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The National Air and Space Museum's attempt to mount an exhibition featuring the Enola Gay, the B-29 bomber that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, broke down in a firestorm of controversy. Even fifty years after the end of World War II, many of the issues the exhibit would have covered - the difficult decision whether to drop the bomb or mount a full-scale invasion of Japan; the conduct of troops on both sides; the attempt to display artifacts once belonging to citizens killed by the bomb (which would, in some people's eyes, grant the Japanese nation the status of victims); the nuclear arms race that followed the end of the war - proved too painfully divisive for America to confront dispassionately. Not only did liberals fight with conservatives, but different factions and different military organizations advanced conflicting views as well. This was not the first museum exhibition to become a political football, but it may have been the most important, and its failure is a signal cultural event of our time. Martin Harwit was the Director of the National Air and Space Museum until shortly after the exhibit's cancellation under congressional pressure, after which he resigned his post. His beautifully written and extensively documented book tells the entire story, from the initial decision to restore Enola Gay through the breakdown of cooperation to the cancellation amid a well-organized p.r. campaign by military groups opposed to the exhibit.
Martin Harwit, a former director of the National Air and Space Museum, explores how the proposed Enola Gay exhibit became a political football. "Utterly fascinating, candid, and very clear. . . . The book has genuine narrative power and human interest, and offers a profound parable for the politics of culture in our time. . . . A powerful yet subdued and poignant account."--Michael Kammen, Cornell University.
Late in the summer of 1980 a small band of men approaching retirement age convened in Washington. At five-year intervals in the previous thirty-five years they had met in other cities to reminisce and exchange news.
On this occasion they also had an additional attraction. They would be able to visit their beloved Enola Gay. With great expectations, they drove to Silver Hill, in Suitland, Maryland, just outside Washington's city limits, where the National Air and Space Museum has its Paul E. Garber Restoration, Preservation, and Storage Facility.
When they had last seen her, she was a proud, brilliantly shiny, beautifully sleek B-29 Superfortress--the most powerful bomber the Army Air Forces flew in World War II. In 1945, the Enola Gay and the men who were now visiting her had ended the war. Others could also claim to have contributed. But the Enola Gay and the men of the 509th had, some would argue, actually ended the war all by themselves.
Fifteen years later, largely inspired by these veterans' visit that day, the National Air and Space Museum would be preparing an exhibition on the mission of the Enola Gay. Prominently featured in that gallery would be the restored fifty-six-foot-long forward fuselage of the aircraft, memorabilia donated by the men of the 509th, and a video-film the museum had produced, in which crew members of the Enola Gay and her sister ship Bockscar recalled their missions.
Here is their story.
THE 509TH COMPOSITE GROUP
The 509th Composite Group had been created in September 1944 when Major General Leslie Groves, the man in charge of the Manhattan Project to construct the atomic bomb, foresaw the need for a dedicated corps of men trained to drop the bomb on targets in Japan. He chose twenty-nine-year-old Lieutenant Colonel Paul Tibbets to assemble and command the group.
Groves provided Tibbets with fifteen Boeing Superfortresses and eighteen hundred men, and ordered him to shape them into a self-contained, secret outfit. Tibbets was to control his own maintenance, engineering, ordnance, medical, radiological, and technical units, and his own set of troop transport aircraft and military police. These provided the required self-sufficiency and with it, the urgently demanded secrecy. If Tibbets ran into any bureaucratic problems, he needed only to mention the code word "Silverplate," which revealed nothing about the group's mission, but magically cut through red tape. If thwarted nevertheless, he had direct access to Groves and if need be, to H. H. "Hap" Arnold, commanding general of the Army Air Forces.
Tibbets's top secret mission was to forge a group to deliver an atomic bomb to Japan and survive. For this he had to devise the means and train his crews to drop this incredibly powerful bomb and escape before its terrible blast could consume them. For months, he did not know when the bomb would be ready or exactly how much it would weigh. But he knew it was going to be hard even to get the loaded Superfortress off the ground. Whether she would be able to struggle to an altitude of 30,000 feet with that bomb in her belly was anyone's guess.
