Really, the man in charge of all Chicago bridges.
Olivi: That is right.
Rosenberg: How many years were you in that?
Olivi: I was in it for thirty-six years, the last thirteen as the Manager of Bridge Operations and Maintenance.
Rosenberg: When did you retire?
Olivi: 1986. It is a year and eight months.
Rosenberg: Now you are both vigorous fellows. I guess you have to both be older than sixty, because you were active forty-three years ago in this operation.
Rosenberg: But not much older than that, I suppose. What, sixty-three, sixty-five, thereabouts.
Gallagher: I am going on sixty-seven.
Olivi: I am sixty-six.
Rosenberg: How are you spending your time these days, both of you?
Gallagher: As I mentioned before, I am in the communications business.
Rosenberg: You cannot stop working?
Gallagher: Well, I enjoy meeting people. I enjoyed my work as a telephone man, and I continue to enjoy meeting people.
Olivi: I spend my time with my wife traveling around the country and in Europe, and doing things that we just feel like doing at the time.
Rosenberg: Traveling around this country and to Europe, not to Japan?
Olivi: No. That is a ticklish situation, because for the anniversary of the bombing of Japan, Jacob Beser, our radar countermeasures man, he went over there. I think it was for the 40th anniversary. I was asked to go over there and be part of it. But I turned it down because I did not know what the climate was going to be like in Japan. I felt kind of uneasy about it. But Jacob Beser was the one that accepted and he did go to Japan and he fulfilled his obligations, as he saw it.
Robert Messer: But Truman’s story about that in the early 1960s, in connection with a television documentary that was never actually made or completed. It was proposed that Harry Truman, then former President Truman, visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki as a goodwill gesture. It was a rather ticklish question. But the producers of this program suggested that. His reply was very typical Truman language. He said he would go, but he would not kiss their ass. That kind of unapologetic stance that he took immediately after, in his memoirs, published ten years after the war, and to his death in 1972, was something of a front. You asked me about his losing sleep over it.
Rosenberg: I asked his daughter about it as well.
Messer: Right. His sense of, or his defensiveness, almost protesting too much because he was a far more sensitive man and a religious man than he might let on in public. He did agonize, not at the time, but I think afterward, he too saw pictures of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On August 10th, the day after Nagasaki, he met with his Cabinet and in trying to impress them with the necessity of accepting this conditional unconditional surrender, because there were conditions that the Japanese were holding out for, the status of the Emperor. In trying to convince these domestic politicians that we should accept these terms, he made two points. That if we keep the war going, the Russians are going to take more territory—a Cold War point. Then a personal point. He said the thought of killing 100,000 more people was just too horrible and he could not stand the thought of killing all those kids. That is August 10th, 1945. That to me is a side of Truman that we do not often get in the textbook images.
Rosenberg: No. It is valuable to be reminded of that, to be told about that. A strange tale associated with all of this is the further career of Colonel [Paul] Tibbets, the pilot of the Enola Gay. He was really the commander of the whole bomb squadron, was he not?
Rosenberg: So he was the guy who put the whole operation together. He stayed in the service and he retired. He was full Colonel at that time. He retired thirty years later or thereabouts as Brigadier General. He had been moved up one notch, which seems rather strange to me. What do you think?
Olivi: Well, I think he should have been of higher rank with all the experience that he had.
Rosenberg: But he was the symbol in a way for –
Olivi: Yes, he was. As such, he stuck out like a sore thumb because he had the code name “Silverplate” and any time he wanted something, why, he would just go to any base or any place in the country and just mention the word “silverplate” and he got what he wanted. As a result, I think he kind of rubbed wrong noses at different times, and I do not think people forget that easily. And when they had the chance –
Rosenberg: So you think it is a personal thing, rather than his having been held back in promotion because, in a way, he is the walking symbol of the whole Hiroshima/Nagasaki operation? I have the feeling that maybe he was sort of held back for that reason. As a way really of not offending the Japanese.
Olivi: That is right. Well this business with the Enola Gay is a –
Rosenberg: The plane itself, yes, that is interesting. Tell about that.
