Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Ken Kramer: The Marianas Trench Marine Monument

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Choosing dog food

Monday, September 22, 2008

Rev. Wilch Story as it appears in the magazine

Atomic Bomb story with Hap Halloran

Rev. Dr. Robert Wilch Story

“He’s a miracle.”

Rev. Dr. Robert Wilch’s wife Sandra could not have been happier to see him make the 27-hour trip to Saipan from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The possibility of such a trip seemed unlikely to ever occur again just a few months prior to departure.

At 85 years old, it is indeed a miracle that former US Navy LTJG Robert Wilch was able to make his seventh trip to Saipan. He came most recently with his wife, son, Stephen, and a granddaughter, Grace. Barely a year before, a serious surgery made the trip highly unlikely. But his resilient spirit did not give up on the possibility. His desire to go made the trip a reality.

A delicate brain surgery
Sandra, Wilch’s wife of 34 years, told Island Locator, “About a year ago my husband got up in the middle of the night, fell, hitting the back of his head on the sideboard of the bed. He called the hospital and was advised to watch for any unusual symptoms in the days to come. But he seemed to be fine.”

A few days later on May 27th, Wilch preached the Baccalaureate sermon for the Commencement Exercises at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Sandra acknowledged that her husband is a “wonderful preacher” but this time, “something just didn’t seem right. He usually likes to talk with people after the service but not this time. He bypassed everybody, returning to the hotel.”

For Sandra, that was strange behavior. By the end of that week she noticed that he was dragging his left foot. “He got stuck in the pantry, hanging on to the shelves for support, because he could not make his left leg move.” Knowing that something was seriously wrong, she called the doctor the following morning and requested an MRI for Bob immediately.

Fifteen minutes after the MRI, an ambulance took Wilch to a Milwaukee hospital where the doctor scheduled brain surgery for Monday morning. However, early Saturday morning he called Sandra and said, “We can’t wait. We must operate now.”

On June 1st, 2007, Wilch underwent a four-and-a-half-hour brain surgery for a subdural hematoma pressing on his brain. During the next seven to eight weeks, he did not open his eyes or converse with anyone. His wife recalled, “He was out and didn’t respond to us. Sometimes he would talk but he wouldn’t make much sense. He would make statements like ‘I have 27 children.’ He really did not know where he was.”

After a number of weeks, one doctor suggested to her that they pull the plug. Sandra vehemently refused. According to her, “The question surprised me. I could not believe that he would not recover.”

Contrary to the doctor’s prognosis, after a Greenfield screen was inserted into his aorta, he came out of the operating room with his eyes open. According to Sandra, “When he came back from the procedure, his eyes were open and he began talking. From that point on, he had to relearn walking, swallowing and eating—it was a day to day miracle.” After six weeks of not getting out of bed, there had been great loss in body strength. It was a struggle at first as he had not energy to do anything. The physical therapy was intense, tiring but obviously successful.

Sandra acknowledged that it was the efforts of her husband’s neurologist, Dr. Krishna Neni, who was responsible for Bob making it. She said Dr. Neni, a very caring physician and in charge of Bob’s day to day treatment, would come down to the waiting room where the family gathered. He would say, “This is where he is, this is what I am going to do, and this is what I expect to happen.” And it did.

Several months after he was discharged from the hospital, Bob went through an extensive rehabilitation to regain his strength. A month after Bob’s discharge, the respected neurologist met with a freak accident on the highway on his way home from work. A semi truck coming from the opposite direction, lost a wheel which bounced over the median, hitting and demolishing the doctor’s car and killing him instantly. It was such a loss! It would not have been possible for her husband to make the 27-hour flight from Milwaukee to Saipan if it were not for that neurologist.

The entire experience has been remarkable for Bob whom one doctor thought would not make it but for his family’s love and faith which pulled him through. She said, “I would have to say the successful operation and recovery were a beautiful experience. He is a miracle!”

His family and faith and the pre-war years
The second of three sons in the family of teacher-businessman, Sam Wilch and his wife Cora, Wilch was born on May 20th, 1923 in Jenera, Ohio. When he was 5 or 6, the family moved to Appleton, Wisconsin where the brothers grew up. They attended church faithfully each Sunday. Wilch said they had a great life and acknowledges “I owe more to my family for faith matters that anybody else”.

His father died of a heart attack at the young age of 66. His mother, however, lived a long and rich life until she was 97. Wilch admires his mother for her stalwart character. When she was on her death bed, one of the family asked if she had seen Sam, her husband. She said no, but she would. When asked if she had seen Jesus, she answered, “Oh, yes!” And when asked what Jesus looked like, she said, “Just the way I thought he’d look.”