Altitude was important. Tibbets and his crew would enter a hairpin turn immediately after releasing the bomb and beat a retreat to gain added distance from the point of explosion. If the B-29 could gain a few thousand feet of added altitude, that would add time to the forty or forty-five seconds for the bomb to fall to its detonation height. Every second gained meant added distance from the blast and greater safety for aircraft and crew; the Army Air Forces had no intention of making this a suicide mission.
The B-29s in which the 509th trained were not yet those they would need to carry out their mission. New Superfortresses would have to be acquired and modified for the task. On May 18, 1945, the Martin Aircraft factory in Omaha, Nebraska, delivered aircraft No. 44-86292 to the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF). She was one of 536 Boeing-designed B-29s to be assembled by the Omaha plant, and one of four thousand Superfortresses to be built and delivered by Boeing, Martin, and other companies for the war. This particular Superfortress had been designed as a Model B-29-45-M0. Her wingspan of 141 feet 8 inches, length of 99 feet, and four Wright 2,200 hp, R-3350-57 Cyclone engines permitted her to take off weighing sixty-seven tons fully loaded--about twice her weight empty of fuel, crew, and bombs. With this takeoff weight, she could cruise at 190 to 200 miles per hour. The aircraft's ceiling, the maximum altitude she could reach, was 35,000 feet, nearly seven miles above sea level.
For four weeks after leaving the factory, Superfortress 44-86292 was modified to make her a "Special Mission" aircraft. Then, on June 14, she was picked up by one of Tibbets's right-hand men, Capt. Robert A. Lewis, and ferried to Wendover Army Air Force Base (AAFB), Utah, where the 509th had been training in isolation for the past nine months. By June 27 Lewis and his crew were ready to head for Tinian Island in the Marianas. Along the way, they stopped at Mather AAFB in California and in Hawaii before reaching Guam on July 2. There, the aircraft's bomb bay was further modified. Leaving Guam on July 6, Lewis first headed to Kwajalein before finally taking off for Tinian, where the 509th Composite Group was now assembling.
PRACTICING FOR PERFECTION
The next few weeks were spent on practice runs. On July 12 the aircraft participated in a raid on Marcus Island, fully loaded with seven thousand gallons of fuel and twenty 500-pound bombs, weighing the maximum sixty-seven tons on takeoff. Like all the other 509th heavy bombardment air crews, Lewis and his men were required to fly half a dozen missions to prepare for battle conditions and their ultimate mission.
Though occupied with the many pressing problems of commanding the entire group, Tibbets made time to fly on some of these practice missions. But he was under strict orders not to go along on the flights over Japan. He knew too much for the United States to risk his capture. Other members of the 509th, who had been told little, could and did fly practice runs over the Japanese home islands. They knew their mission was special; they knew the maneuvers they would have to carry out; but they knew little else.
By Sunday, August 5, 1945, everything was ready. The clouds that had hung over Japan's home islands for a week were clearing. Tomorrow would be the day.
Aircraft 44-86292 had not yet been named. Tibbets got a painter to brush "ENOLA GAY" in bold black capitals just below the pilot's window on the aircraft's port side. It was his mother's maiden name and Paul Tibbets's way of honoring her for standing by his side in an often rocky early career.
Just after noon that Sunday, the Mk-1 atomic bomb--nicknamed Little Boy, in spite of its ten-foot-length, two-foot-diameter, and four-and-a-half-ton weight--was removed from its heavily guarded assembly hut on Tinian's North Field and loaded into the modified bomb bay. Tibbets watched every move and recalls thinking in disbelief that this single bomb was claimed to have the explosive power of two hundred thousand of the 200-pound bombs he had dropped over Europe and Africa three years before. But so far, Tibbets was the only member of the 509th to know that secret. A few of the others would have to be told before day's end.