Olivi: From what Colonel Tibbets said at some of the reunions, he was very unhappy with the US government because of the fact that he felt that we knuckled under the Japanese. That the Japanese did not want us to display the Enola Gay for whatever reasons they had, for what it signified, I suppose. He felt that in no way should we have done this, because he felt this was part of history. It happened and we just should have said, “The hell with this business. We are going to display the airplane whether you like it or not.” I think now there is a move afoot to try to get the Enola Gay put on public display.
Rosenberg: The Smithsonian apparently owns the Enola Gay. It was in rather poor repair at the moment, but they have it at some other installation, rather than in any of the Smithsonian Museum.
Olivi: Yes, the Garber. It used to be called Silver Hill, but now it is the Garber Restoration Facility.
Rosenberg: There is a committee, and Colonel Tibbets is on it, which is trying to deal with the Smithsonian to get them to complete the restoration and to mount it for public display.
Rosenberg: The director of the Smithsonian is a former provost of the University of Chicago, Robert McCormick Adams. I have seen some quotations concerning his response on this matter. He points out that Japan is an important nation and very important to us, and this might really give offense to Japan.
I can understand that you all have strong feelings that the Enola Gay should be put together and mounted for all the public to see and admire. I can certainly understand the governmental point of view, which is the opposite one, that it would not necessarily contribute to continued close and mutually cooperative American/Japanese relations. What do you think, Bob Messer?
Messer: Well, it is an historical artifact, and historians like everything to be preserved and studied. It is probably but certainly the last Silverplate B-29. I take it it is in not only disrepair but is actually disassembled.
Rosenberg: I did not know that Tibbets went by the handle “Silverplate.” We have not made clear the importance of silver-plating in this mission. Perhaps you ought to do that right now.
Messer: Again, it was a designation of the highest priority. That was a name that you could drop to get priority for materials or access to airfields. It was the Manhattan Project’s code name. So when you needed something, several tons of silver from Fort Knox to make electromagnets at Oak Ridge because you did not have enough copper, “Silverplate” would open the doors of Fort Knox.
Rosenberg: But the planes themselves were silver-plated, were they not?
Rosenberg: They were somehow specially shielded, though?
Messer: If anything, they were lighter for carrying such a heavy bomb and getting off. Tinian had a very long runway, still does. It is overgrown now, but the bomb load was very heavy and dense. So they were stripped down and then specially reinforced, the fuselage. It was a long plane and had to support a very heavy bomb not distributed over the normal bomb load.
Rosenberg: We will take care of some commercials and then onto the telephones. The lines are open. In fact, we are having that occasional but really basically rare phenomenon. The lines at the moment are just about completely filled, even though I have not yet invited telephone calls. All the same, the number is 591-7200.
Announcer: From WGN Radio Chicago, you are listening to Extension 720. Once again, your host Milt Rosenberg.
Rosenberg: Our guests tonight, as we are remembering the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with the first atomic weapons, are two of the men who were part of the bomber squadron that did the work, the 393rd. They are Fred Olivi, who was Second Lieutenant and second-in-command of Bock’s Car, the Nagasaki ship so to speak, and Ray Gallagher, who was Staff Sergeant and both on the crew of Bock’s Car and on the crew of The Great Artiste, which was the observer plane directly behind the Enola Gay over Hiroshima.
591-7200 is our number. Our third guest is Robert Messer, Professor of History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. 591-7200, and here is the first caller. Good evening. You are on the air.
Fred McClory: Yes, Doctor. My name is Fred McClory. I just want to tell you that I think that Truman did the right thing that night. I was on a hospital ship called the Benevolence out in Eniwetok. We were getting ready for the invasion of Japan that day.
A very young sailor, I was down in the engine room most of the time. We were assembling everything we could possibly put together, including bringing some back of the troops from Europe and putting it all together to get ready, before they dropped that bomb. Truman did the right thing. There is no question about it. It saved, I do not know. They were talking at that time like a million lives, whether it be all American or part Japanese or Australian, New Zealand, whatever it was.
Rosenberg: I think it is obvious and it is quite safe to say that if there had been an invasion of the Japanese islands, far more Japanese would have been killed than were killed by virtue of those two bombings over those two Japanese cities.
McClory: I am sure of that. Right. Now that we have some of these papers released on what the plan was for going in, whether they call it Chrysler Beach or whatever it was. But all of us were assembled out there, and the day they dropped that bomb, of course, we started to move up. But it was a very important decision and I think that Truman did the right thing at that time.
