Tag Archive | "atomic bomb"

Unleashing the Power of the Atom: Mankind’s Beginning or End?

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This past week, we have witnessed the destructive power of Mother Nature as she impacted Japan.  According to the news media, an earthquake registering 8.9 on the Richter scale erupted on the ocean floor near the islands of Japan.

This enormous seismic action triggered a tidal wave, or tsunami, that struck the northern part of the main island, Honshu; it devastated the towns and villages along the coast with a heavy loss of life.  There are at are least 10,000 dead as of this writing, with many believing that this is but the tip of the iceberg in terms of the death toll.  Restoration of the island would have taken time, in the wake of these natural disasters.  However, Mother Nature is not the only destructive force to have hit Japan.  Whenever man manipulates his environment, there is always the unexpected with which to deal.

After World War II, Japan underwent changes in order to rebuild its country to the power it is today (the third strongest economy worldwide … or at least, it was, prior to this last quake and tidal wave).  Once a feudal country led by an Emperor and ruling class (the Samurai), Japan was saddled with the rules of unconditional surrender and foreign occupation when they ended their involvement in the Second World War.  For the sixty-six years that followed their surrender to the Allied Forces, Japan reacted admirably in transforming their government and country into a world power, one to which other nations often looked for leadership in technology and industry in general.

The saying goes that “out of something bad, comes something good.”  Post WWII Japan had to have been an example of that adage.   By harnessing the same nuclear power that had devastated three of their cities and caused them to surrender, they were able to generate electricity using nuclear reactors.  This became the main source of energy that spurred their economy on to significant growth.

Their nuclear power infrastructure was not accomplished without careful planning.  As Japan has always suffered earthquakes and reaped the horrific aftermath of the atomic bomb with radiation poisoning, the nation incorporated safety measures into the design and locations of their nuclear reactors.  Prior to last week, Japan had distinguished itself as leaders in their field.

Yet, the unexpected did happen.  Four of their nuclear reactors suffered damage, and the final chapter on the demise of these reactors has yet to be written.  Without electrical energy, her economy will suffer and so will its people.

As the world waits and watches, harkening as the media describes the destruction, one has to wonder about the use of nuclear reactors as a means to generate a clean source of energy.  Since the advent of nuclear energy, ecologists have argued that even if it is clean, how do we solve the growing problem of disposing of nuclear waste — because this waste does not fit into the “clean” category.

America’s rush to aid the stricken country has slowed because of the USS Reagan has encountered a cloud of radiation from the Japanese reactors.  This caused the crew members to shower immediately, to remove possible contamination.  But if the radiation touched their skin before the showers, and if they inhaled the toxins, what good are these precautions?  Even though everyone is assured that this was a light dose of radiation with nothing to worry about, the specter still looms large.

The world is witnessing a crisis of great magnitude: the survival of mankind.  Has man let the genie out of the bottle in his quest to master the universe?  Only time will tell.  Years ago, Hollywood produced a movie entitled, “On the Beach.”  Starring Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner, the film illustrated the results of a nuclear war, with mankind as the loser.  In the film, Australia, the last inhabited continent, awaited the radiation to engulf them.

Did man open Pandora’s Box when he invented the atom bomb?  Once again, only time will tell.

VJ Day, 1945

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August 6, 1945 was no ordinary day.  Although the Allied Forces had achieved victory in Europe, World War II still raged on in the Pacific Theater.  The Japanese were, and remain to this day, an extremely proud race.  Demonstrating their resolve at Iwo Jima and Okinawa, they preferred to fight to the death rather than face dishonor by surrendering.  Many Japanese pilots became kamikazes: the equivalent of human bombs.  The devastation they left behind made the war more costly to the Allies, and the Japanese had hoped that we would cave in by suing for peace.   Even Japanese civilians were trained to counterattack their enemies with anything that could kill or main.  This included hastily fashioned weapons such as sharpened bamboo stalks.

The war had begun during President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration.  FDR had vowed that we would achieve unconditional surrender from our enemies.  When Harry S. Truman assumed the Presidency after FDR’s death, he was honor-bound to fulfill the wishes of his former Commander-in-Chief. And fulfill them, he did.