Besides the Enola Gay, six other aircraft were to participate in the mission. Three were weather planes to be dispatched ahead of the others. Straight Flush, commanded by Claude Eatherly, would be on her way to Hiroshima; Jabbitt III, with John Wilson in charge, would fly to Kokura; and Full House, piloted by Ralph Taylor, would head for Nagasaki. Hiroshima was the prime target, but if clouds prevented visual sighting of landmarks, Kokura and Nagasaki were potential alternate targets. Charles Sweeney's The Great Artiste and George Marquart's unnamed aircraft No. 91 carried cameras and special instrumentation and were to escort the Enola Gay to her target. The seventh and final aircraft in order of takeoff would be Top Secret, piloted by Chuck McKnight. He was to fly only as far as Iwo Jima, to stand by as needed.
That evening the seven crews taking part in the mission gathered for the preflight briefing shortly after supper. Later, at 11:00 P.M., the crews of the Enola Gay and the two planes that would accompany her to her target received a final briefing. This was the first time they were told the expected power of the bomb they would drop. They were stunned; but the enormity of the explosion explained those violent escape maneuvers they had been practicing immediately after bomb release, procedures they had all practiced to perfection.
Tibbets had chosen Theodore "Dutch" Van Kirk as his navigator and Thomas W. Ferebee as his bombardier. Both had flown with Tibbets on bombing missions over Europe during the early years of the war. Other members of Enola Gay's crew were Robert A. Lewis, copilot; Wyatt E. Duzenbury, aircraft flight engineer; George R. "Bob" Caron, tail gunner; Joseph A. Stiborik, radar operator; Richard H. "Junior" Nelson, radio operator; Robert Shumard, assistant aircraft flight engineer; Jacob Beser, "Raven" operator / radar officer; Navy captain William S. "Deak" Parsons, weapons officer on loan from the Manhattan Project, which had built the bomb; and his assistant, Morris R. Jeppson, proximity fuse specialist. The names of all except the last three, whose functions were largely related to the bomb, would later be stencilled on the aircraft's side to chronicle their participation on this historic flight.
Of the mission on which they were about to embark, Dick Nelson, a twenty-year-old kid on the crew at the time, today recalls, "You knew it was big, you just didn't want to mess anything up.... When we were in the air somebody said ... this bomb cost as much as an aircraft carrier.... Well, ... then you really get the monkey on your back."
Just after 1:00 A.M., the crews drove a Jeep out to the flight line. When Dutch Van Kirk, then aged twenty-four, remembers that late-night scene with the aircraft lit up by spotlights, he thinks of a Hollywood premiere. Dick Nelson likens it to a supermarket opening, "Klieg lights and all kinds of photographers.... You're almost embarrassed." But as Dutch is quick to add, this scene had not been staged by news reporters. The Manhattan Project needed to document the event for history. For that purpose, New York Times science writer William L. Laurence, who had been given a leave of absence from his newspaper to write the official history of the atomic bomb effort, had just flown in that morning, though arriving too late to be included on the mission.
Some of the men were excited or disturbed by all the attention. For Tom Ferebee, who seems imperturbable, "The only difference between that and other missions I'd flown was that there's an awful lot of people around the airplane and floodlights ... which I didn't expect.... There wasn't much excitement as far as I was concerned. It was just another mission."
The most famous photo coming out of this session is that of a smiling Paul Tibbets, sticking his head out the pilot's window, just above the "O" in "ENOLA GAY." He is waving with his right hand at the nighttime crowd surrounding the plane--none of whom he can presumably see against the glare of the lights focused on him and brilliantly reflected off his aircraft's polished surface. The picture taking continued until close to 2:00 A.M., when Tibbets called a halt so they could go ahead with their preflight preparations.
