Nicholas J. Bakker
Sweet Jesus, Jack thought. No matter what I do… no matter what I wear.
The 26-year-old man involuntarily shivered again as he manned the controls in the bomb bay of his assigned B-29 Superfortress, the Enola Gay.
The plane was the pinnacle of large fixed-wing technology in the year 1945. Compared to the last bomber model—the B-17—it soared higher, hauled more ordinance, and crew survivability had improved. But, the engineers that designed the B-29 once again neglected to address an issue that plagued bomber crews since high altitude flights became possible.
“It’s so fucking cold!” Jack complained, turning to the man next to him. “This is ridiculous, not even three layers of clothing is enough for this shit.”
He had to yell, despite their closeness—that was the only way of communicating to anybody from any sort of distance on a bomber without the use of communication equipment, and that was used only for mission-essential-communications. The four propeller engines that powered the B-29’s flight were the most powerful the U.S. military had ever outfitted a warplane with. Though innovative, they were loud beyond belief. As the plane shook and shuddered from turbulence and the engines’ power, Jack’s partner and friend, Tom, turned to Jack with what he guessed was a look of annoyance or bemusement—it was so hard to tell which it was through his three layers of clothing and, especially, his oxygen mask which nearly covered his entire face.
`“Shut it already! It’s bad enough up here without your bitching. Just think for a moment. We’re almost there, and then we still have the return trip.”
Jack hung his head, releasing a tired and bored sigh, inaudible against the high-altitude cacophony, as his friend continued.
“Besides, you’ll give yourself wrinkles at this rate. We may survive the war, but what’ll happen when we go to the Flying Lady back at ‘Pearl’? You’ll scare all the cute dames away!”
More than fifty completed missions together, and they always found something to chatter about. Some on the crew secretly threw in bets on who would start the bantering, how long it would last, or even what the topic would be.
Jack turned to him, mocking indignation.
“Questioning my ability with women?” he shouted over the propeller roar. “Go bark at a cloud, Tom, you stupid mick!” He jabbed his pointer finger Tom’s way, “Don’t think I didn’t see you getting slapped there last month trying to hook up with that blonde girl, whatever the hell her name was. With women, you’re a goddamn—”
He was interrupted by their mission commander’s voice, buzzing from their comm equipment.
“Two minutes out. Activate the equipment and get ready to drop the load.”
Both friends shared a look of understanding before going to work. Tom gave the bomb a series of final checks while Jack pushed buttons and flipped switches on what he guessed was some sort of seismograph and another instrument he didn’t know the name of. He was trained to turn them on, but he had no idea how they functioned or to what ends.
“So, this is war now?” he said in disgust. “Just one big science experiment.”
The equipment was added as a last-second addition to their flight. It all made Jack scratch his head. He was told that they were measurement tools meant to record the ‘results’ of their work. Jack never took pride in ‘results.’ His job was impersonal—he had one of the few combat jobs in the military where the face of the enemy was never visible. His job and those like it were a means to an end. Looking over the machines—one which now ominously ticked as the seconds scraped by—filled him with anxiety. He struggled to mentally distance himself from the machines in the ways he usually distanced himself from the other unpleasantries of the job.
Tom switched focus to making sure the special video camera he was given worked correctly. Meanwhile, Jack moved over to his bomber scope as the city limits of Hiroshima entered view.
“Well, there it is,” Jack muttered.
The Japanese city of Hiroshima was an important military target, it manufactured weapons and combat equipment. Hiroshima was no stranger to being bombed; the last year of the war involved the U.S. taking hold of a multitude of airfields within range of the Japanese mainland.
Even now, as he looked at the city below, Jack could still make out subtle imprints of bomb craters scattered throughout the land. One thing was for certain, though—the city was definitely still working hard for the war effort. Smoke billowed from an array of factories on the ground. Those manufacturing plants had to go, if America intended to break the Japanese and finish the war. Jack moved back to check on Tom, who was just squatting by and staring at the bomb. “Little Boy” didn’t really fit—it wasn’t little by any means of the word.
“What do you think it’s going to do?”
Jack studied it for a few more seconds before turning to his friend, answering sarcastically, “Gee, I don’t know man, what are bombs known for?”
Tom narrowed his eyes in annoyance. “No, man. I mean what is it going to do?”
He look over the dark, destructive cylinder and its parachute pack—an unusual thing to attach to a bomb.
Jack stole his attention, “I mean, they told us it would be a large explosion, and we should ‘under no circumstances look at it when it detonates.’ I tried to get more details about it and they just shut me up.”
Jack recalled the “glorious six hundred” from a Tennyson poem, “The Charge of the Light Brigade”—six hundred men who were annihilated after entering a battle on sketchy information and botched orders. He seriously doubted anybody would write a poem about them if they got killed today. In his head, Jack recited Tennyson’s words.
Theirs not to make reply…
The commander’s voice buzzed through the comm gear again.
“Thirty seconds! Open bay door!
An even greater chill pervaded the plane as the bay doors dropped open, poised to deposit the Enola Gay’s payload as soon as the release was pulled.
“How can it be any different from the bombs we dropped before?” Tom Yelled.
“Five seconds!” buzzed the commander.
Jack didn’t replying to Tom. His attention was fixated on the bomb as the next line of the poem echoed in his mind, Theirs not to reason why…
Theirs but to do and die…
The release was pulled. The bomb fell away into the clouds. To Jack and Tom’s alarm, the plane almost immediately banked sharply, reversing its direction, causing the two of them to nearly lose balance while closing the bay doors. Once the B-29 straightened out, the waiting began. One minute became two, two became three. All eyes watching behind them—Jack recording with a camera. A second sun appeared.
A shockwave pushed clouds as if they were toys brushed aside by a child. A low but terrifying pop was followed by a steady rumble—the sounds of destruction rattled both the airplane and the crew’s nerves. Tom watched in absolute shock as he witnessed what appeared to be the fist of God crashing down from the heavens, and a mushroom cloud growing miles high from a base of fire. The pilots, gunners, and the commander were speechless as the plane continued back home.
Jack and Tom watched the mushroom clouds slow upward churn in abject horror as the instruments behind them recorded the ‘results’ of their labor. Both of them were too stunned to notice how the ominous ticking from the unknown instrument next to the supposed seismograph started to emit continuous and messy static.