The atom bomb, or A-bomb, was classified as Top Secret.  Testing at Alamogordo, New Mexico revealed that this weapon represented an incredible, unprecedented level of destruction.   So secret was it that those on the “Need to Know” list were a relative handful.

With the A-bomb, the planned invasion of Japan was on the drawing board, along with the date, the time, and calculated cost of life.  President Truman agonized over whether to drop the bomb on a city, rather than a military target, or follow the original invasion plan and pay the price in American casualties.  In the end, he ordered that the city of Hiroshima be bombed on August 6, 1945.  On that day, accompanied by two other B-29 bombers, the Enola Gay unleashed the power of the atom and initiated the Atomic Age, devastating the city of Hiroshima.  After bombing another city, Nagasaki, Japan surrendered unconditionally to the Allies.

August 14, 1945 was declared VJ day.  All across America and the rest of the free world, crowds gathered and cheered to commemorate the peace for which we had prayed for four long years.  The famous photograph of a sailor spontaneously and joyously kissing a girl in New York City’s Times Square echoed the world’s elation.  The photo was widely circulated and reproduced.  Today a statue of this couple still stands in Sarasota, Florida; no doubt, other likenesses stand elsewhere in our nation.

On August 14, 2010, a reenactment of that scene will be held in Times Square to commemorate the surrender of Japan to the Allied Forces in the Pacific.

It was 65 years ago when that sailor kissed that girl.  As he was planting that kiss, I was sailing on a troopship in the Pacific Ocean, heading — literally — for a baptism by fire.  I was part of a massive armada sent to invade Japan.  But when the Captain of our ship announced Japan’s surrender, the invasion was no longer necessary.  Thus, I served my country in another capacity, by occupying Japan for a full year.  From October 1945 through September 1946, my fellow soldiers and I — Americans and European Allies — ensured the stabilization of Japan subsequent to its surrender.

I was recently interviewed by a reporter from The Courier Post, for an article that the newspaper is running with respect to VJ Day.  After she finished the formal interview, the reporter asked me, “As a veteran of that war, how do you feel about us no longer celebrating the days that finalized World War II — VE Day and VJ Day?”

I answered, “August 6th was not the official end of the war.  That took place in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945.  That is another day that is not celebrated; another day that gets lost in the Labor Day weekend, like other holidays set aside to honor God and country.”

Maybe something that occurred 65 years ago has no meaning to those who weren’t there.  But it still means something to me.  Those who sacrificed themselves for that war did so to protect the lives and fundamental freedoms of Americans as well as all who were oppressed, tortured, and murdered by the Axis Forces.

It has been rightly said that “those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  For that reason, the study of World War II is immensely important and the reason why Americans and, for that matter, all inhabitants of this planet should both remember and commemorate events like VJ Day.

Related Post:  VJ Day: August 14th

The Mystery of Hiroshima and the Fourth B-29

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The history surrounding the conclusion of World War II centers on the atomic bomb, a weapon that brought the war to a screeching halt.  In the 65 years succeeding the end of the war, all records of that fateful day — August 6, 1945 — have stated that three, repeat, three B-29’s set out to deliver the first atomic bomb to the islands of Japan.

Bearing a single nuclear bomb code-named Little Boy, a B-29 bomber took off from the island of Tinian in the Pacific. Christened the Enola Gay in honor of Commander Colonel Paul Tibbets’ mother, the Enola Gay was accompanied by two more B-29s.   The Great Artiste conveyed instrumentation and was commanded by Major Charles W. Sweeney, and The Necessary Evil, which carried photography equipment, was commanded by Captain George Marquardt. Leaving Tinian separately, the three planes rendezvoused over Iwo Jima; from there, they began their irrevocable six-hour flight to Japan.

As a safety precaution, the bomb was armed en route to Japan and the safety devices removed thirty minutes before reaching primary target, Hiroshima.  Kokura and Nagasaki were the secondary targets.  When the Enola Gay dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, those aboard the B-29s described the event as a giant fireball and a mushroom cloud that completely destroyed the city.

Now, 65 years after Hiroshima was leveled, comes a strange tale that surfaced in the Raleigh News & Observer.  It concerns a North Carolina World War II veteran who photographed the A-Bomb as it exploded over that Japanese city.

Like all stories, this one has a beginning and an end, so let’s start in the beginning.