Van Kirk recalls the mission as, "Rather routine, really. And one of the reasons for it was it went exactly according to plan.... Any time you have a good plan and everything goes according to it, ... things do appear to be routine, and that's how our mission went." Takeoff took place as scheduled at 2:45 A.M. Tibbets held the aircraft at low altitude while Captain Parsons crawled back to arm the bomb. When they reached Iwo Jima, Tibbets circled the island to let the other two airplanes catch up, and with them on his wings, he gradually climbed to altitude. They had a seventeen-hundred-mile trip ahead to Hiroshima and the crew took turns napping. This would be a thirteen-hour-long round-trip mission, and for a while there was little to do.
Claude Eatherly, whose plane had preceded them, reached Hiroshima, found the weather clear, and radioed back. Then he turned home. Hiroshima now was the target.
As the Enola Gay approached the city, the crew could clearly see it from more than fifty miles away. Van Kirk recalls Ferebee making a long bomb run, probably eight or nine minutes, eventually setting his sights on the target, the landmark T-shaped Aioi bridge. He remembers thinking, "If we'd ever sat on a bombing heading like this over Europe for this long a time, they'd have really blasted us out of the sky. But there was no opposition."
As the bomb dropped, the aircraft jumped, relieved of its weight, and Tibbets went into his sharp turn. Forty-three seconds later, as the bomb reached detonation altitude preset at 1,890 feet above ground, the sky lit up. Even with dark goggles over the crew's eyes, they felt as though someone had sparked a flashbulb in their eyes. The shock wave arrived another forty-five seconds later. This was the moment of truth. The aircraft rocked, but withstood the blast. The immediate danger was over. Meanwhile, the mushroom cloud was rising faster than anything any of them had ever seen, soon reaching an altitude of nine miles, three miles above their own cruising altitude. Down below, Nelson recalls, "The town was just a big mess of flame and dust." Van Kirk says it "looked like a pot of bubbling tar." There wasn't much to be discerned, so the three aircraft turned and headed for home. Nelson recalls their saying, on the way back, "that the war was over.... We couldn't see how they could possibly go on any longer ... with this device."
Looking back, Ferebee says, "We don't think we should be glorified or the airplane be glorified. Just ... show what it did in that period of time. Things are much different now, and people look at things much different. But it's got to be considered in the time period that it happened."
The Enola Gay's copilot, Bob Lewis, did consider it at the time. As the last entry in the log he had been asked to keep of the mission, he wrote, "My God!"
The Hiroshima mission did not end the war. Despite the scale of destruction, the Japanese did not immediately give up. Nelson thinks, "It required something else, and that something was the second bomb.... The second bomb was a necessity.... It did show that we had more than one weapon." He feels that the bomb dropped on Nagasaki "worked--because three days later they did concede defeat."
Where the Hiroshima mission's Little Boy, like most bombs, was cigar-shaped, the plutonium bomb dropped on Nagasaki looked more like a giant egg, and was aptly nicknamed Fat Man. Little Boy was a uranium bomb. It was also the only one of its kind in existence. The uranium isotope of atomic mass 235 was arduous to isolate from its sister isotope of mass 238, occurring in far greater abundance in ordinary uranium ores. Material for a second bomb of this kind would not have been available for several more months. The explosive for the bomb dropped on Nagasaki was plutonium, an element that does not exist naturally on Earth. It had to be manufactured from uranium 238 in giant nuclear reactors in a huge new plant built for the Manhattan Project by the Army Corps of Engineers at Hanford, Washington. By August 1945, Hanford was producing enough plutonium for two or three bombs a month.
Tibbets decided not to go on the second bombing mission himself, and assigned the command to Chuck Sweeney. Since Sweeney's The Great Artiste had been outfitted for instrumentation, he was assigned to fly Bockscar, while Fred Bock, who normally piloted the plane that bore his name, would command the instrumentation aircraft on this flight.