Bob’s family was greatly influenced by the college town. Each brother pursued interesting professions: the oldest, now deceased, was a chemist; Bob became a minister and the Bishop of the Wisconsin-Upper Michigan Synod of the Lutheran Church in America and his younger brother also became a Lutheran minister. Bob attended Lawrence University in Appleton. He thoroughly enjoyed his college years, being elected president of the fraternity as well as the student body. He said his attention to class work was “pretty good”. He was a sophomore in college when the war broke out.

According to Wilch, “I was in Green Bay, Wisconsin (near my Appleton home) nurturing my passion for music, playing trumpet in a fine symphony orchestra conducted by a German genius. On the way home, we heard over the radio that Pearl Harbor had been attacked.” With that breaking news, it occurred to Wilch that he could be conscripted into military service anytime. Initially, his reluctance to immediately volunteer his services led him to enlist in the V-12 program that permitted men like him to stay in college until needed.

Bob was in the Navy V-12 program. In the middle of his senior year at Lawrence in Appleton, Wisconsin, he was ordered to go to Northwestern University, one of three midshipmen schools—Notre Dame, Columbia University in New York and Northwestern in Chicago—offering the navy officer training program.

Initially, Wilch enlisted in the V-7 program designed to create officers for the fleet as contrasted with the V-5 program that produced officers for the Navy Air. Both programs created what Wilch called “ninety-day wonders” in a program that trained officers initially for 90 days, then lengthened to 120 days. These midshipmen’s schools provided the fleet with officers who were needed since the Naval Academy’s program was for 3 years. But because Wilch and other young men like him, had already completed their college courses, they only needed to take Seamanship, Ordnance, and Navigation courses in the midshipmen schools. At some point, the two programs, Wilch said, were merged into a V-12 program. Upon completion, these young men were deemed ready to go to war.

After completing the program, Wilch and his classmates were ready to go to war. They were given 30 days leave so they could go home. In 1943, his orders were to report to San Francisco for transportation to CINCPAC—Commander in Chief, Pacific Ocean Area Theater. There he was ordered to report to the USS McDermut, DD677, a destroyer. What he did not realize was how fortunate he was to have been assigned to destroyer duties. He also did not realize at the time how perfectly suited he would be for the tasks he would be assigned. Asked by Island Locator if ever he had reservations at this point, Wilch said, “Honestly, I was ready. I had no qualms about going. I wanted to get going.”

From Pearl Harbor the destroyer sped to Eniwitok in the Marshall Islands before joining the other invasion forces on Saipan three days before the actual invasion took place in 1944. “I must tell you, that was one of the eeriest experiences to arrive at Saipan at 3 o’clock in the morning knowing that the people on those islands would actually fight back.”

The War Years

Bob’s life has been one filled with fortune. He could not have agreed more. During the years he spent in military service aboard the USS McDermut, his life was fraught with dangers which he was fortunate to have survived. The worst were the typhoons with waves 70 feet high and winds of 125 mph. Floating mines, easy to see and destroy during the day were a great peril at night. Later in the war, a real peril was the Kamikaze planes which suicidally crashed on ships causing severe damage and loss of life.

Bob recalled, “When Tinian was being fought for, the McDermut spent all night bombarding when the troops at shore asked for fire support and we fired star shells to light the battlefield to expose any Japanese attempt to make a charge. At about 7 a.m. the Norman Scot, another destroyer, relieved McDermut. Twenty minutes later Norman Scott was hit with a number of 6” shells from the beach. Many of the ship’s crew and officers were killed, including the Captain.” Had they not been relieved, Wilch probably would have been among the casualties.

The McDermut remained in the Marianas, supporting the Army and Marines with its 5” guns until Saipan, Guam and Tinian were secured. Bob told this interviewer, “We didn’t have an airplane on the destroyer. There were airplanes on the cruisers and battleships with pontoons—so they could land in the water and would be able to take off and fly over Tinian, Saipan or Guam. They would direct our fire to wherever the soldiers wanted it—‘Down 50 or Right 50’ or wherever.”

When war broke out in the Pacific, it was inevitable for Wilch and the rest of the men—and women—of his generation to rise up and serve their country. Ideally he would like to have finished college before heading off to war but that was not possible. When IL Magazine asked if he had reservations about the war, Wilch replied, “That war (referring to WWII) was so important. We had to stop Hitler’s advances in Europe and the Japanese atrocities in Asia. I don’t think anybody even thought about not going. I had a friend who was a conscientious objector but he had a worse time than I did.”

