A great thing
to get in on the ground floor of something new. We graduated on June 19,
The plane turned out to be the B-29 built by Boeing Aircraft Co. As there
were no planes that could fly yet we were sent to the Boeing Plant at
Wichita, Kansas. Attached to the 58th Bomb Wing at Marietta, Georgia our
job was to learn as much as we could about this new aircraft. We developed
the targets and the system to harmonize the sights and turrets. Also how
to properly install the equipment so it would operate right. As this plane
was the first pressurized bomber we spent much time in the Altitude chamber
so we would know what to do in case we lost pressure.
The story of how Eddie Allen, Boeing test pilot, and his whole crew were
killed in the crash of the XB-29 did not help to get volunteers when it
came time to fly the first aircraft off the production line. YB-29 # 36954
was ready for it's maiden flight on June 26th, 1943. We drew straws and
I got to fly scanner to observe the engines and keep look out for fires
or other troubles. No one was to know when the plane was to take off but
the whole town of Wichita was at the airport to see if this big bird could
really fly. Soon after take off I reported a large amount of smoke coming
from engine # 3. We made an emergency landing after 10 minutes of flying.
I always thought it was a fire but many years later I found out that it
was only a very bad oil leak that caused all the smoke.
As this aircraft was a totally new concept there was much testing to be
done. The Army Air Corps was assigned to do the testing. An officer in
charge came to Boeing at this time. Lt. Col. Paul Tibbets Jr. had just
completed a tour of combat flying B-17's in Europe. A finer gentleman
you will never meet. a great pilot and we became good friends. We took
the second YB-29 # 36955 to Pratt, Kansas where I was assigned to the
40th Bomb Group, 25th. Bomb Squadron. We flew many hours testing all the
components of the plane and recommending changes to be made. The most
troublesome parts were the engines, which would overheat and cause failure.
These were 18 cylinders, 2200 HP Wright R-3350-23 with two B-11 GE Superchargers
on each engine. The plane was 99 feet long; wingspan was 141 feet 2 inches,
loaded weight 135,000 pounds. They carried 12 50 caliber machine guns
and one 20 mm Cannon. Top speed was 375 MPH; ceiling was 31,850 feet and
range 3250 miles.
Oct. 1, 1943 I was named Director of Armament Tests for B-29 Aircraft.
There were bombing and firing ranges west of Pratt that we used. The only
problem was that Kansas had an open range laws and we were killing cattle
that had roamed onto the firing range. Flying as high as we did you could
not tell what was on the ground. To prevent this we look our plane to
Eglin Field, Florida and did our gunnery out over the Gulf of Mexico.
Tibbets and Bob Caron came down with the XB-29 from Seattle, Washington.
This plane had a Sperry Hydraulic armament system that we were to compare
with the GE system. The sight for the Sperry system was a periscope. You
used it like in a submarine only while tracking a target from above horizontal
to below the image would do a flip-flop making it hard to get a smooth
track. It also froze at the minus 50 degree temps we were flying at so
it was rejected. The GE system proved to be very good. The computers would
put in the lead and elevation needed to hit the target. I could get 75%
hits at 1000 yards while flying at 250 MPH.
While at Eglin Field I flew with the following people. Paul Tibbets, Bob
Lewis, Bob Caron, Wyatt Duzenbury, Charles Sweeny, Charles Albury, John
Kuharek, Albert" Pappy" Dehart, Ray Gallagher, John Wright, Abe Spitzer,
Charles "Herb" Prout and Tom Pake. We all ended up in the 509h Composite
Group on Tinian Island.
We flew many times to see how long we could stay up or to see how much
extra weight we could take off with. At times we used runways at Pinecastle
Air Base in Florida that were 11,000 feet long. Take off speed was about
120 MPH. On these missions we tried to make them as close to a combat
mission as possible. We carried full bomb and ammo. loads, dropping them
in the ocean off Newfoundland. Flying at 30,000 feet it was hard to see if any ships
were in the area. If they were down there they would fire anti-aircraft
shells at us, not to hit us but out in front of the plane so we could
In extended firing the guns would get hot and cook off, firing into areas
that were not to be hit. This happened once on a flight over the Gulf
of Mexico and #1 and #2 engines were hit. The pilot told us to put on
our chutes in case we had to jump. Henry Ellis in putting his on pulled
the ripcord and the chute opened up in the plane. We rolled it up and
told him he was lucky, as he knew his would open. We made it back to base
and landed on two engines OK.
