Although the crew had trained in B-17’s, they were now flying the new F-13A Photo-Reconnaissance B-29. Light years ahead of the B-17, this pressurized B-29 had a full complement of 50 caliber machine guns mounted on electrically controlled turrets that where any gunner could take control of all the guns if he had the best shot. An early computer could automatically factor in such things as the bombers speed, the speed and direction of the attacking plane, altitude, temperature, windage, gravity, and the ballistics of the gun projectile.
By the summer of 1945 the Army air Corps pretty much had air superiority over the Island nation of Japan. This crew had seen plenty of action recently having been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for a photo reconnaissance flight in extremely restricted visibility where they sustained the loss of an engine in aerial combat and still completed the mission. They were attacked by at least 5 enemy aircraft and they were able to destroy one of the fighters and severely damage two others.
In the early morning hours of August 6, 1945 three photographic B-29’s took off from Guam for a routine mission over Japan; my father, Walter E. Laurie, was a waist gunner on one of these planes. Unbeknown to the three crews a specially equipped airplane, the Enola Gay, departed from the Island of Tinian for its date with history over Hiroshima.
Through an administrative foul up, the order to cancel these photographic missions had been lost. The 509th Bomb Wing couldn’t very well get on the radios and call them back lest they alert the Japanese. My father’s crew had picked this mission of all missions to make a real to real recording to send home to the folks.
You can imagine how everyone on the plane was on their best behavior using perfect radio discipline, “Pilot to Navigator”. “Roger Pilot, this is the Navigator, go ahead” and so forth. Perfect radio discipline until the sky over Hiroshima ignited into a huge fireball. The intercom chatter after 8:15 local time is unfit for print. Needless to say, the real to real recording was confiscated and classified after they landed never to have been seen again. It is probably sitting in a box in some warehouse in Washington right next to the Arc of the Covenant.
My father finished up his tour earning the Distinguished Flying Cross and three Air Medals and then returned to civilian live. After working at the United Shoe Machinery Corporation for a short period of time he realized just how much he missed the Air Force and reenlisted to receive his first assignment in Florida. It wasn’t too long after that he married my mother.
At about the ten year point in his career he chose to pin on brown bars rather than Master Sergeant Stripes (the highest enlisted rank at the time). His first assignment as an officer was to the IG team in Japan. One year later my mother joined him in Japan and it wasn’t too long after that, at least nine months, that I joined the family.
After 20 years my father was one of too many Captains in the Air Force and was caught in the Korean War RIF. It was too bad as my father truly loved the Air Force and would have stayed in for 40 years if he had the chance.
Growing up on Air Force bases, I can remember hearing from early on that I would be going to the Air Force Academy. In late 1970 I received an appointment from President Richard Millhouse Nixon and was accepted as a basic cadet the following summer.
The similarities between my fathers and my careers are staggering. After training both our first assignments were to the 509th bomb wing. He flew in the back of the airplane and I flew in the front. Both of us left the Air Force only to return. His last assignment in the AF was in personnel and my first assignment at VTANG was also in personnel. His highest enlisted rank was Technical Sergeant and I am currently an E6 also. His highest Officer rank while on active duty was Captain and so was mine. He always wanted me to go to the Air Force academy and I went.
Since everything was confiscated and classified when my dad’s crew landed after witnessing the first atomic bomb, I don’t have any photos to share. I have included a photo of my dad’s crew (he is the 4th from the left in the back row) and a photo of one of the raids over Japan.