The Nagasaki mission was plagued with troubles. A faulty fuel pump prevented complete use of the fuel on board. Kokura, the primary target for the mission, was so clouded in that Sweeney had to give up after circling the city for some time and go for the alternate target, Nagasaki. That city also was heavily overcast, but Sweeney did drop the bomb. Then, heading home he was so low on fuel that he had to land on Okinawa to refuel before proceeding back to Tinian.
THE 509TH VETERANS
The men of the 509th who visited the museum's Garber facility that summer day in 1980 shared many feelings: pride in having served their country on missions that were hazardous in the extreme and could have threatened their lives; pride in having contributed to the rapid conclusion of a long and terrible war; horror at the magnitude of the destruction and loss of life on the ground; awe at the power of the bombs they had delivered; and hope that the awesomeness of nuclear weapons will make total war unthinkable from now to eternity.
Many of the men also believe that, though two hundred thousand may have died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the quick end to the war ultimately saved more lives than it took. That certainly is Paul Tibbets's view: "You hate to weigh one thing against another, but sometimes you save more lives than you take."
Ray Gallagher, assistant flight engineer on the Nagasaki mission, may have summarized his comrades' feelings best, years later, in the summer of 1994, when he, Tom Ferebee, Dick Nelson, and Dutch Van Kirk were recording their stories with National Air and Space Museum's filmmaker, Patricia (Patti) Woodside. Woodside was preparing a fifteen-minute film for visitors to see as a final commemorative feature in the museum's planned exhibition, The Last Act: The Atomic Bomb and the End of World War II.
Ray Gallagher's recollections seemed to us to provide the most powerful and perhaps also the most honest summation for the film and the exhibition:
He recalls a lovely summer day in 1985 when a Japanese television crew came to interview him on the fortieth anniversary of the bombings and set up their equipment in his yard. The sun was shining, the flowers were in bloom--a lovely, peaceful, perhaps unlikely setting to talk about war. He felt anxious. What would he say if they asked him, as he was sure they would, "Are you sorry you dropped the bomb?"
The interview started; the reporter wanted to know everything; Ray recalls, "Oh man, he went here and there and all over."
Ray stops a moment and then continues, "Last question he had, he says, 'Are you sorry you dropped the bomb?' And--I don't know--God must have been with me that day, because I says, 'You know Mister, at that era in our life there was a monster loose. That monster was war. It was killing people, destroying homes, mothers, fathers--oh gosh, so many heartaches. And here this comes along, and it stopped all that! If you'd had it, you would have used it. We had it and we used it. And we stopped it! Many, many, many, many people got to go home.'"
Gallagher stops, then continues: "I says, 'At your years I doubt whether it means anything to you--the term "you got to go home." But if you're a soldier and you're just a civilian that went to war, and that's what we were, your first thought is, "When am I going to get home?" And that's what Truman said. He says "Bring the boys home." And that's what he did. He brought the boys home.'"
Ray halts again. Recalling this has shaken him. "I know we caused," he stops not quite knowing how to get it out, "a lot of heartaches, I am sure." Another pause. How can he say it when it is so awful? "But," his voice breaks, he swallows, "we did all right."
He turns away.
A Solemn Vow
The Enola Gay had played a pivotal role in the lives of the 509th veterans visiting the National Air and Space Museum's Paul E. Garber Restoration Facility that day in 1980. In their youth, on Tinian Island in the Pacific, they had worked on the aircraft, flown in her, or walked past her a hundred times with pride. Ken Eidnes, twenty-two years old at the time, had taken some of the first color pictures of her in an era when color photos were rare. Driving to Garber that day, he and his comrades could still recall this powerful aircraft gleaming under Tinian's tropical sun.
Imagine their disappointment when they were ushered into a gloomy shed. On the concrete floor next to the wall lay a dull-gray hulk, severed in half. Forward and aft sections were propped up side by side on makeshift steel yokes painted a garish yellow. Where the wings had been removed, the gashed fuselage gaped. Where the engines had been removed from the wings, disheveled tubes protruded from the hollows. The rear gunner's turret was smashed; years earlier, vandals had intruded. Birds had followed and made the turret their home, tearing apart webbing to construct their nests. The engines also had become home to birds, whose corrosive droppings gutted their once smoothly moving parts.