In June of 1941, John McGlohon, who was then 18 years old, joined U.S. military.  Assigned a desk job, he was attached to the 3rd Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron at Maxwell Field in Montgomery, Alabama, where he was trained in photography.  John enhanced skills during an assignment in Brazil, in 1942, when he was ordered to replace one of the aerial photographers who had taken ill.

As the war progressed, John’s squadron was sent to Smoky Hills Air Force Base at Salina, Kansas, to learn to fly the new B-29 bomber.  His tour of duty found him photographing missions in China, the Korean peninsula, and Japan.

In the spring of 1945, John’s squadron was assigned to the 20th Air Force Command at Harmon Airbase on Guam.  Later, they would be assigned to the 8th Air Force Command.  Flying missions over Japan, the squadron recorded possible targets and damage resulting from bombing runs.

When the order was given to bomb Hiroshima, the 20th Air Force Command issued an order forbidding all aircraft from flying within 50 miles of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.  Somehow, this order never filtered down to John’s group.  Therefore, a B-29 piloted by Jack Economos left Guam in the early morning hours on the day in question to reconnoiter at Hiroshima and points north.

As the plane approached Hiroshima, one of the gun crew announced over the intercom that he saw another B-29 headed in the opposite direction.  At that point, John said that a brilliant flash of light appeared under the plane like a giant flash bulb going off; this was followed by a large cloud rising into the air. John immediately switched on his cameras to record the devastation.  Unaware of the order not to fly within 50 miles of Hiroshima, John assumed that the B-29 he saw leaving the area had dropped its load not on a heavily populated city, but on an ammunition dump.

Returning to Guam late in the day, John delivered his photographs to be developed.  While in the developing room, he saw shots taken by the photographic crew that had accompanied the Enola Gay.  “What’s that?” he asked.  The reply was, “It’s an atomic bomb.”  “Well,” John retorted, “if it is, we took pictures of it this morning!”  No one believed him until they saw his photographic evidence.  For decades, that  was the last time that John ever saw those photos.

With the second attack on Nagasaki, Japan surrendered, thus bringing the World War II to an end after four long, bloody years.  John returned home to Asheboro, North Carolina.  He shared his story with his wife, family, and friends and then went on with his life to become a city councilman and the town’s fire chief.

During a reunion of his war buddies in 1995, John’s old photographic lab chief, Elmer Dixon, brought a file marked Secret that contained the photographs of Hiroshima.  While the docks on the south side of the city were visible in the photos, the  mushroom cloud obscured everything else.

“That’s just the way I saw it!” John McGlohon excitedly told his wife.  Sure enough, the photos were stamped with the date that went down in history: August 6, 1945.

Over the years, John’s story found it’s way into an Internet forum discussion.  Some claimed that it was fabricated as a ploy to achieve greatness.  At a subsequent reunion, in 1998, John McGlohon met up with Ken Samuelson.  Ken believed John’s story and set out to verify it.

His hunt for corroborating evidence led him to Air Force museums, conversations with curators and veterans, and examinations of flight logs of the 3rd Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron. The logs carried the path of John’s flight that day as well as a flight mission report.  Ken Samuelson then contacted 91-year-old Clarence Becker, who had served as Operations Officer for the 3rd Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron.  Becker confirmed, “I sent them [the squadron] out that day.”

Samuelson also tracked down the photos that Elmer Dixon had had in his possession, which he had subsequently donated to the Historic Aviation Museum in Tyler, Texas.  When informed of the McGlohon photographs, the museum’s curator, Mike Burke, stated, “It’s the only photo looking down on the cloud, and the story makes it more interesting and unique.”

The evidence uncovered by Samuelson supports John McGlohon’s story.  He and his crew did indeed comprise the fourth B-29 contingent that flew over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.  Why did it take so long for this story to surface? Will historians of World War II correct the number of B-29s over Hiroshima that day?  Or will this be written off as just another war story?

If this story exists, surely there must be other tales stockpiled in the minds of veterans who witnessed or participated in events that occurred while serving their country.   If these stories remain untold, they will be carried to the grave to be buried forever.

Let’s rectify this, please.  The Veterans Corner of Write On New Jersey extends an invitation to veterans to share your stories here.  If not here, please pass your stories on to your families and friends, before they are lost for all time. 