Rosenberg: Well, sir, we thank you for the call.
McClory: All right. Thank you.
Rosenberg: 591-7200 our number. 591-7200. Before we get back to the phones, I am remembering—I do not remember his name. You guys probably will. Who was the man who called himself “The Hiroshima Pilot” and did a book of remorse?
Olivi: Claude Eatherly.
Rosenberg: Yeah. Who was he exactly? What was his connection with the mission? He was not the Hiroshima pilot, obviously.
Olivi: No, he was a weather ship that was sent out ahead of the actual bomb carrying plane. He reported back the weather to Colonel Tibbets for the Hiroshima mission.
Rosenberg: I never read the book, but in it he reported that his life had been ruined by participation in this event. Was that it?
Messer: Well actually, it became something of a myth of sloppy journalism. Mr. Eatherly had problems drinking and petty theft with the law, and he began to use that as an excuse. Enterprising reporters picked up on it. Newsweek did not check their sources, and pretty soon they had him dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and being guilt-ridden over it. Bradford Huie wrote a book exploding the myth that Claude Eatherly had anything to be guilty about, in terms of his role.
Rosenberg: Was he in the 393rd?
Gallagher: Oh yes.
Rosenberg: So you knew him?
Gallagher: Yes, yes. Like Fred said, he was a pilot of the weather ship that went into Hiroshima. They were told that they had to clear the area a half hour before the appearance of the Enola Gay and The Great Artiste, which he did. As the gentleman said, I have read the same article. I feel sorry for the gentleman. He passed away now, but that is truthfully what has happened to him.
Olivi: But he was a very skillful pilot and I think General Tibbets would attribute to that also. He did his job well.
Rosenberg: I see. Here is another caller. You are on the air. Good evening. Hello? Are you there?
Female Caller: I am here. I have heard a number of times that if we had not dropped the bomb, that the Japanese were this close to developing it themselves and were about to use it on us. Is that truth or fiction?
Rosenberg: I think the Germans were closer, were they not?
Messer: Both the Germans and the Japanese and the Soviet Union had nuclear projects. The Japanese lacked the fissionable materials. Particularly toward the end of the war, they were being bombed so heavily that certainly it disrupted any effort they had. They had the brainpower, but they did not have the resources.
The Germans, too. They were the first to split the atom, and initiated the British and American effort to build a bomb before they did. But they had not achieved a controlled nuclear reaction, one of the basic scientific steps to do that. So no country except really the United States was in a position to build one during the war.
Female Caller: But I think if they had developed one, they would have used it. I mean, war is hell, as they say, and I am in accord with what Harry Truman did. I think it had to be done at that particular time.
Rosenberg: We thank you, ma’am for the call.
Female Caller: You are welcome.
Rosenberg: We will get directly on to another. 591-7200 the number. You are on the air. Good evening.
Male Caller 1: Hello?
Rosenberg: Yes, sir.
Male Caller 1: I also thank Harry Truman, because I was on the way to the Philippines to be part of the invasion army. My job would have been to bury the dead.
But the point I like to make is that the Japanese High Command, by way of the secret information coming out of the monthly reports from the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces, said that the Japanese High Command had spread down through all the prefectures or subdivisional governments in Japan. Every family who in case of our victory would be forced to house some of our armed troops, they all should have Punji sticks hidden around their house. On a certain time level, they should then try and kill, each family, kill the men posted in their house. They thought that they could kill that way enough people that they could rebel and reconquer their own homeland.
Rosenberg: Where did you say you got that material?
Male Caller 1: That is either in a SHEAF, S-H-E-A-F [Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces] secret letter that used to come out about once a month. The estimated number of American casualties that the Japanese figured they could do with that trick would be around 5,000,000.
Male Caller 1: Out of about 15,000,000.
Rosenberg: That is quite interesting, sir. Bob Messer, what do you make of that?
Messer: I am not aware of that particular bit of information. But certainly, there is ample evidence of organized efforts to use unconventional warfare to the point of bamboo spears, should it have been necessary to attempt to repel an invasion. The first invasion was scheduled, again, on 1 November. That was a key issue. The big invasion for March of ’46 of Honshu. That would have been a horrendous carnage on both sides, and the planners expected that.
