Every now and again, each of us has an experience that will remain with us for life. I had one of those experiences back in the mid-1990s, and I must have told this story a hundred times. Now, I want to share this experience with you. It is about a man, with whom I had a business telephone conversation. His name was Tom Ferebee.
During our conversation, I finally told him I had a feeling I had either; met him, knew someone he knew, or knew his name by reputation. That comment made him laugh, and it turned into a game of twenty questions. I had guessed he was at least 25 to 30 years my senior, so I asked if he was a Veteran of World War II. He said he was and he was retired Air Force. I guessed a Pilot, and he retorted he was a Bombardier with a chuckle. I asked if he flew in the European or the Pacific Theater. His reply was, “Both.” This was getting me nowhere fast.
I told Tom how my father wanted me to be an aeronautical engineer, and by the age of six I could rattle off most of the statistics of all the U.S. World War II airplanes. I also related to him how my father took me to the airport most weekends to watch the planes, and by the time I was eight, I was designing and building wings for balsa wood airplanes.
Then, I told him about my nose art collection I had as a kid. Nose art is a pilot’s personal marking on the fuselage of an airplane usually painted near the nose. The artists are typically unknown and it is considered a kind of folk art, generally of the pin-up variety. The first recorded appearance of nose art was in 1913. I asked Tom what was the name of his plane. His reply was “the Enola Gay.” I knew who he was. He was Major Thomas Ferebee. He was the man who dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.
The Enola Gay was a B-29 Superfortress airplane. It has four prop driven engines with a pressurized cabin and a remote control bomb sight. The range of the aircraft is 5,830 miles. The aircraft, which delivered of the atomic bomb nicknamed Little Boy, was hand-picked off the assembly line by Col. Paul W. Tibbets, Jr.
The 509th Composite Group was formed, and Tibbets recruited Tom Ferebee from the European theater, in the summer of 1944. Major Ferebee had completed more than 60 bombing mission at that time.
On August 5, 1945, Col. Tibbets assumed command of the B-29 and had the name Enola Gay painted on the nose of the aircraft. Captain Robert A. Lewis, the regularly assigned Commander, now Co-pilot, was furious.
The following day, the Enola Gay took off from Northfield on Tinian on its six hour flight to Hiroshima. The target was the T-shaped Aioi Bridge in the center of Hiroshima. It was the sight of an important Japanese Army Headquarters. A half an hour before the target was acquired, the atomic bomb was armed and the safeties were removed. At 8:15 AM, Hiroshima time, Major Thomas Ferebee released the atomic bomb from 31,060 feet. The Enola Gay was just 11 ½ miles away when it detonated.
I am well aware that sometimes my mouth speaks before my mind processes the proper way to phrase things. I was not surprised when I asked, “So, Tom, what was is like?"
He calmly replied, “One hell of a tailwind.”