The USS McDermut and Task Force 38/Task Force 58
Bob Wilch clearly remembers the most important battles their ship DD 667 participated in during the waning years of World War II.
Following the successful invasions of Saipan, Guam and Tinian, McDermut joined a huge fleet in the retaking of the Phillipines. Destroyers, cruisers and battleships bombarded the landing beaches to softer up the Japanese resistance. The Japanese also had a large armada of ships to defend the islands.

One of the more exciting and dangerous actions for McDermut and other destroyers in Squadron 54 was the order to engage the Japanese fleet as it was attempting to pass through the Surigao Strait. Initially, PT boats attacked the Japanese ships firing torpedoes. Then it was the destroyer’s turn to attack. Destroyers raced down each side of the Strait firing 10 torpedoes from each ship. All this was done in the glaring light of many Japanese searchlights hoping to find us in the night’s darkness. After firing torpedoes, each destroyer made a hard u-turn and at flank speed (about 38 knots or a little more than 40 mgh) hoping to escape the intense barrage from Japanese battleships and destroyers. All of Squadron 54 returned safely. Another destroyer, the USS Grant, one of the last to fire torpedoes, was not so lucky. It was caught in the crossfire of Japanese and American ships. It was hit by 22 large shells and suffered severe damage and a great loss of life.
The Americans were not finished with this Japanese fleet. Japanese large ships were moving south in single file in an effort to escape. Yet to come was a hail of 16” shells from four battle ships lined up at the southern end of Surigao Strait. This was an execution of the most favored of sea warfare tactics, the crossing of the T. The four battleships became the horizontal top of the letter T and the Japanese ships were in the worst possible position to fire. This action further reduced the Japanese ability to wage war in the Pacific.

Invasions depended heavily on amphibious ships, the largest being LSTs (Landing Ship Tanks) which carried tanks and personnel. These ships had large ramps which were let down as the ship hit the beach so tanks and personnel could exit the ship. The danger to these ships was their extremely slow speed (about 10 knots or approximately 12 mph). Other “amphibs” were LCTs (Landing Craft Tank) which could carry one tank and its crew to the beach, LCVPs (Landing Craft Personnel) carrying marines and soldiers to the beach. There also was the LCR (Landing Craft Rocket). These ships had many rocket launchers on their deck, able to deliver a hail of rockets on the Japanese. Today LCACs are the amphibious work horse. These hydrofoils can approach the beach at 40 knots—over 40 mpg. When they reach the beach they can keep on going with their cargos of tanks and personnel.
After the Phillipines were secured, McDermut set sail for Okinawa for a D Day invasion on Easter Sunday, 1945. Once again McDermut joined other destroyers, cruisers and battleships in bombarding the beaches to make the landing of the troops safer. Periodic air attacks by Japanese planes kept all ships alert.

When a Task Group is at sea, the normal formation has 20 plus destroyers in a large circle with the more powerful ships inside that circle with aircraft carriers at the very center because of their extreme value to the war. This formation allows destroyers which are equipped with sonar equipment to detect and then destroy enemy submarines.

But when an air attack is about to take place, all the large ships including the carriers take positions in the circle of destroyers. At Okinawa, McDermut was in position immediately next to the USS Missouri, a huge and powerful battleship and about three ships down from the USS Intrepid, an extremely large and fast carrier.

“Since the Japanese wanted better targets than our destroyers, we felt safe even though Kamikazes were attacking. Our ship was not a prime target. But the Carrier Intrepid was. Planes kept diving on it hoping to disable or sink it. As the attack continued and as the Missouri was firing as furiously as possible with all its anti-aircraft guns, their gunners continued to fire at diving planes. In their desperate hope to destroy the diving suicide plane, their shells began to hit my ship, killing some men and wounding many. After the attack was over, we discovered 286 holes in our ship with some hitting in the boiler room, reducing our speed to about 5 knots (about 6mph).

Along with the Intrepid, we took station inside this huge circle of ships for protection. The fleet had to continue to launch and retrieve planes during daylight hours and to do that, the fleet had to head into the wind at a pretty high rate of speed. Intrepid and McDermut at times would be left behind. But as soon as the launch or landing of planes was completed the fleet would change course in our direction so we could be protected inside the circle again. When dark came Intrepid and McDermut were detached along with a cruiser for an escort to head for one of the islands with repair facilities,” Bob Wilch told Island Locator.