The real question was, would that have ever happened? It is another one of those “What ifs” of history. After the war, the Strategic Bombing Survey concluded, after a massive study of Japan’s capacity to continue the war after August 1945, that, in their words, “In all probability, Japan would have ended the war before November and certainly before the end of the year.” That is hindsight.
My point that I tried to make earlier that, not in hindsight but at the time, Truman had concluded that the entry of the Soviet Union, just the diplomatic and political and psychological shock of that, should be enough. He could not be sure, but he had reached that conclusion. To end the war a year early, as he wrote to his wife in his private correspondence—which, by the way, did not surface until after she died in 1983. So historians and other analysts writing before that time were not aware that he was making these calculations.
Rosenberg: Let me be clear on something you just said. The Strategic Bombing Survey concluded the war would have finished by November. You mean with or without the dropping of the bomb?
Messer: Without the bombs, without the Soviet entry, and without an invasion. That was their language. Now, people can quarrel with that. Truman dismissed it. It was an official government report, but it was a conclusion made after the fact. As Truman would always say, “Any schoolboy’s hindsight is worth all the generals’ foresight.”
But my point is that Truman himself, in his own handwriting, a diary that was not discovered until 1980 and with letters that were not discovered until 1983, had concluded in July, several days before giving the order, that the Soviet entry, “The Russians,” as he put it, “would be enough to break the back of Japanese resistance.”
Rosenberg: We pause once again. Some quick commercials and then right back to the phones on 591-7200.
Announcer: This is Extension 720 from WGN Radio Chicago. Back now to your host Milt Rosenberg.
Rosenberg: Directly back to the telephones. The number 591-7200, and there are now or shortly will be a few lines available so if you have been trying, do make another try and keep trying. 591-7200. You are on the air. Good evening.
Male Caller 2: Good evening.
Rosenberg: Yes, sir.
Male Caller 2: Yes, I arrived on Tinian shortly after the second bomb was dropped. I was wondering—I know that Truman made the right decision. But the 509th Bomb Group I was assigned to or they were supported by the 313th Bomb Wing. I was part of the 504th Bomb Group with that wing. I was one of the photo officers. We were sent over there originally as interpretation. Hello?
Rosenberg: Yeah, we are here, sir. You say you were one of the photo officers?
Male Caller 2: Yes, originally our group was sent over there to do a photo interpretation of the normal bombing missions. But when the bomb had been dropped, why, we were reassigned. I reverted to my old AFSC as a photo officer. What I had called for was, I wondered if the two gentleman from the 509th there are aware of the first worldwide reunion of the 20th Air Force Association coming up the 29th of August.
Rosenberg: Fred, are you?
Olivi: Yes, I am aware of it because I received some information from the 20th Air Force Association. In fact, one of the aircraft commanders, which was with the 393rd, is heading the whole group in regards to the reunion of the 20th Air Force.
Male Caller 2: Well, are you going?
Rosenberg: He wants to know whether you are going.
Olivi: Am I going?
Male Caller 2: Yeah, are you going?
Olivi: No, I have not quite decided yet.
Rosenberg: Sir, we thank you for the call. All those that were members of that group and are listening are free to go. 591-7200 is our number. 591-7200. Good evening.
Male Caller 3: Yes, hello.
Rosenberg: Yes, sir.
Male Caller 3: Yeah, I saw an old movie called the Enola Gay. I think it was called that. I was just curious, how accurate was that movie? Was that really blown out of proportion?
Rosenberg: Now, what are your memories of how that movie represented those times and those people?
Male Caller 3: What I saw was such a secret operation and such a dedicated man as General Tibbets was. I am kind of a young guy, and I have not seen anything except Vietnam. Seeing the mound of news coverage every time somebody turns around in Washington, and the news is right on there. I just wondered, how in the world were some of these secret projects taken? How were they done without people, you know, without having the cover blown? I was just curious whether the movie really showed the stress and the family problems accurately that General Tibbets had.
Rosenberg: Yeah, interesting question. Ray, have you ever seen that film?
Gallagher: I saw the film.
Rosenberg: Who plays Tibbets in that film?
Messer: Robert Taylor.
Rosenberg: Robert Taylor, no less.