About this time the plants that made or modified B-29's were having trouble
getting people to properly install the armament systems in the production
lines. The whole system had to be perfectly level with the body of the
plane for it to be able to hit the targets. We armament men were sent
to the plants to teach the workers the right way to install the equipment.
As we were not at army bases we were paid $7.00 per day living expenses.
After 30 days it would drop down to $5.00 a day. Col. Tibbets would transfer
us every 30 days so we could collect the higher amount. One plant wanted
us back after we had been there so Col. Tibbets made a deal for us. We
got an extra $7.00 a day pay for our hotel bill and meals that we ate
in the company cafeteria and an automobile for transportation. At this
time I was a T/Sgt. and my total pay was $591.00 per month. The plants
that I worked at were; Bell Aircraft, Marietta, GA., Glenn Martin Aircraft
plant, Omaha, NB., Boeing Aircraft Co. Wichita, KS., Birmingham, AL. modification
Center and Cheyenne, WY modification center.
At Eglin Field the nearest town of any size was Pensacola, Florida. It
was a Navy town and Air Corps men were not welcome. One day Col. Tibbets
told us to go to our barracks get cleaned up and meet him down at the
flight line. He flew us all up to Atlanta, Georgia, dropped us off and
said we should have a good time and he would pick us up in four days.
In March of 1944 the 58th Bomb Wing was to leave for the CBI, China, Burma,
India, and war zone. The B-29's were in sad shape, as all the modifications
had not been made on them. President Roosevelt had promised the Chinese
that the plane would be there by a certain date. So came what is known
as The Battle of Kansas. I was working at the plant in Birmingham as was
told to get to the airport pronto. We did not have time to change our
clothes so we were in our dirty work clothes. All passengers were taken
off the plane, even an officer of general rank. He put up a big argument
as to why these enlisted men could fly and he could not. When we showed
him our orders for an emergency war mission he let it go. We flew to Chicago,
Illinois stayed on the plane while they refueled it. A stewardess came
on board and wanted to look at us as she heard about this special flight.
As I said we were all in our work clothes so she said, "Boy they
must have been through a lot." She was right as we had been working in
the plants with all those love starved women for several months. We took
off, landed at Pratt, Kansas and for three days and nights worked on the
aircraft. As each plane was done it left on its flight for the war. We
had no sleep during this time but when all the planes were done we went
to bed and slept for 24 hours before getting up.
May 18,1944 we were
on a practice mission, full bomb load, full amino and gas. After we dropped
the bombs in the ocean and fired most of the ammo, we got a radio message
to take the plane to Boeing Aircraft Co. in Seattle, WA. The planes that
had gone to India were having trouble with engine heating and at Boeing
they would make changes on the engine cooling. Then we were to take the
plane to Muro Lake, California to run heat tests. We left Seattle on May
27th. On the way down while flying over the mountains we hit a down draft
and fell for 5000 feet before recovery. The bombsight came loose and broke
the sighting window, a tow bar we carried fell and broke our navigator's
leg, and our tools came loose and punctured the skin of the plane in many
places so we lost pressure. We made an emergency landing at Hammer Field,
California. As the B-29 was still a secret plane we were to tell the people
at the base nothing. We had to get the plane as light as we could so we
took out the entire bomb arming wires, the full and empty ammo. Of course
the field personal were curious but we told them nothing. That afternoon
President Roosevelt on the radio told the American people that B-29's
had bombed Yawatta, Japan from bases in Shangri-La, a mythical place.
The base people thought we had been on that raid and they opened the base
to us. Steaks, fresh eggs, any thing we wanted were ours. We did not tell
them any thing different. We finished the tests early as the runways at
Muroc were too soft for the weight of our B-29 and headed back to Florida.
May 29th our flight from California to Florida set anew transcontinental
speed record. 7:05 hours but we could not even tell about it as that would
let people know the speed we could fly at.
