Ken Eidnes at his Quonset hut - 509th area
I have always liked airplanes so when the war broke out I wanted to become a pilot. I studied and learned as much about aircraft as I could. Taking the tests for both the Army and Navy pilot training, I passed them with great grades. When it came to the physicals I could not pass them. I had low blood pressure and I was overweight. This made my Mother very happy, as she did not want me to fly in those machines.

So on Nov. 17, 1942 I enlisted in the Army Air Corps and was given the serial # 16143854. I was sent to Camp Grant, Rockford, Illinois for processing. From there I was sent to Sheppard Field, Texas for basic training and testing to find out what I was best suited for. By mid Dec. I was sent to Lowry Field, Denver, Colorado.

I was to attend the Norden Bombsight School but as that class was full I was sent to Power Operated Gun Turret School. It was at this school that I would meet George Robert `Bob" Caron who became my best buddy and we have been friends until he died several years ago. After finishing that school we were picked to attend a new school for a system called Central Fire Control. This was to be the first class on this system and it consisted of gun turrets that were controlled from remote sights and was to be
used on an aircraft that was used on an aircraft that was just starting to be built.

A great thing to get in on the ground floor of something new. We graduated on June 19, 1943.

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.




Enola Gay
1945 August Tinian


Albert "Pappy" Dehart (L),
George "Bob" Caron (R)
Tail gunners on Nagasaki & Hiroshima



Albert "Pappy" DeHart
Tail Gunner Nagasaki
B-29 Laggin Dragon in Background
1945 August Tinian

On 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.

Col. 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 see them.

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.



N.Field Tinian 1945 August
Saipan in Background
Photo taken from Enola Gay

"A" runway on left where Enola Gay took off for raid on Hiroshima



Tankers bringing fuel to Saipan.
Photo taken from Enola Gay 1945 August



East coast Saipan after take off
from Tinian 1945 August


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 10,000 pounds.

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 now.

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 display.


509th Composite Area 1945 August

Lt. John Wright-393rd Armament Officer
Bob Caron - Tail Gunner Enola Gay
Sidney Bellemy - 393rd
Charles "Herb" prout 603rd Engr Squadron

1945 Tinian

Capt. Bob Lewis
AC Enola Gay 1945 August Tinian
Died 1983

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 to death.

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" Caron
Tail Gunner - Enola Gay
Died 1995


B-29 Victor 83 "Full House"
Tinian 1945 August

 


Robert Shumard Asst Flight engr Enola Gay
Died 1967 of what might have been radiation problems.
Tinian 1945

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


Ken Eidnes & Jack Widowski
Tinian 1998


L-R
Jack Widowski-Navigator "Top Secret"
James Price AC "Some Punkins"
Fred Bock AC "Bockscar"
At loading pit for Nagasaki Bomb 1998 Tinian


Fred Bock AC "Bockscar"
Bomb Pit #2 Loading Pit on Tinian for Nagasaki
Fred died in 2000


Members of the 509th L-R
Frank Norris (320th)
Jack Widowski (393rd)
Ken Eidnes (393rd)
Adolph Gasser (393rd)
Bill Martin (393rd)
Jim Price (393rd)
Fred Bock (393rd)
1998 Tinian


Memorial to the 509th on Tinian
1998



Plaque on the top of Memorial


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