Continuing his recollection of the battles, Bob said, “After Okinawa was secured, McDermut joined TF38 for our attacks on Japan itself. All the ships in these carrier groups were capable of high speeds so this was, again, very interesting duty. Destroyers periodically had the responsibility of being a plane guard. Frequently, planes returning from a strike on Japan were damaged in such a way that landing on the carrier was not safe or the pilot was wounded badly enough that he could not properly land on the flight deck. When that occurred, the pilot was ordered to ditch in the water fairly near the carriers. It was then our job to approach the sinking plane and bring the pilot safely aboard our ship. Swimmers from our ship went over the side to rescue the pilot. It was an extremely dangerous duty for the swimmers since sharks were always a concern. To protect them, a number of us would be lined up on the ship with machineguns, rifles and revolvers to attack the sharks if they appeared.”

According to Bob, “When a pilot was returned to the carrier, we would always receive 20 gallons of ice cream for our crew—a real treat. In those days, destroyers did not have ice cream makers as they do today.”

In late July of 1945, McDermut was detached from TF38 to carry out an anti-shipping sweep along the coast of Japan and also the Kuriles and then turn east and head for home via Adak, Alaska for an overhaul in preparation for the invasion of Japan later that year. When it reached Adak, the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. A few days later a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Instead of continuing on to San Francisco, the ship was ordered to return to Japan for initial occupation. Their arrival in the bay at Aomari in northern Honshu preceded the signing of the Peace Treaty in early September. After about two weeks of occupation, they were ordered home by way of Pearl Harbor. The war was over!

Discharges from the service were based on points—time in the service plus time overseas. Bob Wilch had enough points to be discharged for the fall semester 1945 at Lawrence. “I like the Navy a lot and I could have continued but since I was a graduate of Midshipmen’s school with only four months of training, I was concerned that promotions would be slower for me than for those who were graduated from The Navy Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.”

After finishing his last remaining semester for graduation from Lawrence, Bob was invited to be the Assistant to the President of the University.. At that time, Dr. Nathan M.Pusey was the President. Three or four years later, he was named the president of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

After two years at Lawrence, Bob decided to enter the Lutheran Seminary (then Northwestern) in Minneapolis. “My first call was to St Paul’s Lutheran Church in Spokane, WA. After 5 years I was called to St. Peter’s church in Janesville, WI. In early 1963 I was called to be the Assistant to the President of The Wisconsin-Upper Michigan Synod of the Lutheran Church in America.

Upon his retirement, he was elected Bishop of that Synod in 1974. Being the Bishop was fraught with a great deal of travel and stress. His churches were spread over the entire state of Wisconsin and also Upper Michigan. There were 260 congregations and 350 ordained ministers. During his time as Bishop there were a number of memorable experiences.

He relishes with gusto, “I was privileged to meet The Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Church in Istanbul, Turkey for a week, spend a week at the Vatican with a one hour audience with Pope John Paul II and a week with The Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie. The Runcies became close friends after that meeting and gave my wife and me considerable hospitality in London at Lambeth Palace and in Caterbury. Lord and Lady Runcie have been guests at our home in Wisconsin until his death some years ago. He is often remembered as the clergy person who performed the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana. Sandra and I also were privileged to have lunch with the Dahlai Lama.”

According to Bob, their interest in the Northern Marianas is magnified in part because one of the pastors in my synod was the late Rev. William Downey who was especially selected to be the protestant Chaplain to the 509th Composite Group charged with the dropping of two atomic bombs in Japan. He remembers his widow, Gladys, who lives nearby and is a wonderful source of information about the special atomic Bomb Group. Because the Marianas were his first battles, these islands have become important to them and they’re fortunate to visit often.
“We have made good friends here, most notably Jerry and Irene Facey. They are so wonderful to us, even meeting us at our arrival at 1:30 in the morning and seeing us off when we leave. We saw much of Saipan through Jerry’s willingness to show us the sights,” said Wilch, adding that he wishes the best to all who live in this part of the world.

Hap Halloran revisits Tinian

A Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunity
As the editor of Island Locator, I was recently given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet and interview the renowned World War II B-29 navigator Hap Halloran, who was based on Isley Field on Saipan, shot down over Japan and spent the rest of the war enduring horrific torment in a Japanese Prisoner of War camp. Hap had visited Saipan many times before our encounter, but this time he wanted a special tour of Tinian—particularly the atomic bomb pits, the bomb assembly area and the 509th Composite Bomb Group camp area.

Having known Saipan resident and co-chair of the 60th Commemoration Committee, Hap asked Jerry Facey to make the arrangements for the Tinian visit. Facey in turn spoke with longtime Tinian resident and local historian Don Farrell and asked him if he was interested in a being Hap’s guide on Tinian. “I said yes as fast as I could catch my breath,” Farrell told IL. Farrell said he had often run into stories about Saipan B-29 navigator Hap Halloran when he was researching Paul Halloran, the commanding officer of all Seabees on Tinian during the war.

