One last post on the Enola Gay crewmembers visiting Saipan for the Liberation festivities. I think it is important to get this stuff down so others can read it. This article was the headline for Tuesday, June 15 in the Marianas Variety.
Enola Gay trio visit after 60 yrs
by Ulysses Torres Sabuco
Variety News Staff
PAUL Warfield Tibbets came back to CNMI with just one wish: to “face” the people he helped liberate and “correct” whatever “bad impression” he may left from bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
On Aug. 6 at exactly 9:15 a.m., Tibbets and his 11-man crew flew out of Tinian’s Northwest Field to drop the world’s first atomic bomb. It brought the quicker surrender of the Japanese government and the reduction in losses for the allied forces.
Tibbets will be part of today’s commemoration of Northern Marianas’s role in reshaping history.
Exactly 60 years ago today, the Battles of Saipan & Tinian took place, making these among the fiercest battles in the Pacific.
“I came here with (other Enola Gay crew and veterans). I wanted the people out here to see me and who I was because they have been here all of these years,” Tibbets told Variety yesterday morning.
“And I hope if they have a bad impression of me, I could change it…,” the retired brigadier general added.
Tibbets will keynote today’s formal commemoration of the Battles of Saipan and Tinian, and was among the returning WWII veterans, including some of the Enola Gay crew, who will also be feted by the CNMI government today.
Among the returning WWII vets are Morris R. Jeppson, a crew member of Enola Gay, and Ray “Hap” Halloran, the American soldier who became a prisoner of war when his plane was shot down in Tokyo on Jan. 27, 1945.
In his address yesterday morning during the dedication of the Saipan time capsule, Gov. Juan N. Babauta hailed the contribution of the Enola Gay crew and other WWII veterans.
First plane ride
A decorated war veteran, Tibbets was only 12 years old when he had his first airplane ride. 10 years later, he enlisted as a flying cadet in the Army Air Corps at Fort Thomas Kentucky. A year later he got his pilot wings at Kelly Field, Texas and was commissioned as 2nd lieutenant.
At age 29, soon after flying over 25 missions, including the first American Flying Fortress raid against occupied Europe and the first bombardment missions in support of the North African invasion in Algeria, Tibbets was briefed on the “Manhattan Project” – the code name for the development of the atom bomb.
It was his responsibility to organize and train a unit to deliver these weapons in combat operations.
On Aug. 5, 1945, President Harry Truman gave his approval to use the atomic weapons against Japan.
Tibbets is back to a grateful commonwealth, proud by the reception he has received.
“I have been really (happy). I did not know what to expect… the reception was beyond my understanding,” said the 89-year old former pilot.
He admitted that the “recognition is overdue” but is proud of what he accomplished.
“I am just happy to see this done for the people here and for the rest of the world… (the) recognition is overdue,” he said.
Honored to be here
Morris R. Jeppson, assistant weaponeer of the Enola Gay is honored to be back in Saipan.
“We are honored to be here,” Jeppson told Variety yesterday.
He said Saipan transformed into a “beautiful island” from what it was six decades ago.
“Saipan is a beautiful island now and we are delighted to be here,” he said. “We are delighted to see what beautiful things are happening here in Saipan.”
Meanwhile, Ray “Hap” Halloran said this might be his last time to visit Saipan, a place he “loves so much.”
Halloran became a prisoner of war by the Japanese Imperial Army after his plane was shot down over Tokyo while eastbound at 32,000 ft. passing Mt. Fuji.
“I was here the last time (in) 2002. I was here seven times before that. but now in 2004, I came back at age 82… It may be my last trip,” he said.
Halloran led an 11-man crew called the “Rover Boys Express” that flew the B-29 Super Fortress bomber on a combat mission to “bomb and destroy” Japanese mainland targets.
He was assigned to Saipan where the 73rd Wing Base was located. Halloran and the Rover Boys Express flew missions to Iwo Jima, Nagoya and Kobe in Japan in Dec. 1944 and Jan. 1945 before they were shot down on their fourth mission. They were supposed to bomb the No. 357 Nakajima Aircraft Factory in Tokyo.
Halloran said it was unforgettable for him when Japanese soldiers seized him from the custody of civilians who tried to save him.
He was beaten “severely” and brought to the Kempei Tai main prison in Tokyo, adjacent to the Imperial Palace grounds.
He spent 67 days in a “cold, dark room.” Beatings and brutal interrogations followed. He lived through the March 10, 1945 fire raid in Tokyo that killed over 100,000 by the B-29 bombings.
Halloran was then moved to Ueno Zoo in Tokyo were he was placed in a “lion cage” and tied to the front bars so civilians could march by and see him.
He was naked and black from being unwashed with his hair unkempt.
He recalled how he lost 90 pounds and was “covered with open running sores” from bed bug bites.
Fellow American forces freed him when Tokyo was liberated on Aug. 29, 1945.
Now that he’s back in Saipan, he wants to stay long.
“I hope (to stay longer) as I am enjoying it very, very much. I love this island,” he said.
A grateful islands
In a speech yesterday morning at the American Memorial Park, Gov. Babauta hailed the contributions of the Enola Gay crew and other returning WWII veterans.
“To the Enola Gay crew and to all the veterans thank you and God bless you,” he said.
Babauta said the CNMI commemorates the loss of lives and the sacrifices made by the U.S. soldiers during WWII.
The war gave birth to a new age of American presence and freedom to these islands.
“To Gen. Tibbets and your crew, thank you for putting a quick end to the war,” Babauta said.
At 3:30 p.m. today, the parade honoring veterans of the Battles of Saipan and Tinian, as well as other Pacific campaigns, starts at Kristo Rai Church and ends at the American Memorial Park.
The Governor declared a half-day holiday for all government employees today.
At 5:15 p.m. today, formal ceremonies to honor the veterans begins.
Tomorrow, a similar ceremony will be held at Tinian’s North Field.