Gallagher: Right, yeah. It was a little blown out of proportion, but as far as your question goes, were we covered? We were the top secret of the world, you might say, or the Air Force. When I say we were the top secret, just an illustration of one small item to show you how secretive we were.
Whenever we traveled and we landed on a foreign base, while we were in the air we would take count as to who was going to stand guard over that plane. Now when I say we would take count, there would be two men that would stand four-hour guard. We fueled our own ships. We would gas up our ship. We would oil up our ship. Any maintenance that was done on our ship, our own men would do it. So as far as the secret of the ships themselves, we never allowed anybody other than people that were in the outfit to come close to our ships.
Rosenberg: So you really had the feeling of “We few, we precious few.”
Gallagher: Yes. We precious few. We did not use that proudly, but we just knew that we were different. We never allowed people near our ship. A good example of that was when you go out of a country overseas, you go through what they call a staging area. A staging area is a field in California. It is called Mather Field. Now Mather Field would take an average outfit that is going out into the Pacific. It would take them three to four days to go through Mather Field, for all the training that you are going to go through. Now, this may sound impossible. We landed at Mather Field at 10:30 in the morning and we were airborne at 5:30 the following morning on our way out to Tinian.
Rosenberg: How were you guys in fact selected? Earlier Bob said that you were a very select group and the selection was based upon your high proficiency. Were there formal tests or just recommendations by your superiors or what?
Gallagher: Well in my case, I flew up front with Colonel Tibbets in Florida. He tested the guns that were going to be used on the B-29s. He had four B-29s down in Eglin Field, Florida. That is the same base that [Colonel James] Doolittle trained at. When he left Florida, he took twenty men with him and then he dispersed those twenty men into the state of Nebraska.
Rosenberg: And you, Ray, were one of those twenty?
Gallagher: I was one of the twenty. When he was assigned, when he was given the 509th Group, he went to the Second Air Force and they gave him his choice, and he started to send out telegrams as to who he wanted. Not that I am great or I know too much, but I was one of the fortunate ones that he sent for.
Rosenberg: How did you get in on the act, Fred?
Olivi: Oh, in my case I was a replacement. I asked General Tibbets about that one time, because I was curious as to know why I was assigned to the 509th, the 393rd. He said, “We asked for certain qualifications in a crewmember or a pilot. You had the qualifications and you were sent to us and that is when you started training with the 393rd.”
Rosenberg: You stayed in the Air Force or the Army Air Force, as it was in those days, for a few years after the war?
Olivi: Yes, I stayed in until 1972 because I felt that that was –
Rosenberg: But that was as a reserve man, but you stayed in on full-time basis for a few years after the war.
Olivi: Yes, until 1947. I had the chance to become a regular Air Force officer. But at the last minute I turned it down because I felt there was too much confusion and upheaval and nobody knew what was going on. People were being riffed at the expense of the government. I felt that maybe it was best that I got out.
Rosenberg: What kind of reputation within the Army Air Force, and then the new Air Force as it emerged after the war, did the veterans of the 509th or of the 393rd have? Were they preferred? Because Tibbets—you say he say he had something of an abrasive character, perhaps. Did most of the others who stayed in move significantly up the Air Force line? Or did not most of them stay in at all?
Olivi: Maybe Bob could answer that question better than I can, because I am not aware of what happened.
Messer: I have not really followed their careers. The 509th stayed the 509th and it was a Sliverplate squadron up through certainly the Berlin crisis in ‘48/‘49. I know that, because they were not moved to England. There were B-29s forward based during that crisis, but they were not Silverplate B-29s.
Olivi: I know there is a 509th and a 393rd that is on active duty with Pease Air Force Base. In fact, at our reunion here coming up at the end of the month, we are going to visit the Pease Air Force Base. Also, The Great Artiste is there as one of the static displays. In fact, I got a letter asking to come over and spend some time with them just previous to our reunion. So I am looking forward to it.
Rosenberg: Last batch of commercials, then directly back for more telephone calls. 591-7200.
Announcer: This is WGN Radio Chicago. The program, Extension 720. Back now to your host, Milt Rosenberg.
