Tag Archive | "Enola Gay"

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. 

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