Benjamin Bederson, a New York native, was selected to serve in the Special Engineering Detachment during the Manhattan Project. A physicist, he was first sent to Oak Ridge, and then to Los Alamos, where he worked for Donald Hornig on designing the ignition switches for the implosion bomb. At Los Alamos, he knew Ted Hall and David Greenglass, who were secretly sending atomic bomb secrets to the USSR. Bederson instructed the 509th Composite Group at Wendover and was sent to Tinian to help wire the switches for the bomb.
Wendover Air Field, UT
Alexandra Levy: We are here on December 27th, 2016, in Florida, with Russell Gackenbach. My first question for you is to please say your name and spell it.
Russell Gackenbach: My name is Russell E. Gackenbach. G-A-C-K-E-N-B-A-C-H.
Levy: Please tell us your place and date of birth.
Gackenbach: I was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, March 1923, on March 23.
Russell E. Gackenbach was a navigator in the 393rd Bombardment Squadron and 509th composite group. He flew on both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki missions. His crew flew aboard the Necessary Evil, which was the camera plane for the Hiroshima mission. Gackenbach photographed the mushroom cloud over Hiroshima. His crew flew again during the Nagasaki mission as the weather reconnaissance plane for the city of Kokura.
Alexandra Levy: This is Alexandra Levy of the Atomic Heritage Foundation here in New Jersey on June 13, 2016, with Joseph Papalia. My first question is to please say your name and spell it.
Joseph Papalia: Joseph Papalia, P-A-P-A-L-I-A.
Levy: Can you tell us where and when you were born?
Papalia: I was born August 20, 1936, in East Meadow, New York.
Levy: Can you tell us briefly about your life and career, and how you became involved in the 509th Composite Group?
Joseph Papalia is an official historian of the 509th Composite Group, the US Army Air Force unit created specifically for dropping atomic bombs during World War II.
Papalia, who served in the Air Force in the 1950s, became interested in the 509th later in his life. He began attending 509th reunions, held annually, and became friends with many veterans of the group, as well as with other historians who focused on the unit.
Alexandra Levy: We are here on June 13th in New Jersey with Jack Widowsky. This is Alex Levy with the Atomic Heritage Foundation. My first question for you, Jack, is to please say your name and to spell it.
Jack Widowsky: My name is Jack Widowsky. J-A-C-K, which is easy, but the last name is W-I-D-O-W-S-K-Y.
Levy: Can you please tell me where you were born and when?
Widowsky: I was born in Newark, New Jersey, on September 10, 1922.
Jack Widowsky served as the navigator on the B-29 Top Secret at Wendover and Tinian during World War II. He participated in the mission to bomb Hiroshima as the navigator of the Big Stink, which was the backup strike plane on Iwo Jima. He flew as the navigator of the Laggin' Dragon, one of the weather reconnaissance planes, during the mission to Nagasaki. In this interview, he discusses his time in the 509th Composite Group. He begins by narrating his introduction to the 509th after enlisting in the Air Force.
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.
Vicktor McKee "Mack" Newsom was a member of the 509th Composite Group and served in the 393rd Bombardment Squadron. He worked as an airplane mechanic and B-29 engine specialist on Tinian and at Wendover Airfield, and was also deployed to Cuba. He was a member of the ground crew of the B-29 Silverplate plane Next Objective.
Tom Ryan: In the early morning of August 6, 1945, three B-29 bombers departed from Tinian Island in the Pacific Ocean. Six hours later, they changed the course of history. A single atomic bomb dropped from the Enola Gay exploded over Hiroshima, Japan. In an instant, over four square miles of the city and an estimated 90,000 of its inhabitants ceased to exist.