WWII Memoirs – August 6, 1945 – Something Big Was Coming down

Atomic bomb photo reconnaissance

Atomic bomb photo reconnaissance

During my seven months on Okinawa one of the defining moments of the 20th Century occurred only 350 miles from our base. A single flash followed by an explosion released enough energy to destroy an entire city and send ethical and moral reverberations around the world that continue to this day. Endless debate on the wisdom of dropping the bomb has produced no consensus.

Our squadron played no direct part in this earth-shaking event, but did participate in follow-up photography.

August 6, 1945 started like another routine day in the squadron’s pursuit of the war. We knew that the invasion of mainland Japan was coming, but that was three months away, so we were resigned to our role in the daily aerial pounding of the enemy. Little did we know that events within the next few hours would change all schedules, abort months of planning, and have a profound effect on the war and the world of the future.

The first sign to the Squadron that “something was up” came down on the flight line. Orders were received requiring all allied planes to remain outside a radius of fifty miles from the city of Hiroshima on the Island of Kyushu, one of the three islands that comprise the Japanese mainland. This was unusual. Our typical orders were to fly “to” a target, not to “stay away” from it! We knew something big was coming down.

Our squadron sent a plane to the area, but with instructions to comply with the fifty-mile restriction. Hiroshima, a city of 350,000, was approximately 350 miles from our base. Our plane returned that afternoon with a single image on its film–a huge, white cloud over the vicinity of Hiroshima.

Little did we know then that at the original base of that big white cloud lay the remains of 140,000 inhabitants and a destroyed city, all of that destruction occurring in a matter of seconds!

That evening the Armed Forces Radio announced that an “atomic bomb,” a weapon of devastating power, had been dropped on the city of Hiroshima. We had had no idea that our military possessed such a weapon. And we were as mystified by the term “atomic power” as the radio listener back in the States hearing the same news. We were soon to see how truly lethal this weapon was.

The next morning one of our Squadron’s planes was sent to photograph that now famous city. When it returned its film was rushed to the lab, and then to our department. Staring intently, as we slowly rolled the negatives across the light table, we got a frightening idea of what future war would be like. The entire city lay in ruins; much of it had simply disappeared. Preliminary estimates placed the death toll at 100,000, which later were raised to 140,000. ALL THE RESULT OF A SINGLE BOMB.

And statistics alone do not tell the full effects of the bomb. It was sometime after I returned to the States and read detailed accounts of its effect on the people of Hiroshima that I grasped the horror of this new type of warfare. On Okinawa we had seen only the aerial photos. These showed the destruction of city’s buildings and infrastructure. Later, the ground observers saw a different scene, as the following quote reveals:

“There were people in Hiroshima whose shadows were printed by the blast on the concrete walls of buildings and pavement. These shadows can still be seen. Some of the bodies that made them were never found.” * They had simply been vaporized.

*From the preface of “Critical Mass,” Steve Martini,New York, 1998.

Next Entry: WWII Memoirs – 1945 – Nagasaki – The Final Blow
Our squadron was active too... Have been asked to locate specific films from previous missions, which I assume contain likely future targets...