Newly released recordings from the Atomic Heritage Foundation gives personal insight into the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.
The interviews came from the collection of Joe Papalia, who maintained friendships with many members of the 509th Composite, the Army Air Forces unit that carried out the bombings. Papalia became the group’s official historian.
“Everybody who was part of the actual missions is no longer with us,” Owen Pagano, program manager for the Washington, D.C.-based Atomic Heritage Foundation, told the Herald. “We’re just trying to get their first-hand accounts out there.”
The nonprofit foundation previously released interviews with Hanford workers, along with others of the half million people who worked at sites around the country on developing the world’s first atomic bombs.
Among those interviewed are Ray Gallagher, who flew on both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki missions, and Fred Olivi, the copilot on Bockscar when it dropped the bomb on Nagasaki.
Olivi described to interviewer Milton Rosenberg how their original target Aug. 9 was to be Kokura, but they changed to Nagasaki because of cloud cover. They initially encountered clouds when they flew toward Nagasaki, but were able to drop the bomb without having to rely on radar.
“We made a 180-degree bank to get away from the actual explosion of the bomb,” Olivi said. “If we had continued in a straight line, we would have been directly over the explosion, which they did not want us to do. We made our 180-degree turn and went the other way.”
The collection also includes a 1985 speech from Jacob Beser, who was radar specialist on the Enola Gay’s bombing mission over Hiroshima and on the Bockscar. He visited Hiroshima years after the bombing, the only 509th Composite member to do so.
“Eighty-five percent of the survivors within three thousand feet of the explosion suffered some form of radiation disease,” Beser said. “This is something that people ask. ‘Didn’t we know, didn’t we anticipate?’ We did not know the extent. We did anticipate that anybody within a radius of several hundred feet would be hurt badly by radiation, but they would also either be blown to hell or burned. So as a separate entity, and as a prolonged aftereffect, we were a little naïve.”
Geoff Folsom, Herald staff writer