Rosenberg: Back to Lieutenant Colonel Fred Olivi, retired. Back to Staff Sergeant Gallagher, retired. Back to Professor Robert Messer, not retired. A Professor of History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. 591-7200 and you are on the air. Good evening.
Frank Voltaggio: Yes, my name is Frank Voltaggio. I am out in Glen Ellyn, and I have been listening to your conversation about the Enola Gay and the reluctance of the Smithsonian to want to display it. But Fred might have mentioned to you, and he ought to mention that his airplane, the Bock’s Car, is in the Air Force Museum on display in Dayton, Ohio.
Olivi: Yes, Frank, it is nice to hear from you.
Voltaggio: Right, Fred.
Olivi: What you are saying is true. It would be interesting for a lot of people to go and see what the B-29 looks like, that dropped the second atomic bomb.
Rosenberg: You were telling us a very interesting fact about the journey of that plane to the museum. You were telling us that during the last batch of commercials.
Olivi: Yes. I used to know the curator at the museum, Royal Frey, who also was a POW prisoner in Europe. He told me that when the airplane was flown into Wright-Patterson Field for the purpose of putting on display as the atomic bomber of Nagasaki, he said that when they brought the plane to the museum, they had to take the wings off. As a result, they had to go under some viaducts, and there were people waiting on top of the viaducts waiting to throw rocks as it went underneath and do damage to the aircraft, which to me was surprising at the time.
Voltaggio: I would also like to mention, Fred, that Jake Beser, who was the only guy who flew both Enola Gay and Bock’s Car, when he went back to Japan in 1985, he was so moved that he has written a book on his experiences called Hiroshima and Nagasaki Revisited. I think people who are concerned about the reaction of the Japanese people and the crew and whether they would have any misgivings of going back to Japan, etcetera, ought to read that book.
Olivi: Yes, it is an interesting book and it gives quite an explicit inside story of what Jake Beser was all about.
Rosenberg: Sir, thank you for the call.
Voltaggio: Thank you.
Rosenberg: The names of the planes. We know that the Enola Gay was named by Colonel Tibbets for his mother. Bock’s Car was named – that is not “B-O-X.” That is “B-O-C-K” apostrophe s. Bock’s Car.
Olivi: Yes. The Great Artiste was named after our bombardier, was Captain Beahan.
Rosenberg: What kind of artiste was he?
Olivi: Well, he had quite a way with the women. As a result, we had a crew voting, and they agreed on the name The Great Artiste in honor of Beahan.
Rosenberg: For his skills in flirtation and beyond.
Rosenberg: I see.
Olivi: He was quite a ladies’ man.
Rosenberg: Bock’s Car was named for?
Olivi: Bock’s Car was named for Major [Fred] Bock, who was a teacher at the time before he went in the service. It is B-O-C-K apostrophe S, C-A-R. His name was Bock, and of course they named it Bock’s Car. A picture or the logo or the nose art on the aircraft itself shows a flying boxcar.
Rosenberg: Yeah. Here is another call. Good evening. You are on the air.
Male Caller 4: Hello.
Rosenberg: Yes, sir.
Male Caller 4: My question is, what kind of a general was Curtis LeMay at that time of the operation in Tinian? Because I read his book Iron Eagle, and I wanted your opinion as to what you thought of him at that time in 1945.
Rosenberg: He was the man in command of this whole operation on the military side. Is that right?
Olivi: Yes, he was the one that was in charge of the whole atomic mission, as far as we were concerned. He was stationed in Guam.
Rosenberg: What kind of a man was he? He made a rather poor Vice Presidential candidate running on the ticket with Governor [George] Wallace some years ago. But he was undoubtedly a better military man. He rose to be SAC Sir, Commander in Chief of the Strategic Air Command.
Olivi: That is right. Yes. He was quite a cigar smoker, too.
Rosenberg: Did you guys have contact with him in those days?
Olivi: None whatsoever.
Gallagher: I never had contact, but I had heard stories from other crews. We always came in high. We flew in the category of 29,000, 30,000, 31,000. But the other crews from the other outfits, they were told to go in below. When you are told to go in below, that means that your clouds could be 8,000, 10,000. You are going in below. He wants a picture of what the land looked like and where the bomb went. He does not want a picture of a cloud. He was kind of a tough cookie.
Rosenberg: Remained a tough cookie through all of his career, obviously.
