The grandson of the only U.S. servicemember to take part in both missions to drop nuclear bombs on Japan joined the grandson of the president who ordered the strikes in marking the attack’s 67th anniversary Monday at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.
Ari Beser, whose grandfather Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. Jacob Beser worked with the Manhattan Project scientists on fusing the first atomic bombs, flew aboard both B-29s that dropped the weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Clifton Truman Daniel, the first descendant of President Harry Truman to visit the memorial, laid a wreath at the park’s cenotaph “to honor the dead, to not forget, and to make sure that we never let this happen again."
The U.S. estimated that about 70,000 people died in the initial Hiroshima blast and another 40,000 at Nagasaki, where another B-29 Superfortress dropped an atomic bomb on Aug. 9, 1945.
“I'm two generations down the line. It's now my responsibility to do all I can to make sure we never use nuclear weapons again," Truman said, according to the Kyodo news service.
About 50,000 attended the Hiroshima ceremony during a tense period in U.S.-Japanese relations. Outside the park, protesters demanded an end to nuclear power plant generation following the Fukushima accidents last year and they also carried signs against the deployment to Okinawa of the MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft.
Both Daniel and Beser are expected to attend similar ceremonies in the port city of Nagasaki.
Jacob Beser reportedly wanted to fight in Europe when he joined the Army the day after Pearl Harbor. His Jewish relatives were being killed by Hitler, but he was called out of line and told he was being sent on a secret mission.
Beser had a background in engineering from Johns Hopkins University in his hometown of Baltimore. He was now a member of the 393rd Bomber Squadron of the 509th Composite Group, commanded by Col. Paul Tibbetts.
The Army put Beser on a plane headed to “Destination ‘Y,’” which was the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, N.M. There he worked with physicists Enrico Fermi, Neils Bohr, Robert Oppenheimer and others under Gen. Leslie Groves on the firing and fusing of a weapon whose composition and fearsome destructive powers were kept from him.
Both the “Little Boy” bomb that hit Hiroshima and the “Fat Man” bomb dropped on Nagasaki were triggered by radars. Beser’s job on the “Enola Gay” B-29 over Hiroshima and the “Bock’s Car” plane over Nagasaki was to monitor those radars and make sure that any Japanese radars did not come close to the same wavelength. If they did, the bombs would detonate prematurely.
Beser would later write and relate that the Nagasaki bombing was the more harrowing of the strikes.
The initial target was the city of Kokura, but cloud cover precluded a strike. “I saw no reason to abort the mission, dump it in the ocean. What the hell, that's ridiculous,” Beser later wrote. “So we decided to go on down to Nagasaki.”
“The rest of the world was keeping the Japanese pretty busy that morning. There were B-24s from Okinawa bombing and there were P-47s beating up the railroads and there were naval aircraft all over the place. It was a flying circus.
“We get down close to Nagasaki and it's still socked in just like the reconnaissance aircraft told us it was. So we started a radar run. The last 10 or 15 seconds of the run a hole opened up in the clouds and (Capt. Kermit) Beahan, the bombardier said ‘I got it, I got it, I got it.’”
“The only trouble was he had a hole about one-millionth the size he really needed to tell what he was bombing,” Beser said. The bomb hit the industrial sector of Nagasaki “and we were going to bomb the residential areas of the city. Well we didn't. We bombed the other end, so the casualty rate wasn't nearly as high” as in Hiroshima, Beser said.
In later years, Beser, who died in 1992, said he had no regrets for being part of the only two uses of nuclear weapons in war.
“No, I feel no sorrow or remorse for whatever small role I played,” he said. “That I should is crazy. I remember Pearl Harbor and all of the Japanese atrocities. I remember the shock to our nation that all of this brought. I don't want to hear any discussion of morality. War, by its very nature, is immoral. Are you any more dead from an atomic bomb than from a conventional bomb?”