I still have my flying time records so here are some of the months:
May 1944......... 48.25 hours
June 1944 .........52.00 hours
Aug..1944 .........22.30 hours
Sept 1944 .........35.05 hours
In the fall of 1944 I went home on a furlough and when I got back to Florida
the rest of men had all transferred to a new outfit in Utah. The 509th
Composite Group was just being formed at that time. I was to remain at
Eglin Field and continue my work there. I worked on the B-32 a plane built
by Consolidated Aircraft Co. It was the size of a B-29 but was not pressurized.
Also I worked on a radar controlled tail turret for the B-29 but the most
fun was working with Jato, "jet assisted takeoff' units. These added great
power so we could carry heavy loads and takeoff on short runways. One
of the bombs we worked with was the British Grand Slam weighing in at
Several times Col. Tibbets and Lt. John Wright came down to Eglin on business.
I was told that when I joined them at the 509th that I should make it
home as a civilian by Thanksgiving of 1945. They were working on a project
that would end the war. I did make it on the day after Thanksgiving so
they were pretty close to being right
Oct. 25, 1944 1 started to attend -a school at Lowry Field, Denver, Co.
on the computers that controlled the guns in the B-29. While I had learned
to adjust them before I did not know that much about the workings of them.
After the school I was able to take them apart, repair them and put them
in working order.
July 16th, 1945. Two things important in my life happened this day. The
first plutonium atomic bomb was exploded in New Mexico. Col. Tibbets,
now a full Col. Came to Eglin and asked me if I was ready to join the
gang overseas. I said yes but my officer in charge would not release me.
Tibbets said I would go and talk to him. When he came out he told me to
go in and ask for a transfer. In my best military manner I went in and
saluted and asked him for a transfer to the 509th Composite Group. His
answer was you had better go pack up as your orders are being cut right
I went home for a few days to tell my folks that I was going overseas
and they would know when I got there, as they would read about it in the
paper. I was kidding them but when the news was released about the Atomic
Bombs my Dad said he knew that I was in that outfit.
I went by train from Chicago to Wendover, Utah, got on a C-54 aircraft
and flew over to Tinian Island in the central pacific. This was a small
island that had been turned into the largest airfield in the world. There
were about 500 B-29s on the island. When they took off on a mission the
noise was the loudest sound I had ever heard.
On Tinian I lived in a Quonset hut with the enlisted men that flew on
the Enola Gay and The Great Artiste. These were my old friends from Kansas
and Eglin Field. It was like going home again. We were not allowed to
fly to Japan until we had practice missions bombing bypassed islands still
held by Japs. I got three missions in with Bob Lewis on the Enola Gay
before the war ended. On the practice missions we were shot at by anti
aircraft fire but no Jap fighters were around.
Capt. Bob Lewis spent much time with us in our Quonset, he often brought
a bottle of whiskey over and we would have a drink with coke chaser. When
the war ended he went to Japan and brought us Sake, a Japanese drink along
with some money from there. The 10 Yen note that I got I had the crews
that flew the Hiroshima and Nagasaki missions sign their names on it.
Years later I donated it to the Air Force Museum in Ohio where it is on
509th Composite Area
1945 August |
Lt. John Wright-393rd
Bob Caron - Tail Gunner Enola Gay
Sidney Bellemy - 393rd
Charles "Herb" prout 603rd Engr Squadron
Capt. Bob Lewis
AC Enola Gay 1945 August Tinian
Many nights were spent
down in the Enola Gay with Richard Nelson the radio operator on the Enola
Gay listening to Tokyo Rose. She would play good American music then say
that how the Jap fighters were waiting for our planes so they could blast
us out of the sky.
The war ended, we had free time on our hands. Swimming exploring the island
collecting Jap rifles from bunkers. At night the rats would invade our hut
and eat anything that was left out. We would get up and try to club them
The food that was served to us was top grade and plenty of it. We even had
fresh frozen turkey that had been sent over for Thanksgiving. As we left
the island before that we had to eat it up. The only meal that I could not
eat was the mutton that came from Australia. It had a terrible smell. Speaking
of smell, the camps that the Jap and native people were kept in had a very
bad odor. They saved their "night soil" and put it on the gardens that they
were raising for food. The camps were enclosed with barbed wire and many
GI's were treated for cuts on their backs that came from when they tried
to get to the women in the camp.