The Enola Gay was a wreck!
Who could have allowed this to happen? Who was responsible for this outrage?
To fully understand, we must return to the days following the Allies' victory.
A POSTWAR ODYSSEY
Once the war had ended with the signing of the armistice on the battleship Missouri on September 2, 1945, the Enola Gay remained on Tinian until November 6. She was then flown to Roswell AAFB in New Mexico to serve with a squadron that would remain operational despite the massive reduction in force that had returned many of the men to civilian life.
After the war, in the summer of 1946, the United States conducted Operations Crossroads at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands to test the effects of nuclear explosions. Bikini's isolation in mid-Pacific Ocean, just north of the equator, made the atoll an ideal site. It provided adequate secrecy and was sufficiently remote from habitation to prevent a threat from radioactive fallout--or so it was hoped.
After undergoing modifications, the Enola Gay was ready to join the tests. Tibbets flew her to Kwajalein Island in the Marshalls but then found himself and his aircraft largely shunted aside. A different crew was selected to conduct the first test, whose prime task was to see the effect of an atomic explosion on seventy obsolete naval vessels assembled in Bikini's lagoon.
Bikini is an extinct volcano that juts up from the ocean floor. The irregular crater rim here and there protrudes from the water in a necklace of small islands enclosing a shallow, central lagoon, only two hundred feet at its deepest point, but stretching twenty-five miles east-west and fifteen miles north-south. Most of the little islands are barely a hundred yards wide, a few hundred yards long, and quite flat. Only a few rise more than twenty feet above high tide. Two of the islands, Bikini and Eneu, occupy as much area as the two dozen others combined. Even Bikini, the largest of them all, claims less than a square mile of land.
What these little islands lacked in size they made up in beauty. In 1946 they were covered with lush tropical vegetation and tall palms. Wonderfully colored fish swam in the lagoon. Multicolored seashells adorned the beaches. Bikini Atoll had been home to 162 Malayo-Polynesian natives, who lived on coconuts, the fish they caught, and local vegetation. Within months of the war's end, however, the atoll's entire population was evacuated so that tests could be conducted. These Bikinians, their children, and their grandchildren were not to see their homeland again for over four decades. When they finally returned, their paradise had been transformed into a wasteland that the United States was attempting to clean up and restore.
The bomb dropped on July 1, 1946, at Bikini was identical to the plutonium bomb dropped on Nagasaki. As Tibbets recalls it, the Air Force had decided to replace him and his men with a new, less-experienced team. At dawn on July 1, they set out to drop their bomb on the USS Nevada, right at the center of the cluster of ships and painted a bright orange to make her easily visible from 30,000 feet. But because of an apparent error in the crew's computations, they missed the target ships by a third of a mile.
General Curtis LeMay, in charge of the entire operation, was furious. He asked Tibbets to return to Washington as his personal emissary to report the unfortunate incident to General Carl Spaatz. Tibbets left at once, returning in the Enola Gay without her having taken part in the tests. Later that month, the Army Air Forces decided to mothball the Enola Gay, and on July 24, 1946, she was flown to Davis-Monthan AAFB, at Tucson, Arizona, for storage. There she stayed for three years.
Ten years later, I was at Bikini and witnessed the first hydrogen bomb drop from an aircraft. That bomb missed its target by four miles--ten times worse than the 1946 miss.
I was at Bikini because in early 1955 I had been drafted into the U.S. Army as a private. I was then twenty-four years old with a master's degree in physics, and had been assigned to the Chemical Corps' radiological warfare unit to participate in the 1956 series of tests code-named "Redwing."
For the hydrogen bomb drop, a group of us staked out our neutron detectors on tiny Namu Islet. One could stroll its length in a few minutes. Unlike the main island of Bikini with its tall palms, Namu was barren, open to the sky and the bright tropical sun.
