Last Surviving ATOMIC BOMB FLIGHT Crewman Breaks His Silence
Russell Gackenbach was a second lieutenant aircraft navigator and photographer who flew into the heart of Japan on Aug. 6, 1945, as Little Boy, a 9,000-pound uranium-235 atomic bomb was dropped onto Hiroshima, Japan.
Russell E. Gackenbach was a navigator in the 393rd Bombardment Squadron. His crew flew aboard the Necessary Evil, which was the camera plane for the Hiroshima mission. Gackenbach photographed the mushroom cloud over Hiroshima. His crew flew again during the Nagasaki mission as the weather reconnaissance plane for the city of Kokura.
The significance of this event is immeasurable, as it was the first time a nuclear device had been used as a wartime strategy, which ultimately led to Japan agreeing to an unconditional surrender on Aug. 14, 1945, and the end of World War II.
73 years have passed since America dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to force the surrender of Imperial Japan. Well over 100,000 Japanese citizens died in the combined attacks but they were effective in bringing World War II to a close. Only one member of those legendary bombing missions still survives to this day and he still has some strong feelings about his mission.
95-year-old Russell Gackenbach served the Navigator aboard the B- 29 Necessary Evil as it accompanied the Enola Gay on its mission to drop the atomic bomb. The details of the mission were kept secret until right before they went into action. None of them had heard of an atomic bomb, just what to do on the mission.
“We were only told what we needed to know, and keep your mouth shut.”
Second Lt. Gackenbach joined Paul Tibbets aside the Enola Gay and proceeded to drop the bomb. In the decades since the war’s end, Russell Gackenbach has learned how many died in the blast and of the radiation that lingered. However, his feelings about the situation remain as strong as ever.
After all these years he still feels justified in what he did and that it was necessary to end the most brutal war in history
“After 73 years, I do not regret what we did that day. All war’s hell. The Japanese started the war; it was our turn to finish it.”
In this interview, Gackenbach describes his wartime experiences, from enlisting in the service to training in Wendover, UT, and Cuba with the modified B-29s, to flying on both atomic bomb missions. He recalls the personalities of other members and leaders in the 509th, including Col. Paul Tibbets and his crew pilot, Capt. George Marquardt. He also describes his life after the war, including being honored at a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game as their “hero of the day” and participating in 509th reunions around the country.