And so it was that Facey, Hap and I flew to Tinian to spend a day with Farrell reliving the events that took place there well over 60 years ago—when Tinian loomed large on the world stage—and learning from Farrell a wealth of extraordinary details about Tinian’s historic WWII sites.

The History of Broadway Avenue
As the four of us left the airport on Tinian, we turned north onto a boulevard that runs from the palatial Tinian Dynasty Hotel and Casino in the south to the Hinode Shrine Circle in the north—a road now known as Broadway.

Hap studied our route as Farrell narrated: “This part of Broadway was originally built by the Japanese, using mixed coral and dirt as a roadbed. The Americans created a development plan for Tinian which included extending the road south to the harbor and then hardening it. The Seabees built the road for exactly the same purpose as the Japanese—to get bombs from the south end of the island to the airfield on the north end where Ushi Airfield was located. The U.S. called it North Field.” According to Farrell, the senior Seabee commanders began planning the development of Tinian shortly after the first aerial photograph missions from a carrier raid were conducted against the Marianas from 22-24 February 1944.

“The Marianas invasion was originally scheduled for November,” Farrell said. “However, Admiral Nimitz pushed the invasion up to June 15. Consequently, the construction planning team in Hawaii had only three-and-a-half months to prepare for the development of Tinian. The job was given to Captain Paul J. Halloran, USN, CEC.” Our Hap Halloran, in his characteristic humor blurted out, “I love him already.”

Captain Halloran just happened to be a native of Manhattan Island’s New York City. According to Farrell, Halloran glanced at the latest Japanese map of Tinian and declared that it closely resembled his own island of Manhattan. Having the authority and liberty to do so, he began naming the roads and locations after those in New York—Broadway, 8th Avenue, 86th Street, even a China Town Strip. When Hap asked what became of his namesake, Farrell said he had been promoted to Commodore due to his efforts on Tinian.

The Tinian Seabees
Farrell was disappointed with not being able to focus more of his attention on the Tinian Seabees due to his commitment to finish his latest book, which is about the role Tinian played in the WWII atomic bomb missions. But he assured us that a book about the Seabees would follow. For their work on Tinian, Hap expressed hopefulness that the Seabees got the recognition they deserved, to which Farrell remarked, “Sadly, they have not received even close to the recognition they deserve.”

Farrell described what driving up Broadway in December 1944 might have looked like. “Right now these fields look like something right out of Virginia, a lot of cattle grazing on vast grasslands. During Christmas 1944, however, bulldozers cleared sugarcane from pre-designated sections where thousands of Seabees pitched two-man pup tents. The road we are riding on was being hardened so Seabee trucks could get to the new quarry pits. From the pits, Seabee drivers were hauling coral to what they called Air Strip Number 1, located on top of the old Ushi Air Field and which would one day be the runway for atomic bomb missions to Japan.” While the war moved on to Iwo Jima, there were 12,500 Seabees working on the Tinian airfields, night and day, seven days a week.

As we crossed 86th Street, pointing left, Farrell said, “Down there is the monument to the 107th Seabees—one of the 13 Seabee battalions stationed on Tinian with each battallion composed of about 1,100 men. It is on 8th Avenue, which leads south to West Field. There was a traffic cop stationed here 24 hours a day making sure the trucks kept moving. This was one of the busiest intersections on the island.”

Next Stop, Invasion Beach
As we climbed out of our SUV at Invasion Beach, located along the northwest coast of the island, Farrell told Hap why the Chamorros called it Unai Chulu. “Still today,” Farrell said, “many local families, including ours, come to this beach to camp on long weekends. We stretch a gill net from the edge of the reef across the little lagoon and tie it to a rock. When the tide goes out, the fish get caught. All night long the young men check the net with flashlights, pulling out the fish and cooking them on the fire. It is a great family experience, chinchulu fishing, as they call it.”

Standing on the beach where the invasion took place, Farrell pointed at the ocean, the narrow beach, and the high ground just to the southeast along the Mt. Lasso-Mt. Maga Ridge. “This could have been a nasty fight, but the plan developed by the Navy, Marines and Seabees ‘made the day’ and saved a lot of lives,” said Farrell.

