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Veteran recalls historic World War II bombings

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas (AFPN) -- The beginning of the end of fighting in the Pacific during World War II began 59 years ago with a thunderous roar.

Some people thought there was another way to get Japan to the peace table. Others thought the drastic measures taken by the United States saved more lives despite the cost.

Whatever the rationale or thought, Aug. 6, 1945, the day the crew of the Enola Gay delivered their payload to Hiroshima, Japan, was a turning point in the war and began the future of airpower.

Bill English, a P-51 pilot in the Army Air Corps during the war, was resting after completing a mission the day before.

"We strafed one of the airfields near Tokyo (the day before)," he recalled. "We had missions (where) we'd go up and strafe the airfields and look for aircraft."

At that time, the 23-year-old native from Abilene, Texas, was part of the first land-based fighter groups to complete bombing missions over the once-thought-unreachable Japan. He said they had spent weeks flying the missions without knowledge that something bigger was about to happen.

Col. Paul Tibbits, the Enola Gay's pilot, had cancelled all flying missions to mainland Japan on Aug. 6. Mr. English said that did not appear too odd because the pilots usually did not fly consecutive days. What was different was a heavily guarded B-29 Superfortress sitting on the tarmac.

"The plan was if there was a malfunction on the Enola Gay, the Enola Gay would land there and they would transfer the bomb to this other plane," he said.

The spare plane did not leave the tarmac, said Mr. English, now a military historian.

The military men went about their business, unaware that soon a bomb would completely destroy thousands of homes and buildings in a town hundreds of miles away.

"We didn't have CNN and FOX and all of those things," Mr. English recalled about the slow travel of news. "We just didn't know what was going on in other places."

When news began to arrive that Hiroshima was bombed Aug. 6 and later Nagasaki, Japan, on Aug. 9, he said no one had heard of the term "atomic bomb." Although the two bombed sites had been on the list for strategic bombing, they had never been hit.

Mr. English said he believes the two cities were not bombed together Aug. 6 because it would be more devastating, physically and emotionally, if they were bombed days apart.

Although much of the world looked at the act as barbaric and horrendous, Mr. English said the fighting men on the front lines were relieved. The fighting would surely end, and it did the following month.

"I have yet to encounter anyone who was in the military that was against the dropping of the bomb or thought we were doing the wrong thing," he said. "That saved millions of lives -- Americans, our Allies and many Japanese."

If the bombs had not been dropped, he said there was a plan in place to invade Japan on Nov. 1, 1945. The loss of human life, Mr. English said, would have been far greater than the final total.

Mr. English said his mission to keep military history alive, particularly significant events such as using the atomic bombs, is so people do not forget the lives lost, not only as a result of the bombs, but also those lost before the bombings.

"There's just not much thought about it," he said. "I want to do everything I can to keep it in the memory of the young people." (Courtesy of Air Education and Training Command News Service)

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