Placing the neutron detectors was not difficult. But we took our time, clambering around to familiarize ourselves with their location. We knew we'd be in an immense hurry to find them when we returned later. The entire island would then be radioactive and completely transformed.
Far overhead an aircraft was flying patterns. We watched the pilot's maneuvers for a while. He was too high for us to be sure, but we figured he was practicing his run, finding the best way to safely escape the hell he'd create.
The bomb Tibbets had dropped over Hiroshima, and escaped by steeply banking and diving his B-29, was a tiny firecracker compared to what would be set loose here. The pilot of the B-52 intercontinental bomber, who for the first time in history would drop a hydrogen bomb, would have to escape a blast 250 times more powerful, in an aircraft that, for all its jet engines, still could not fly that much faster than the Enola Gay.
Having laid out our detectors we got back into our landing craft, whose skipper returned us to Bikini Island, across the lagoon. There we awaited the right winds and the wholesale evacuation of the atoll to the fleet at sea.
On the afternoon before the shot, a handful of us who were to helicopter to ground zero just after the burst were taken aboard the helicopter carrier USS Badoeng Strait, from which we would take off right after daybreak. We couldn't predict what levels the radiation on Namu would reach. The plan was to helicopter in to check that the levels were tolerable. If they were, we'd swoop down, pick up our detectors and beat the fastest retreat we could.
We turned in early that night. The next morning we'd be getting up well before dawn to get ready.
Just before daybreak we were on deck listening to the countdown. At 5:50 A.M. on that morning of May 21, 1956, the United States dropped a hydrogen bomb from an aircraft for the first time. The bomb took about a minute to fall from an altitude of around 50,000 feet down to one tenth that height. There it exploded, showing the world that our country had the might to deliver such weapons on any enemy.
We were thirty miles out at sea. The heat of the bomb that lit up the sky struck at once. Though wearing thick goggles, we had faced away to protect our eyes. Now we turned around and saw the enormous fireball that stretched miles across the sky, partly hidden behind a cloud, but filling the entire field of vision and rising incredibly fast followed by a giant pillar that rose from below. The entire macabre evolution to this point, and further as the fireball gave way to an enormous cloud that kept endlessly spreading and approaching, proceeded in total, eerie silence. For two minutes we stood riveted by this ghastly scene. Then came the startling crack that shook us awake. The blast of pressure had reached our ship.
We went below then, to get ready for the helicopter ride to ground zero. But as the minutes went by, we learned that the bomb had missed the island by four miles. No seriously high neutron fluxes were expected. We might as well wait a few days and then go in more leisurely to retrieve our detectors by ship.
NIGHT TURNS TO DAY
Other shots followed, both at Eniwetok and at Bikini, as we shuttled back and forth laying out our detectors and then retrieving them. For one predawn explosion at Bikini we remained at our home base on Eniwetok. But we knew it would take place at 5:30 A.M. We got up early to see whether at the distance of 220 miles we would even notice anything. Foolishly, we walked to the edge of the island nearest to Bikini, as though coming a hundred yards closer would make a difference. Then, at the appointed hour, the night suddenly turned into day, undulating in brightness for several seconds before relapsing into darkness. It was as if a bomb exploding over Philadelphia had lit daylight in Boston.
We returned to our tent and went back to sleep. Twenty minutes later, the whole tent shook as a rumbling sound wave arrived, rattling our bunks, as though some huge truck was lumbering by. The sound had taken that long to reach us. A few minutes later, another rumble, as another sound wave reached us more slowly.
In preparation for yet another bomb burst, we had emplaced our detectors on a pretty little palm-crested island. The carcass of a Japanese fighter plane was still sitting there, eleven years after the war's end. We climbed all over it, of course, curious to explore its cockpit. We were all too young to have seen a real Japanese fighter plane in combat. Then we left to await the explosion.