“The Second and Fourth Marine Divisions had just won the battle for Saipan and were pretty beat up,” said Farrell. “The Japanese thought the Americans would land on the broad sandy beach in front of Tinian Town and the Americans knew the Japanese expected them to land there, which meant the Marines and Seabees would be landing into the teeth of the enemy again. Consequently, they were able to concoct an invasion plan that was acceptable to Admiral ‘Terrible’ Turner, commander of all landing forces. To overcome the six- to eight-foot cliffs between beaches White I and White II, the Seabees improvised a portable ramp that could be carried on the back of an amphibious tractor called a ‘Doodlebug.’ Amtracs that followed used the ramps to gain access to the beach to unload their troops. That’s awesome logistics!”

Farrell continued, “Turner ordered the Second Marine Division to load up into their troop carriers and fake a landing at the previously proposed site in front of Tinian Town. Meanwhile, the Fourth Marine Division, with its Seabee detachments, loaded directly into amphibious tractors near Saipan’s Sugar Dock. At midnight of July 24, the invasion fleet began its move to southern Tinian. Sentries standing right here on the beach would have watched the fleet, with a conspicuous number of lights on, moving south. General Ogata, the commanding officer of all the Japanese Army forces on Tinian gave the order for his mobile battalion on Mt. Lasso to move south into pre-designated locations for a defense at the beach in front of Tinian Town. Only a small force was left here for a “just in case” scenario. Those poor souls would be the first to die.”

Farrell concluded, “Bottom line is, the Fourth Marines faced only what they called “light resistance” and drove on toward Ushi Airfield. The Second Marines then steamed back up here and began to land as soon as the Fourth moved off the beach.
Farrell spoke reverently of the 18th and 121st Seabees, who landed with the Fourth and Second Marine Divisions during the invasion of Tinian. All the while under fire themselves, their job was to make roads and clear debris so the Marines could advance. Seabee bulldozers cleared the beachhead and cut a road toward the airfield.
Hap acknowledged the great job the Seabees did on Tinian, not realizing how extremely important their mission was in order for the invasion to succeed as well as operations that followed.

Marine Corps General Holland “Howlin’ Mad” Smith called it “the perfect amphibious operation of the Pacific war.’”

The Marines fought off a banzai charge early the next morning and fought their way to Ushi Airfield, while “the Seabees immediately went to work filling the bomb holes and getting the airfield ready for airplanes from Saipan to land, take out our wounded and bring in supplies.”

In hindsight, Farrell commented, “there were a lot of screw-ups during the war, many that will never be written about. But when you look at the magnitude of death and destruction that occurred from the time the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor until VJ Day, which includes the victory in Europe—that war was such a huge world event. However, the American team, in battle and at home, did the really big things right, whereas our enemies, Japan and Germany, made dreadful mistakes.”

For Farrell, “It was truly a world at war—being able to carry out such vast campaigns in a two-ocean war in such a relatively short period of time. That we were able to maintain pressure and keep driving forward on both fronts is utterly amazing. We got knocked on our heels really bad at Pearl Harbor earlier and the Japanese fully expected the Americans would sue for peace. The Japanese believed the Americans didn’t care at all about the Filipinos or the Islanders; that they would gladly give up the Philippines and Guam in return for calling off the war. They really believed that!”

“When they finally tested the Americans’ mettle in the Battle of the Coral Sea and then at Midway, all of a sudden they understood they had made a big mistake by underestimating the American resolve.”

Both Hap and Farrell concluded that the Japanese were disheartened and just could not bring themselves mentally to accept defeat. Hap, a successful business consultant, compared Japanese decisions to those of an American businessmen. “The Japanese just couldn’t write off a bad investment while an American would easily get out of it and move on.”

Before leaving White Beach, Farrell guided Hap into a nearby coastal bunker where they found prewar photos of a Japanese family and incense on the floor, recently brought there by a relative who was probably praying for a departed son or grandson from the war.

From the invasion beaches, we proceeded to the bomb pits, where more discussions about World War II’s details unfolded and where Farrell shared his firm grasp of the history of the atomic bombs.

North Field, Tinian
Turning onto Lennox Avenue, we drove around to the official bomb pit entrance. Farrell drove past one bomb pit and stopped at the other nearby. It was chilling to look at the bomb loading pictures in Farrell’s book and know we were standing right where that happened 63 years ago.

Serious work began on developing an atomic bomb after President Roosevelt gave it his official “OK, FDR” in June, 1942, Farrell explained. It took two and a half years to refine uranium and produce plutonium, design a simple bomb, and modify an airplane to carry the 9,500 pound beast. The 509th Composite Bomb Group was created as the “delivery mechanism” in September 1944, under the command of Colonel Paul W. Tibbets, Jr., US Army Air Force; however, Admiral Nimitz got wind of the plan in December 1944, which was to send something called a “Composite Group” to the Marianas, without his permission. He was not happy.

