Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Interview with Enola Gay crew member

Interview with Enola Gay crew member Morris Jeppson (Pt 1)

Morris Jeppson is pictured in an interview with the Mainichi at his home in Las Vegas. (Mainichi)
The following are excerpts from a recent Mainichi interview with Morris Jeppson, 87, one of two surviving members of the Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress bomber that dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. The interview, conducted at Jeppson's home in Las Vegas, also contains comments from Jeppson's wife, Molly. (Interviewed by Takayasu Ogura, Mainichi New York Correspondent)

Mainichi: How did you join the U.S. military?

Jeppson: I was about 19 years old. There was a world war going on, so I enlisted in the Air Force, hoping I could be a pilot.

Mainichi: You wanted to be a pilot?

J: Well yes. Actually that was not my career objective. I wanted to be a physicist. And I ended up becoming a physicist but flying in World War II was a small section of life so I enlisted in the Air Force to become a flyer, but I ended up becoming more of a physicist.

Mainichi: What kind of role did you take during the Hiroshima mission?

J: Well, I was trained for that role -- at Harvard and MIT in electronics, (and) at MIT in radar engineering -- and there were four small radars built into these bombs. There was an antenna for one of them, and there were four of them. They were very simple -- all they detected was firing an electronic signal to the ground which bounced back up and measured the time delay, and that measured the height of this bomb as it was falling above ground.

So my role -- six of us ended up from the Harvard and MIT electronic schools, Air Force schools. We were hired by Los Alamos to work with the Air Force on the fusing -- the radar fusing and all other stuff that was built in the bomb.

I was a weapon test officer and we worked with Los Alamos in the Air Force. I was in the Air Force during the evolution of the electronics fusing system of the bomb. And then I was chosen to fly the Hiroshima mission and it was still experimental, so I was to test the electronics on the bomb during the flight to Hiroshima. If there was a problem with the electronics, I reported the problem to this man (and) he told the pilot of the airplane to take the bomb back. In fact, I was instructed to tell him to take the bomb back to (the Pacific island of) Tinian if it wasn't working right.

Mainichi: When were you informed you would be assigned to be part of the Hiroshima mission?

J: Well, that's a very good question. There were six of us who went through this training program at Harvard and MIT. At that time, we didn't know we were going to be assigned this program. But the six of us -- when we got to this program and went over to the airbase in Utah -- we were all trained to do the same job.

Of those six -- I think it was the day before -- we had a lieutenant, the first lieutenant in the Air Force assigned to oversee our little group of six. It turns out he was a security man, and he was to monitor our group to make sure we didn't make any mistakes. He didn't know electronics or anything, but it was a security matter.

The day before the mission, this security man said OK, we've narrowed it down to two of you. We'll flip a coin and figure out which one of you is going to fly the Hiroshima mission. And so, he flipped a coin, and they said, "Jeppson, you're flying on a security mission."

Mainichi: Like that?

J: Yeah.

Molly: Just like that.

J: He said it's got to be one of you two people. Anyway I ended up on the airplane. Not that I wanted to be. August 5. The day before Hiroshima.

Mainichi: Just a day before Hiroshima?

J: Several of us were trained to do this job. But --

M: But you were chosen.

Mainichi: Just a day before the bombing.

J: Yes. Now if I'd been sick, the other guy would have got on.

M: It was just luck. He (Jeppson) took a separate flight with (J. Robert) Oppenheimer (Scientific Director of the "Manhattan Project" to develop the first atom bomb) one time down to Southern California and Los Alamos. On the plane, he talked to Oppenheimer about how he wanted to be a physicist and everything. So I think Oppenheimer had something to do with him being chosen for this particular flight.

J: Whether or not they flipped the coin, evidently --

M: That's what they told him -- that they flipped the coin -- but he doesn't know.

J: But four of the six people that were trained this way lived in this tent. They wanted us separate from the 509th (composite group), where there were 1,500 people, and we were not supposed to talk to the other crew members anywhere, anytime about what we were doing.

M: They were in the middle of the airfield, which was a long way out. There was barbwire around the whole thing, and they were in a building there and they were not allowed to talk to anybody else on the air base, because they were working on this. Nobody else knew about it.

