It’s just a few cryptic notations on a yellowed sheet of paper, but it changed the course of history.
An original copy of the operations order for dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, is on display at the Museum of World War II, as the 70th anniversary of the attack was marked yesterday.
The Hiroshima bombing, and its aftermath, killed 140,000 people, ending the deadliest conflict in history and ushering in the atomic age. “To me, it’s a glimpse into what went on that day,” says Kenneth Rendell, founder of the private museum in the Boston suburb of Natick. “The average person does not realise what one of these missions would be like. I think it just humanises everything.”
The simple, careworn document bears little indication of the importance of the mission. There’s no mention of the Enola Gay, the B-29 bomber that dropped the bomb, or of the infamous bomb itself, codenamed ‘Little Boy.’ Under a section describing the types of bombs the plane would be carrying, the order bears just one word: “special.” The Enola Gay is listed only by its identification number, 82, and the last name of its pilot, Paul Tibbets. The operations order is a sequence of events for crew members of the nine planes involved in the bombing, such as when to attend prayer services, rise from bed, eat, attend briefings and take flight for Japan.
The museum, which Rendell established in 1999, also has a copy of a similarly nondescript order for the atomic bomb, which was dropped on Nagasaki three days later, on August 9. That blast, and its aftermath, killed 80,000 people, prompting Japan to surrender on August 15.
Rendell, who has amassed a trove of World War II artifacts, says he purchased the operations orders two decades ago, from the family of Jacob Beser, a radar and electronics specialist who was the only man to have flown both bombing missions. Beser died in 1992.
Other items in the exhibit also were purchased from the family of crew members. For example, there are personal effects from Enola Gay’s navigator, Theodore ‘Dutch’ VanKirk, who was the last surviving crew member, before he died last year at the age of 93.
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