The Manhattan Project

509th Composite Group

Al Zelver's Interview

Patricia Simpson: I am Patricia Anne Simpson and I am recording this oral history for the Atomic Heritage Foundation on May 3, 2017, in Studio B of the Visual Communications Building at Montana State University, Bozeman, Montana. Please say your name and spell it.

Al Zelver:  My name is Al Zelver. It’s spelled Z, as in zebra, E-L-V, Victoria, E-R.

Simpson: Please tell us your date and place of birth.

Zelver: My date was July 2, 1920, and I was born in Stockton, California.

Nancy K. Nelson's Interview

Cindy Kelly: I’m Cindy Kelly. I am in Riverside, California. It is Tuesday, February 21, 2017. I have with me Nancy Nelson. I’d like her to say her name and spell it.

Nancy Nelson: My name is Nancy Nelson, N-A-N-C-Y N-E-L-S-O-N.

Kelly: Tell me a little bit about yourself, so we can put this in context.

Nancy K. Nelson

Nancy K. Nelson is the widow of Richard H. Nelson, who was the VHF radio operator when on the Enola Gay on the Hiroshima atomic bombing mission. In this interview, Nelson discusses how she met her husband after the war. She describes his experience training to be radar operator and in the 509th Composite Group. She recalls how he and other members of the missions felt about the atomic bombings.

Russell E. Gackenbach's Interview

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

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. 

Joseph Papalia's Interview

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?

Jack Widowsky's Interview

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.

Mack Newsom's Interview

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.

Cuba

After the activation of the 509th Composite Group in December 1944, some members of the group (including members of the 393rd Bombardment Squadron, the unit's combat squad) went to Cuba for training. At Batista Field in San Antonio de Los Baños, the group trained for a month. They worked on long-range, over-water flights, in preparation for the long haul between Tinian Island and Japan. The avoided formation flights so crews would adjust to flying solo.

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