J: This was in Utah.

Mainichi: When did you move to Tinian Island?

J: In June, 1945.

Mainichi: At that time you were trained?

J: We were all trained and ready to go. Yes. Flying missions just like Hiroshima.

Mainichi: During that time, did you want to be chosen as a crew member of Enola Gay?

J: I've never heard that question before; that's a good one. I knew this was to be a uranium bomb -- a super bomb.

M: Because he was a physicist and he looked in the library at Los Alamos and figured it out. But he didn't say a word to anybody because they would have gotten after him and kicked him out. So he just kept it in his head.

Mainichi: You knew that this would be a nuclear bomb?

J: Most people in the 509th knew it was going to be a super powerful weapon, but they weren't supposed to know it was uranium. I'd figured out that it was a uranium bomb. People have asked, "Didn't it make you nervous -- having worked with one of these on the Hiroshima flight?" The answer is, "No, it's just the same kind of flight we'd done before."

M: It was just a job.

Mainichi: So all of your crew members felt so, too -- that the Hiroshima mission would be just the same kind of mission?

J: No. (They knew) that it would be a super powerful explosive, but not that it would be a nuclear explosive. Nobody had heard about nuclear. But I knew it.

Mainichi: You knew it because you were a physicist?

J: Yes. This man certainly knew it -- (weaponeer William Sterling) Parsons, who flew on the mission. He was in charge of this bomb. And my boss, of course, knew it. And this man was an official historian of the Manhattan Project, so he was out there to kind of oversee it, and he had the exclusive right to the story.

M: But nobody told anybody else.

J: He didn't know it was a nuclear explosive. I don't believe he did. But I'm not sure.

Mainichi: In this tent, nobody talked about uranium bombings?

J: Not uranium. They talked about the bomb and the electronics. But remember we had this Air Force guy overseeing us and if we'd been talking about Uranium 235, even he wasn't supposed to know what it was, but he would have found out that we were not authorized to talk about it. Security was incredibly tight.

Mainichi: But of course (Enola Gay pilot) Mr. (Paul) Tibbets knew?

J: Tibbets knew.

Mainichi: How about Robert Lewis, co-pilot?

J: No, he didn't know.

Mainichi: He didn't know this was a uranium bomb?

J: No, he wouldn't know that.

M: Nobody knew, really.

J: He knew it was going to be a super powerful bomb, but he didn't know it was going to be nuclear.

Mainichi: How about the bombardier?

J: (Thomas) Ferebee? He didn't know. He knew it had to be a very powerful bomb; otherwise he wouldn't have detonated it up high above the ground. If it had been detonated -- let's say the plane was flying at a low altitude like all of these hundreds of B-29s -- it would have destroyed the B-29 because they normally flew at six or seven thousand feet. This one flew at 30,000 feet. So the blast was like a shockwave -- it was a shockwave, but it didn't damage the airplane.

If it had been lower down, where they normally flew missions like this, the plane would not have survived.

Mainichi: There was a very famous photo of a big mushroom cloud. Who took the photo from the Enola Gay?

J: There was one gunner on the plane, the tail gunner. Why they left a tail gunner and took all the rest of the guns off, I don't know. But somebody gave him a camera, and he took the picture that you see.

M: After they dropped the bomb, Colonel Tibbets said he turned the plane really fast because he had to turn around and get away.

J: He didn't want to be above the bomb when the cloud came up.

Mainichi: So he had to --

J: Yeah. Get out of the way. So by the time the explosion took place, I think the airplane was 11 miles away, but I don't know for sure.

Mainichi: So your mission to Hiroshima involved only one airplane, the Enola Gay, not several?

J: Well, actually there were three that went to Hiroshima. First of all, early in the morning, they sent three weather reconnaissance planes to check out three different targets -- Hiroshima being one, Kokura, was another one, and Nagasaki was the third one. The weather planes reported that Hiroshima was open for bombing and then there were three active planes that flew over Hiroshima.