I Think There’s a Message Here

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In a hostile world in which saber-toothed mammals roamed free and early man literally fought to eke out a living, how on earth did our species survive?  The Good Book tells us that God gave man the gift of an immortal soul.  The soul is that indefinable and inextinguishable spark of life that transcends death of the body and bears the closest resemblance to our Maker.  The Creator also gave us the most highly evolved brains of any creature on this planet, as well as hands with opposable thumbs.  With these anatomical gifts, we fashioned tools with which to cultivate the earth.  We harnessed fire for warmth and as means of cooking, and for a brief period of time, preserving our hard-won food.  We crafted marvelous inventions that we now take for granted.  The wheel and the lever are two such inventions, and if you think these are nothing compared to the development of something as ingenious as the Internet, take a good look at Stonehenge.

None of us fully understand how these massive blue stones, not native to the Saracen Plain in England, were transported thousands of miles to their final resting place in the English countryside.  But logic informs countless scholars, engineers, and mathematicians that wheels and levers were most certainly involved.  Despite numerous theories and tests of those theories, no one really knows the true purpose of Stonehenge.  It may have been a prehistoric telescope, marking the passage of the sun across the sky, announcing the solstices, and serving as a calendar by which crops were planted, cultivated, and harvested.  Other theories hold that the site has religious meaning; that the stones were erected and positioned precisely either as homage to the Maker or as a place in which religious ceremonies occurred.  Stonehenge has withstood the test of time.  Since it was completed, eons have passed.  Many generations of man have been born and died, and many have come to stand in awe of this proud, enigmatic, upright stone circle.  Consecrated to the promulgation of life and/or the worship of God, that stone monument is thousands of years older than the Information Superhighway.  I think there’s a message here.

Fast-forward now, many millennia, into the 20th century.  Man’s brain and hands had invented machines to carry him quickly and efficiently over the earth and even through the sky.  But, he hadn’t yet learned how to stop waging war upon his fellows.  Before the onset of World War II, Japan sought to emulate the U.S by grabbing a toehold in the Pacific.  We took Hawaii as our 50th State, but blocked Japan from seizing land in the Pacific.  Then we cut off their supply of fuel: oil and gas.  Japan may not have had possessions in the Pacific but they controlled most of Southeast Asia, from which most of our rubber was imported.  When they withheld exports of rubber to the U.S., we made an attempt to produce rubber in South America, but it was not enough for our needs.  Thus did we put our brains and hands to use once more, to create tires and other products from other sources.  Superior to those originating from rubber, we crafted them from coal tar.  We needed those coal tar products, you see, to wage war effectively upon our enemies, including Japan.  I think there’s a message here.

The coal products, however, were not enough to do the deed.  To emerge as victors, we required optical accuracy in our guns, periscopes, and bombsights.  Through trial and error, we experimented with human hair, but it was too coarse a material to achieve the delicacy needed to spot an enemy target with the utmost of precision.  Then we tried spider silk.  Ounce for ounce, it was stronger than steel, yet delicate enough to solve the problem.  Once again, man utilized his ingenuity — this time, to feed his war machine.  I think there’s a message here.

World War II also prompted us to brainstorm, develop, and produce other innovations, including plastics, penicillin, rockets, and the atomic bomb.  Of all of these, only penicillin protected human life.  I think there’s a message here.

After the war, peace reigned for a few years and our thoughts turned to loftier goals.  America sought to expand into the place Captain James Tiberius Kirk would, three centuries later, term “Where no man has gone before.”  The United States became the first nation to put a man on the moon.  We did so in order to achieve even greater things: to explore and utilize the as-yet undiscovered resources in outer space, ideally, for peaceful purposes.  Using our God-given gifts, we devised miniaturize electronic equipment and rockets that sustained multiple orbits around the Earth.

Later, Neil Armstrong’s stars and stripes planted upon a dead moon evolved into a space station that drives an astoundingly complex network of communications. That network is now used to facilitate everything ranging to a small child calling his grandmother 3,000 miles away to simply say, “I love you” to a very effective means of pinpointing and destroying our enemies from the sky.  I think there’s a message here.

In God’s infinite wisdom, He/She has provided us with every resource imaginable to solve a myriad of problems.  I really do think that there is a message here.  I pray that one day we can use our superior intellect to solve the worst of those problems.  If not, we may wind up like the people in this song: 


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