Olivi: I guess the results of the bombing from higher altitude was not quite sufficient for him, and he brought them down to 9,000 feet and that is where they went in. That is where they continued their bombing missions against the Japanese Empire.
Rosenberg: One man he inspired was Milt Caniff, obviously. They were both from Columbus, Ohio. Both had association with Ohio State University, and Caniff supposedly modeled one of his comic strip characters on LeMay. I forget which one.
Olivi: [Philip] Cochran, I think it was.
Rosenberg: In Steve Canyon.
Olivi: Yeah, it is Cochran.
Rosenberg: I guess. Time for one more quick question, and we go to it. Hello. You are on the air.
Bart Mitchell: Yes. Bart Mitchell. I want to ask the airmen – by the way, I am a veteran of World War II. We had just conquered Okinawa. We had a lot of casualties. When they sent the planes over there, they sent two planes at a time, from what I understand. Why did they not give them a fighter escort, even though I know the Japanese Air Force was supposedly weak? Were they still reserving part of their air force for the invasion?
Rosenberg: Yeah, is that true that you went in without fighter escort at all.
Olivi: Yes, we did, because our planes were special to the extent that we were stripped of our armor and we had just two tail guns. We had no regular turrets, like the other B-29s were operating against the Japanese Empire. As a result, we depended on high altitude and the speed to get away from any fighters after we had dropped the bomb on any city that we were going to destroy.
Rosenberg: I have a way to end this that will surprise Bob Messer. I ask all the questions, usually. But you are a historian that has looked at all of this very closely, and I am sure that a number of questions have come to your mind with these two initial informants. So you can have it.
Messer: Thank you for the opportunity. It has been fascinating to me. Historians do not very often get to meet people who make history. That opportunity I want to take advantage of. Having been on atomic missions, really the only atomic missions in history, you were young men then. Young men do not often reflect on their own mortality. You have touched on it in other comments. But if you could address that reflection, the same kinds of questions that were proposed to Truman and other decision makers. In retrospect, would you do it again? If you knew then what you know now?
Olivi: All things being considered at that time being 1945, I think I would do it again. Of course, we were young and that always has an effect on doing things. As you get older, you mature. You begin to realize that there is a lot more things that are involved in something like that. But at the time, we had a job to do. We were trained to do it, and that is what we did.
Gallagher: What I have to say is, a few years back in ’85, there was the anniversary, the 40th anniversary of the dropping. I had occasion in which Japanese people came from Japan and interviewed me. In interviewing me, I said to this here girl who was their interpreter. I said, “This man is going to ask me one question, and I know what it is going to be.”
She said, “What is it?”
I said, “It is, ‘Are you going to be sorry that you dropped the bomb?’”
As the interview went along, it was beautiful. At the end, he asked me that question. I answered it; I felt kind of proud. I said, “At the time, there was a monster loose, whether it was Japan or the United States, but they were killing people on both sides. Somebody had to kill this monster. Whoever had the bomb to do it, they had to do it and stop the killing in this world. We had the bomb and we killed the monster, and that was the end.”
Messer: The monster being war, not the enemy.
Gallagher: The monster being war, nothing more than that.
Rosenberg: Are the memories fond memories or ambivalent memories?
Gallagher: As my years get on me, they are not that fond. I have grandchildren, and sometimes I put myself in the position of being on the ground with grandchildren. It hurts. But then I also remember those that did not come back, friends of mine. That hurts too.
Olivi: I just hope that no more atomic bombs are going to be dropped anywhere in the world, because I think those should be the last two bombs that should be dropped anywhere. The bombs they have now are much more stronger, and they will destroy a lot more than what we did at Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
Rosenberg: Boy, that is a thought. The contemporary hydrogen bomb of five megatons is how much stronger than the Hiroshima bomb?
Messer: Well the Hiroshima bomb was twenty kilotons, and so a twenty megaton is 1,000 times more.
Rosenberg: That is a cautionary thought, is it not?
Messer: There are thousands of those.
Messer: So it is unimaginable.
Rosenberg: Gentlemen, thank you for an absolutely memorable program. Our guests have been Fred Olivi, Ray Gallagher and Robert Messer. We will be back again tomorrow at 9:00.
Announcer: This is WGN Radio Chicago.