They were flying alongside, together at 30,000 feet. The third one was a photo monitor. This is an interesting story. The man that had the gear -- a nice camera to take pictures of this event -- he forgot his parachute, and they wouldn't let him on the airplane. They wouldn't let him on the third airplane. So he just flew with no assignment.

M: And no pictures. There were no other pictures of the bomb going off.

J: Except the one the tail gunner took.

Mainichi: He (the photographer) failed to take photos?

M: He failed.

J: He failed. Yeah. His part of the mission didn't work. And he was very agitated because he said "I don't need a parachute; what good is a parachute when you're at 30,000 feet?" If the plane blew up at 30,000 feet, even with a parachute, you don't survive.

M: But you were the only one who put on a parachute in your plane; nobody else did.

J: All of the crew, when they got onboard the airplane, the nine members, and (radar specialist Jacob) Beser, dumped their parachutes in a pile -- they are nice comfortable things -- so Captain Parsons sat on the pile of the parachutes. He was right behind me, and I was monitoring the electronics, and I was to tell him if there was something wrong, but here is this big-time guy sitting on a pile of parachutes -- that's OK.

Mainichi: Who pushed the button of the bomb?

J: The bombardier over the bomb bay, Ferebee.

M: He's dead.

Mainichi: Just before the bombing, you were informed that you are going to be a member of Enola Gay. So you were told about the mission Aug. 4?

J: Probably either the 4th or 5th. I am not really sure.

Mainichi: How did you feel?

J: I've faced that question before, and I don't recall anything about it, other than it was to be a mission identical (to other missions) -- and I'd never flown on combat missions in Germany or in Japan or in any place.

Mainichi: Never?

J: No, I've never flown any combat missions. I only flew one. Only one.

Interview with Enola Gay crew member Morris Jeppson (Pt. 2)

Morris Jeppson is pictured in an interview with the Mainichi at his home in Las Vegas. (Mainichi)
The following are excerpts from a recent Mainichi interview with Morris Jeppson, 87, one of two surviving members of the Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress bomber that dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. The interview was conducted at Jeppson's home in Las Vegas. (Interviewed by Takayasu Ogura, Mainichi New York Correspondent)

Mainichi: Just before the bombing, on Tinian Island, what were the crew members talking about?

Jeppson: There were a few of us that lived in this tent. There were special secure areas where we set up the test equipment so there could be more bombs if necessary. But we were not allowed to communicate with people. The rest of the Air Force had all these B-29s. We didn't communicate. The 509th had their own barracks.

However the crews and the people that worked in the 509th and that had the 15 airplanes, they were exposed to the people with the regular Air Force flying B-29s. So there was a lot of kind of bad publicity of "What are you guys doing here? We are doing the job of 400 B-29s here and 400 on Guam" "What are you guys up to?" And it was a kind of a bad feeling between the regular Air Force out there and the 509th group. But they were only there for a couple of months.

Mainichi: What kind of feeling did you have right after dropping the bomb?

J: Just after -- well, first of all -- [takes out pictures].

Col. Tibbets, who later became Gen., Col. Tibbets, the pilot, this fellow in the picture, came on the intercom and said, "You all know that we are supposed to be carrying a super bomb. But what you have just witnessed is the first atomic bomb used in warfare.

It was a few minutes after the bomb was dropped, he turned the airplane then headed for home.

Mainichi: Are these pictures inside the Enola Gay?

J: Yeah, we were still at 30,000 feet with 5 hours to go before we get back to Tinian.

He said that was the first atomic bomb.

Mainichi: What did you feel when you listened to that?

J: Well, I can tell you several feelings. On the trip to Hiroshima, the plane flew at a lower altitude like 7,000-8,000 feet. The reason for that is these bomb plugs here are significant. In the bomb when it was loaded into the B-29 back at Tinian Island, there were three green plugs. This is actually one of them that was in it. And I got to keep that one and later sold it. But anyway, I got to keep it. But there were three of those plugged into the skin of the Hiroshima bomb. The purpose of those three was to disconnect the thing that fired the explosive in this one from the fusing system. So that I can test the fusing system on the way to Hiroshima everything from batteries to time clocks and radar sets and so on.

