It was the summer of 1945 and I was a Marine aviator on the island of Okinawa. The island was “secure” after the savage Battle of Okinawa. Our next mission was to “soften up” Japan for the attack on the home islands.
Japan was being strangled by a ring of steel including Marine and Air Force air strikes, Navy carriers harrying the homeland, B-29s from Iwo Jima and Saipan, and a submarine embargo — all preparing for Operation Downfall, code name for the invasion. Japan had been preparing its defense for years and if the Battle of Okinawa was any example, the Pacific version of D-Day would be ferocious and bloody.
On Aug. 6, in the midst of invasion battle plans, we heard of a new U.S. weapon. An “atomic” bomb had been dropped on the city of Hiroshima. Three days later, another was dropped on the seaport of Nagasaki.
On Aug. 15, Japan surrendered; on Sept. 2, the war was officially over.
The realization that the war was over took some time to sink in — no more combat air patrols, no more bomber missions or the fear of kamikaze attacks.
The last entry in my WWII flight log book was on Aug. 23, 1945. On that day, Corsairs from Okinawa flew a last flight to Yokosuka, Japan. Our 50-caliber machine guns and bomb and rocket racks were without ammo.
As we flew over the string of heavily defended Japanese islands leading up to Kyushu, I thought now those islanders could also spike their guns and get back to peacetime living. We reached the mainland after three hours of flying when one word came from our squadron leader: “HIROSHIMA!.”
We spread our formation and looked far ahead. There it was, a black smudge on an otherwise green and brown landscape. We let down to 2,500 feet. The city had been incinerated by Little Boy, the first atomic bomb released in anger against an enemy. Only the skeletal remains of a building at Ground Zero remained standing in the rubble.
Three days later, a second bomb, called Fat Man, was dropped over the port city of Nagasaki. My sensibilities were numbed by the Hiroshima flyover, but I remember a lone smokestack still standing.
A memorial in the Hiroshima Peace Park symbolizes the pledge that “nuclear war will never again be waged.”
Paul Lucey lives in Orono.