Mail call was the high point of the day. There is no way to tell you how
much a letter meant to us. Our outgoing mail was censored so we could not
tell what we were doing. At one time we were told that we could tell our
folks what we had done. Many letters were written and sent for mailing.
A few days later they were all returned to us and we were told to write
them over as censorship was back on.
As an enlisted man I was allowed one bottle of 3.2% beer a day plus three
cokes a week. As I did not drink beer I had many friends that would take
my ration from me. Hard liquor was for the officers only except for when
we came back from a mission we were given a shot of very good whiskey to
calm our nerves.
To give us an idea of what we had been working with, atomic bombs, we were
given lectures on the theory and construction of the units. It was quite
basic but we did learn about the problems that had to be solved before they
could build one. After a short time that was stopped also.
As the time came close for us to leave the island for home there was a lot
of equipment that had to be destroyed. We were told it would cost too much
to bring all this stuff back to the states so we had to get rid of it. New
jeeps, still it the crates were dropped in the ocean, our tools of all kinds
were buried in trenches dug by bulldozers. Camera equipment that I would
love to have was piled up and run over with the dozers. It was sad to see
all this destruction go on.
When I went to Tinian I flew over. Now on the return trip I had never been
on an ocean going ship so this was a new thing for me. We left the island
in Oct. 1945 on an APA troop transport. Stopping as Saipan to pick up more
troops going home, we headed east. Landing at Oakland, California the custom
people wanted to search all our baggage. Col. Tibbets had come to welcome
us back and he took care of the problem. We walked off the ship got right
on a train and headed for Roswell, New Mexico. This was to be our new base.
At the time each person had to have so many points before they could be
discharged from the service. My count was not near the amount needed as
most of my time had been spent in the United States. With millions of men
returning from the war zones the government had to get them home as soon
as possible so the points were lowered. I got my discharge on Nov. 21, 1945
having spent 3 years and 4 days in the service of my country. I was happy
to get out but I was sad to leave all the friends that I had made. In the
years since I have wished that I had stayed in the Air Force but then who
knows if I would be alive today or not.
George Robert "bob"
Tail Gunner - Enola Gay
B-29 Victor 83 "Full
Tinian 1945 August
Robert Shumard Asst
Flight engr Enola Gay
Died 1967 of what might have been radiation problems.
I have attended many
reunions of my group over the years. This has kept me in touch with the
old friends and made new ones also. I had always wondered why our country
had never given the 509th group any recognition for helping to end the war.
So in 1990 I wrote a letter to President George Bush asking that a Presidential
Unit Citation be given to us. I received a nice letter from him but no award.
The Secretary of The Air Force wrote me and said that too much time had
passed so they could not give us one. I wrote back and enclosed clippings
showing that other outfits and men had gotten medals years after the fact,
still nothing was done. When we got a new president I tried again. Even
got a friend who was a personal friend of an advisor to the president to
write on our behalf. Still no word from SLICK WILLIE, Clinton. Did get a
letter from the then Secretary of The Air Force, a woman, who no doubt was
even living in 1945, telling me that our outfit did nothing at all out of
the ordinary that would warrant a medal. At this point I gave up Trying
to fight Washington.
In 1998 I went on a trip to Tinian with Fred Bock, pilot on the Nagasaki
raid, and Prof. Anderson Giles. University of Maine. Andy, as we called
him, was making a documentary film on the history of Tinian Island. We talked
about the lack of an award for the group and decided to try a different
method. Mr. Bill Martin was with us and he had a newspaper in the Washington
DC area. Using him and contacting the Air Force Assoc. we started over again.
When I sent copies of the letters that I had received from the Secretary
of The Air Force that is when the shit hit the fan. At our reunion in Washington,
DC. , On Oct. 14-17, 1999 we were awarded the Air Force Outstanding Unit
Award with a V for Valor. Not bad for only 54 years late.
Written May 17th, 2002
Kenneth L. Eidnes
1566 Sunset Road
Eagle River, WI. 54521