So in order to do that, a very important point, so at a low altitude, I was able to test the circuit of the bomb, but the bomb has to be dropped from a high altitude at 30,000 feet. So about half an hour before Hiroshima, I climbed into the bomb bay and I put three of these red coated plugs, took out the green ones, which were for testing plugs, and these we call firing plugs, that hooked the fusing system to unable this to detonate when it's say 1,800 feet above the ground. So those plugs were critical -- it allowed you to test on the way to Hiroshima, but also allowed once you switched the plugs, the bomb to do what it was supposed to do.

J: We are all still inside of the Enola Gay, moving from let's say 7,000 feet. Okay, at 7,000 feet, if you ask me my impressions, one impression is when I pull out those plugs, and put in the firing plugs, this bomb is live. And I already know it's going to be equivalent of tens of thousands of tons of TNT and I have had my hand on this thing. Well, that's very interesting but not a fright or anything because it will blow us up? I don't know anyway. So I had a feeling -- well this thing, it's now armed, and supposed to work. And then flying over Hiroshima or toward Hiroshima, Ferebee announced he said he is on the bomb-run, he flips open the bomb bay doors and then at a right point, an aiming point, the plane jumps up because it's released five tones of weight. And it's gone ...

Mainichi: It was very heavy?

J: Five tons, 10,000 pounds. The plane jumps up because it lost -- I don't know -- 10 percent of its weight or something. Maybe more.

So the bomb is gone, and it's a freefall. And it only takes 43 seconds to go from 30,000 feet to the point where it supposed to explode high above Hiroshima. Okay. I count 43 seconds in my head, I didn't have a watch to count them with. So I count the 43, and the one point in this mission when I was scared -- at 43, nothing happened. There was supposed to be a flash at 43. Well, I counted too fast because 2 or 3 seconds later, the flash comes in through this window, I'm sitting back here. The flash comes through the window. I couldn't see the explosion because I'm back here with no window. The flash comes through the window, so I knew I fast-counted. But I also knew that it had detonated above ground. Well, I pretty much knew that. And then approximately a few minutes later, there is a shockwave. It shakes the plane. The crew, and most of them had been in combat missions, said "Flak" -- being the explosion nearby from an anti-aircraft. So everybody thought it was an anti-aircraft saying -- but I knew the shockwave had to come from the explosion.

But it's real proof for me and very important, I wanted a reassurance that this thing will work. So there came another shockwave. That surprised everybody. "What is that shockwave?" It was smaller, and being trained in physics I knew what it was. It was a reflection of the primary shockwave from the ground back to the airplane.

Mainichi: Agh like that.

J: Exactly. You know exactly what I'm talking about. So I could estimate the time between the shockwaves would tell me just about how high above ground the explosion had taken place. To me, that proved that the radar system had worked, the electronic fusing system had worked, my job had worked, therefore, I can relax -- my job was done. My job forever was done.

Mainichi: So at that moment, you felt very relaxed because you succeeded in your mission.

J: Yeah. Until I knew that the bomb had done what it was supposed to do -- exploded at the right altitude and it would look like it's big. My role was totally over from that point on -- getting home because these planes after dropping a big bomb like that, didn't have much reserve gas. So that's why they built a reserve, emergency station on Iwo Jima as a way back.

Mainichi: You went back to Iwo Jima?

J: No, we flew over Iwo Jima. They figured there is enough gas to get all the way back to Tinian. But if there had been a problem, we'd have stopped on Iwo Jima.

Mainichi: Were you able to imagine at that time how enormous the ...

J: Yes. That was, that was a difficult thing. And that's what I've written up in lots of places, how bad that was. Because we got to get a look at this window -- we can see -- I hate to talk about it to even somebody that grew up in Japan. You can see the cloud and the fire spreading out from what was obviously the target. And that meant lots of people are dying, lots of destruction. And that's not a happy thing. But the good thing about it is only two weeks later, Emperor Hirohito said let's end this, and it ended. That's the good thing.

Mainichi: When did you get the information on the result of Hiroshima?