At a hurriedly called meeting in D.C., and later in Los Alamos, New Mexico, plans were made to decide on just where in the Marianas America’s first atomic strike base should be established. Navy Commander Frederick L. Ashworth was chosen to be the one to break the news to Nimitz. He arrived on Guam in early February with a letter from Nimitz’ boss, Admiral of the United States Navy Ernest J. King, telling Nimitz to cooperate. Ashworth went on to explain to Nimitz that they created this new bomb with an explosive force of 20,000 tons TNT.” To provide a better picture how destructive the atomic bomb was, Farrell explained, “A single B-29 could carry a maximum load of 10 tons. It would take 2,000 B-29s all dropping their bombs simultaneously to equal this one bomb. This got Nimitz’s attention.”

General Curtis LeMay, commanding officer of all B-29s in the Pacific, then gave Ashworth a letter of introduction to the Tinian Island Commander, Brig. Gen. Frederick Von Harten Kimble, who took him directly to North Field. Meanwhile, the 313th Wing had already set up and was busy carrying bombs to Tokyo. As he surveyed the area, Ashworth noticed the coastline just west of North Field was not being used, was large enough to house the ordnance and bomb assembly buildings, and could easily be fenced in. Without telling Kimble why, the Navy commander said he would take it. Ashworth flew back to Guam and pointed to an area he had circled on a map of Tinian. Nimitz nodded his approval. The commander then flew back to Washington where he reported his findings to General Leslie Groves, Commanding Officer of the Manhattan Project. The decision for Tinian was made.

Groves, according to Farrell, then turned the project over to one of his engineers—Lt. Col. Elmer E. Kirkpatrick, Jr., a West Point graduate and a civil engineer, whose two brothers were Naval Academy graduates. He would slide into Tinian the following month, disguised as an Air Force engineer with some sketchy plans under his arm. The plan for the 509th Composite Group was underway.

Atomic Bomb Pits
Reaching the first pit, Hap asked Farrell which one is Pit No. 1 and Pit No. 2, an enumeration that Farrell debunked. “We talked it over with several other historians and we all pretty much believe that both bombs were loaded in one pit,” Farrell said.

“There was no bomb pit No. 1 or 2. It was created in the minds of the people when they put up the original monuments.”

“From studying the pictures of the pits after they were excavated for the 60th (commemoration), it looks pretty clear that they were both loaded in this pit because there are slight differences in the insides of the pits,” Farrell said.
Remembering his conversations with General Paul Tibbets in 2004 on Tinian, Hap said, “One time, I was with Tibbets, after the day’s program, and Tibbets told him, ‘I don’t know why they built the second pit because we never needed it.’” Farrell retorted, “Because everything in the Manhattan Project had redundancies—sometimes three or four times. Everything had a backup.”

Hap asked Farrell, “Do you feel that the bombs we dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima were all of the bombs we had completed and ready to drop?”

Farrell replied, “We were ready to go with one within another week or so. And after that, we could deliver one a week. We were ready to drop them as long as it took.”
As far as backups were concerned, Farrell said before the Enola Gay and Bockscar missions, an intermediate base was built on Iwo Jima with two hardstands and one atomic bomb pit. For both missions, Kirkpatrick was the officer in charge on Iwo Jima, standing by in case the Enola Gay or Bockscar had mechanical problems en route. The bomb would be transferred to a standby plane, and the mission would continue.

The Atomic Bomb
The uranium bomb was very simple, said Farrell. “It worked just like a gun. They put a uranium target at one end of the gun barrel, put a uranium bullet at the other end, and then loaded gunpowder behind the bullet. When the gunpowder was fired, the uranium bullet smashed into the uranium target, creating critical mass, and the uranium explodes.

But the Nagasaki bomb, nicknamed Fat Man, was more complex. For the plutonium bomb to work, Farrell said, “They couldn’t use the gun mechanism. Instead, the scientists took one eleven-pound piece about the size of a baseball and surrounded it with 64 perfectly shaped high explosive charges that would crush the plutonium to a ball about the size of a golf ball thus reaching critical mass. The big problem was figuring out a wiring system that would detonate all 64 within a millisecond. Nobel Prize winner George Kistiakowski accomplished this tasks at Los Alamos.”

The Mission
They waited for perfect weather over Japan. The three planes in Tibbetts’s strike mission—Enola Gay, a plane carrying instruments to measure the strength of the bomb and a photographic plane—rendezvoused at Iwo Jima, as they had practiced so many times. Then they flew straight to Hiroshima, dropped the bomb, and came straight home, all on a clear and sunny day. Everything was absolutely perfect. There was no reason why it should not have been perfect because they waited for the perfect opportunity.”

