The Manhattan Project

Oral Histories

General Paul Tibbets – Reflections on Hiroshima

Colonel (later General) Paul Tibbets was the pilot of the Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the “Little Boy” atomic bomb over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. In this documentary Tibbets co-produced with the Buckeye Aviation Book Company, “Reflections on Hiroshima,” he recounts his memories of the day the atomic bomb was first used in warfare. Tibbets recalls how he became a pilot, and explains how the Manhattan Project’s “Silverplate” program produced a special version of the B-29 capable of delivering the atomic bomb. He also discusses the target selection process and describes the “odd couple” of J. Robert Oppenheimer and General Leslie Groves. He remembers seeing the mushroom cloud over Hiroshima and feeling the shock wave of the blast, and shares his views on the role of morality during war.

The Hiroshima Mission

This broadcast is a dramatic retelling of the Hiroshima mission and the trials the 509th Composite Group faced in the lead up to that mission. The broadcast includes a speech by Colonel Paul Tibbets and a reading of a letter written by Enola Gay co-pilot, Robert Lewis.

Jacob Beser's Lecture

In this lecture at Johns Hopkins University, Jacob Beser talks about his early career in the Air Corps in World War II, as well as how he was recruited to the 509th Composite Air Group. He discusses his personal feelings on the morality of the bombs, as well as the situation that lead President Truman to decide to use the atomic bombs. Beser also answers questions on Los Alamos, the targets for the atomic bombings and the idea of dropping a bomb as a warning to the Japanese government. He discusses the Hiroshima and Nagasaki missions and his feelings after the fact. Beser also touches on the Japanese-American internment during World War II, which he considers to be one of the largest blots on American democracy.

The Atomic Bombers

In this 1962 radio interview, Robert Lewis, Richard Nelson, Charles Sweeney, and Abe Spitzer discuss their experience as members of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombing missions. Lewis was a captain in the 509th Composite Group and was the co-pilot of the Enola Gay on the day of the Hiroshima mission. Nelson was the radio operator of the Enola Gay on the day of the Hiroshima mission. Charles Sweeney was the pilot of the Great Artiste on the Hiroshima mission and the pilot of the Bockscar on the Nagasaki mission. Abe Spitzer was the radar operator on the Great Artiste on the Hiroshima mission and the radar operator on the Bockscar on the Nagasaki mission. All four men describe their feelings after the bomb was dropped and address whether or not those feelings have changed.

Bob Caron's Tape to Joe Papalia

Bob Caron was the tail gunner on the Enola Gay on the mission that dropped the Little Boy bomb on Hiroshima. When Caron agreed to join Col. Paul Tibbets on this secret mission, he did not know until the Enola Gay was in the air that the mission was to drop the world’s first atomic bomb. In this recorded message to his friend, Joseph Papalia, Bob Caron discusses the personalities of Enola Gay pilots Tibbets and Lewis. He explains the friction that has developed between some of the crew members, their response to the publicity of the flight, and their involvement in docudramas and books about the mission. Finally, Caron remembers one small contribution he made to the mechanics of the B-29s, and why the 509th Composite Group spent so much time testing B-29 planes.

William Downey's Interview - Part 2

Throughout his life, Chaplain William Downey maintained close relationships with many of the members of the 509th Composite group. In this interview with Paul Filipkowski, Chaplain William Downey recalls the events that contributed to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He discusses the controversy that surrounds the bomb, especially in light of the events of the Cold War, and defends his belief in the use of the bomb. Downey also addresses the claims of George Zabelka, who once claimed to be the chaplain who served with the crew of the Enola Gay. Downey finally gives his own opinion on American policies and sentiments during the Cold War.

William Downey's Interview - Part 1

Chaplain William Downey served as the Protestant chaplain for the 509th Composite Group and led the crew of the Enola Gay in prayer before they departed for Hiroshima. He recalls the events leading up to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He discusses the controversy that surrounds the bomb, especially in light of the events of the Cold War, and defends his belief in the use of the bomb. Downey also addresses the claims of George Zabelka, who once claimed to be the chaplain who served with the crew of the Enola Gay. Downey gives his own opinion on American policies and sentiments during the Cold War.

Ray Gallagher's Accounts of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki Missions

In this tape, Ray Gallagher gives an account of the Hiroshima mission from the perspective of a flight engineer on the observation ship: The Great Artiste. He discusses the trip to Hiroshima, how he felt when the first bomb was dropped and the reactions of the top brass. Gallagher also gives a step-by-step account of the Nagasaki mission: taking off from the runway on Tinian, flying to Kokura and then to Nagasaki, and barely making it to Okinawa. He explains how a problem with refueling Bock’s Car affected the mission, and what the mushroom cloud over Nagasaki looked like from the plane. He also discusses his feelings on the necessity of the atomic bombs, and the tension the men experienced during the mission. At the end, Gallagher provides his thoughts on heroism.

Ray Gallagher and Fred Olivi's Interview - Part 2

Ray Gallagher and Fred Olivi were both members of the 509th Composite Group that was responsible for dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Gallagher flew on both missions, on The Great Artiste, which was an observer plane on the Hiroshima mission, and then on the Bock’s Car, which dropped Fat Man. Fred Olivi was the Bock’s Car’s co-pilot during the Nagasaki mission. They are joined by historian and Truman specialist, Robert Messer. In this interview, the veterans discuss their careers after the war, Colonel Paul Tibbets, and the upkeep of the Enola Gay and Bock’s Car. The program takes callers and the veterans and Messer answer questions about a number of issues surrounding the atomic bomb missions. Olivi and Gallagher reflect on dropping the atomic bombs and state their hope that no more atomic bombs will ever be used.

Ray Gallagher and Fred Olivi's Interview - Part 1

Ray Gallagher and Fred Olivi were both members of the missions responsible for dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Gallagher flew on both missions, first on the Great Artiste, which was an observer plane, and then on Bockscar, which dropped Fat Man. Fred Olivi was Bockscar’s co-pilot. They are joined by historian and Truman specialist Robert Messer. In this interview, the veterans discuss how they were recruited to and trained for the 509th Composite Group. They talk about what it was like to drop the bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, witnessing the mushroom cloud, and their feelings and reflections in the aftermath. Messer weighs in on the moral and practical decision to drop the bomb.

Pages