As I sit here in my home-office today, August 6, 2005, my memories take me back some sixty-two years to World War Two (WWII). In my senior year of high school, I was accepted into the ASTP (Army Specialized Training Program) of the old Army Air Corps. Following graduation, off to Davidson College, Davidson, NC, where over two-hundred other young men in the upper 98% of their graduating classes gathered. All of these young men had one great desire, which was to become pilots in the Army Air Corps.
It didn't take long to get use to military clothing and military procedures, which included close-order drill, calisthenics, and classes both day and night. Boxing and Cross Country running were my two favorites.
Then we transferred from Davidson, on to North Georgia Military College, Dahlonega, GA., for more of the same. Before we got our wings and a gold 2nd Lt. Bar, the powers that be "washed out" our entire unit of 216 men, at the convenience of the government. Instead of being saluted by lowly PFCs, we were PFCs and we did the saluting. What a mournful day this was though some of us went on to fly, but not at government expense.
This WWII soldier was sent to Lowry Field, Denver to attend the Photographic School, where he earned three Military Occupation Specialties (MOS), namely; Photo Lab Tech, Camera Tech, and Aerial Photography. Due to my photographic experience, I ended up in the 509th Composite Bomb Group, which dropped the atomic bombs on Japan.
This airman came out of WWII with 50% service-connected disability, known now as PTSD. The VA has raised the 50% to 100% service-connected, totally & permanently disabled.
Nightmares still keep me company every night. There is no medication known to prevent or cure PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). The thoughts of 60,000 Japanese, men, women, and children dying in an instant, followed by another 80,000 within a year's time, have haunted this Airman for sixty years. Today is the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
The Enola Gay, the B-29 which dropped the above bomb, is now preserved and in a museum near Washington, D.C. General Paul Tibbets is still living at age 89, I believe. He was a Colonel when I knew him. Charles Sweeney flew the B-29 known as Bock's Car, to drop the atomic bomb on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. This was a plutonium bomb, known a Fat Man while the bomb dropped on Hiroshima was a uranium bomb, know as Thin Man. Those of us in the 509th thought that the Fat Man represented Churchill, while the Thin Man represented President Roosevelt, though Roosevelt died before either bomb was dropped. Actually, the names attached to the two bombs were due to their physical nature.
Tell me, how do we forget what was a vital part of our past? I remember being in the Enola Gay as she sat in her place at an Air Field in the USA following her delivery of the first atomic bomb during war. There are events which I would like to dismiss from my mind, but the "grooves" in my brain, made there by the events of war, refuse to go away or to hide. There was a time when I thought getting more college degrees would help to overcome the thoughts of my youth, however, with four college degrees, I find that such is not the case.
I recall, when as a college dean, there was a Japanese student enrolled who had lost his parents and his entire family in the bomb blast of Hiroshima. I called him to my office as we spoke of that great event in his life. He told me that he was spared for he was in the river that ran through his town and he kept diving down into the water, and coming up only to gasp a breath of hot air and then back down into the river. Needless to say, we both shed some tears. I had told him that I was in the 509th Composite Bomb Group, 58th Wing, Air Photo Unit.
If it were possible today to "wipe the slate clean" it would be done without hesitation. There is only one way, however, to be free of the memories of WWII, and that is when God calls me home. For that day I am listening for the trumpet and standing in line!