Hap spoke about the ethical implications of dropping the bomb but had they waited, more POWs like Hap would have died in prison camps, while hundreds of thousands of innocent people in the Philippines, China, Burma, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, would have died had the bombs not been used not to mention the estimated million or more Japanese and American deaths in Japan had an invasion taken place.
They all agreed that the Tibbets mission was perfect. “It came as a complete surprise to the Japanese.”

The Critical Nagasaki Mission
For the Nagasaki mission, Tibbets picked Charles Sweeney to fly the mission. Farrell said General LeMay was shocked when he found out that Tibbets was not flying the second mission as well. “He could have flown the mission. The Enola Gay operated perfectly. Same plane, same people, same job.”

When Tibbetts chose Sweeney, Sweeney had the prerogative to pick his own plane. Unfortunately, he couldn’t take his regular plane, The Great Artiste, the same one he flew on the Hiroshima mission as the instrument plane, because they didn’t have time to move the instruments to another plane. So he chose Bockscar instead.

Farrell continued, “So Sweeney had to switch to another plane and he took his crew with him but it was a strange plane. All B-29s are B-29s and all Chevys are Chevys. But still, every one of them has its little quirks. Right off the bat, one of these quirks popped up. They couldn’t get the fuel transfer pump on the auxilliary fuel tanks to work. The mission was delayed as they discussed the problem. The decision was made to go with Bockscar anyway. The Nagasaki mission was underway.”

Because of bad weather, a bad omen, Sweeney chose a new rendezvous point at Yakushima, a small island at the southern end of Kyushu that none of them had ever flown over. The photographic plane never made the rendezvous.

When Bockscar and the instrument plane, The Great Artiste, finally got to their primary target, Kokura, it was covered with haze and industrial smoke, possibly caused by General LeMay who had firebombed Yawata, just 60 miles up wind, the day before. The plane made three passes at Kokura without seeing the target as required. It was as if the bomb didn’t want to be dropped.

Fortunately, due to excellent radar coordination, Sweeney made one direct path over the secondary target Nagasaki, the bombardier saw an identifiable landmark, and took the shot.

After Fat Man was released and they began their trip home, they discovered the auxiliary fuel tank was broken and they would not be able to use the 600 gallons of gas stored in it to complete the journey. Since Sweeney was so low on fuel, he had to head for the newly captured base at Okinawa, Yontan; however, his troubles still weren’t over. When he approached the island his gas gauges read empty. He had no choice: It would be an emergency landing. As Bockscar dove for the runway, it lost one engine from fuel starvation. The plane hit the runway hard, bouncing about 25 feet in the air, then making an emergency turn at the very end of the runway. Then all other engines began coughing to death. When the plane was finally parked and they measured the tanks, seven gallons of useable fuel was all that was left.
On the ground, in order to send a message to Tinian, Sweeney met with the Island Commander who turned out to be General Jimmy Doolittle, leader of the first bombing attack on Tokyo from the deck of the carrier Hornet in 1942. With the message sent, Sweeney, along with the crews of the other two strike mission aircraft that also arrived low on fuel, took on half-a-tank for the ride home and left.

The Japanese leadership received the message about the Nagasaki bombing while they were discussing surrender. Later on the night the Nagasaki bomb was dropped, Emperor Hirohito made his final decision to end the war. His tentative acceptance of “unconditional surrender,” was wired from Tokyo at about 6:00 a.m. on the morning of the 10th.

As they drove back to the south end of the island, Hap acknowledged that this was a trip he will never forget. He would return home with fond memories of Tinian and the voluminous information that Farrell shared about the Manhattan Project and Tinian’s hugging the limelight during the end of World War II and the fact that Tinian played a very significant role in hastening the war’s end.

Back at the historic Fleming’s Hotel’s restaurant, Hap remembered once again the many others who fought against the Japanese, those Seabees who failed to get the recognition they deserve and whose efforts would not be for naught since Farrell is working on a book that would finally give them the credit they deserve.

Tinian became the largest operational airbase in the world during World War II with four 8,500-foot runways at North Field and two at West Field and a new harbor to support both. And the Seabees made it happen.

Our short flight back to Saipan and back into the present age took us over most of the entire tiny island of Tinian and above the now desolate World War II landing strips at North Field. Glancing out the window at the scene below, Hap muttered mostly to himself, but loud enough for me to overhear, “Imagine, those now deserted runways were once the busiest in the entire world and it’s at that very spot where the atomic age began. Remarkable!”


A World War II Special Issue - What's Inside

A Tribute to WWII Veterans