Working on planes that ended the war

Fat Man, Little Boy and the Graci brothers *** New Orleans natives got a close look at the atomic bombs that ended WWII

Twins  Ben and Joe Graci, originally of New Orleans, hold a photo they are in that was autographed by pilot Paul Tibbets. They served on the Pacific island of Tinian, from which the airplanes took off that dropped both atomic bombs of Japan. (Photo by Bill Feig, used by permission of The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana)

By George Morris

In the months that twin brothers Joe and Ben Graci of New Orleans worked on the Pacific island of Tinian, Col. Paul Tibbets was just another pilot they knew and the “Enola Gay” was just another bomber that they and their comrades worked to keep flying in World War II.

That changed abruptly on Aug. 6, 1945.

When the B-29 Superfortress bomber flown by Tibbets dropped an atomic bomb code named “Little Boy” on Hiroshima, Japan, it was just as big a surprise to the men on Tinian as it was to the rest of the world. They found out about it the next day.

“Everybody went wild,” Joe Graci said.

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A story for Flag Day

POW flagThis flag, on display in the National Museum of the Pacific War  in Fredericksburg, Texas, was made by prisoners of war held by the Japanese and is similar to one made by POWs held in Davao, Philippines, and Toyama, Japan, during World War II. (Photo by George Morris)

By George Morris

When people think of World War II, the famous flag-raising at Iwo Jima is one of the most memorable images. But there is another flag from that conflict, and a friend of mine, that you should know about.

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Fall of Corregidor

corregidor-surrender-to-japanese                    U.S. forces in the Malinta Tunnel surrender on Corregidor.

By George Morris

Once Japan invaded the Philippines shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, American military leaders quickly realized the islands were a lost cause. But, if U.S. and Philippine forces couldn’t defeat the enemy, it could accomplish something else — delay them.

Delay had its last major stand at Corregidor.

A hunk of rock 2.5 miles long and a half-mile wide. It would have been a worthless piece of real estate had it not been situated at the mouth of Manila Bay. About 12,000 soldiers and Marines were ordered to hold it at all costs.

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USS Hornet: Launching the Doolittle Raid

doolittle-hornetA B-25 launches from the USS Hornet on April 18, 1942, as part of the Doolittle Raid on Japan.

By George Morris

Less than two months after Japan’s Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor launched the United States into World War II, the USS Hornet sailed from its base at Norfolk, Virginia with two B-25 bombers aboard. That had the sailors talking.

“We had scuttlebutt running around, all kinds of scuttlebutt,” said Tom Varnado, who served aboard the Hornet. “We just thought that was an experiment to see if they could take off.”

Which they did. Two months later, when the Hornet departed San Francisco Bay, there were 16 B-25s aboard, but the sailors thought they would simply be delivering the aircraft to Pearl Harbor. After all, the Hornet passed under the Golden Gate Bridge in broad daylight with the bombers in plain sight on the flight deck.

“Traffic was just stopped there,” Varnado said. “It was just a mass of people on the bridge. We went right under them. I thought, ‘Well, we’re not going on a secret mission because they wouldn’t do this.'”

But they would. A day into the cruise, the crew got the news. They weren’t going to Pearl Harbor. They were going to bomb Japan.

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Kamikaze Hits the USS KIDD

Kidd at sunsetThe USS Kidd is now a war memorial and naval museum in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

By George Morris

On April 11, 1945, Maurice Clements was in charge of one of a Fletcher-class destroyer’s largest guns as it cruised the waters 90 miles east of Okinawa. Yet, when a lone Japanese plane came in low and headed for the ship’s starboard side, there was nothing he could do.

So, he had a front row seat for a sailor’s worst nightmare late in World War II — a successful kamikaze attack.

In this case, it was the USS Kidd. The attack killed 38 and wounded 55 of the destroyer’s 320 sailors. As fate would have it, the Kidd would eventually be turned into a naval museum on the Mississippi River in Clement’s home town, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He attends memorial services held there, including one held on the 70th anniversary of the attack in 2015.

“They were all my friends,” he said.

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Bataan Death March

Bataan Death March
Prisoners of war on the Bataan Death March. (U.S. Air Force photo)

By George Morris

When their ship passed under the Golden Gate Bridge on Nov. 1, 1941, all J.S. Gray and his buddy, Cletis Overton, knew was they were heading to Manila, Philippines. As they left Hawaii, though, ships carrying their airplanes left the convoy. Gray, an ordnance specialist, and Overton, an airplane mechanic with the Army Air Forces, received no explanation. They learned after the war that the planes went to Australia.

“We were looking out watching them, and they just turned south, and we never saw them again,” Gray said.

They would soon see airplanes, but they weren’t American.

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