J: Of course, reconnaissance planes went over immediately afterwards. It took more than a day before the clouds had cleared up enough you could even see Hiroshima. I am out of the picture. This was not the Air Force at work. There was even -- what they call -- some kind of mission after a mission. Everybody involved gets together and discusses it trying to evaluate how effective it was. And I wasn't invited to that, so I went back to my tent. And at this point, the work we did was still very classified. People would know I was on that airplane, but they didn't know what I did. And that didn't come out for 50 years.

Mainichi: Before dropping the bomb, did you imagine the extent of the damage was going to be enormous?

J: Yes.

Mainichi: You could imagine that?

J: Yes. And the reason I could is I had read in a book I discovered on the trip to Los Alamos -- we had to go to Los Alamos once in a while for technical conferences. The tech area where the fusing system was in a secure area of Los Alamos, was in the same tech area where the nuclear physics people were. And it turns out there was a library that was used by anybody in the tech area. So I had a badge, but couldn't go in where nuclear physics people were, but I can go to the library. I went into the library and found this physics book, a text book, which have been removed from all libraries by the FBI because it reported on the research done in Germany in 1938, the research work on the fusion of uranium, and the uranium splitting up into smaller pieces, and losing weight and the weight had been converted by Einstein's theory to energy. The speculation in that book says this energy could be used for weapons or for nuclear power someday, maybe. That's when I surmised.

Mainichi: You could imagine about 105,000 people can die?

J: Yeah. If this bomb was used on a city, I could imagine that there was going to be a lot of loss of life and a lot of destruction. But the destruction were these planes flying everyday from Marianas, the destruction everyday was bigger than that. The only reason for being sympathetic at all to this mission was the hope it would stop this. And it did.

Mainichi: You think your mission ...

J: Was to stop the war. And now you ask about "Did I realize it could be as big as it was?" I can do a little arithmetic and I had to do some guessing. But I guess that the efficiency of this type of weapon had to be very low. It could have been much more efficient and it could have been five times as big. But it wasn't. That's one of the reasons -- only one of these was ever used. It's not as efficient as the plutonium bomb, which was Nagasaki.

Mainichi: This year in April President Obama made a speech in the Czech Republic. That said that the U.S. has a moral responsibility to the fact that it used the atomic bomb.

J: I don't believe in Barack Obama. I think he ... is on the wrong track. The U.S. weapons, nuclear weapons, I think have forced all nuclear war. The fact that we had them in the U.S. and that enabled Japan not to have them. Now we have Japan under threat both from North Korea and China. And North Korea is a renegade state. You can't trust them. They are not going to do what Obama would like to have happened. And China is already there, so they are not going to do that ever in our life time. So I think it's naive what's going on in the world today. There's Iran and think of Pakistan, Pakistan already has the weapon. If they see people who wanted to use them, they would. They would have deterred enough, they wouldn't use them. Okay, so, it's not a safe world. And so Obama is moving against nuclear power and against nuclear weapons. Now if he succeeds, here is Japan, it's defenseless. All these years, depending on the U.S. to step in if there was a real problem that threatens Japan.

So I've always endorsed Japan's position of let's not go for nuclear weapons. But I don't believe that anymore. Japan is already -- I brought something I wanted to give to you, but I'll get it later.

As you can tell from something I wrote about -- a big dirty bomb. It's already out there -- they could be used -- the threat is there that they could be used and we don't know how to stop it. Obama is not going to stop it. The only thing that worked before now is deterrent. So if Obama gets us out of nuclear weapons, and Japan is sitting there with no nuclear weapons, Japan is at the mercy of North Korea and China, we are defenseless against North Korea and China and Iran. We already have a weapon and I trust they'll keep them under control. But Japan is heavily into the nuclear power industry, more than the biggest nuclear power in the whole world. When you generate nuclear power, I'm kind of on the fringe of that. You manufacture plutonium -- that's the Nagasaki-type bomb. So that's why North Korea wants it, Iran wants it, China has it, Pakistan has it. I think Japan with super technology could very, very quickly produce nuclear weapons and be prepared to use them if they had to.

Now that's what I am going to ask you -- that's my point of view for where Japan should go. Now I need to ask you -- how do you think Japan would be over the long range, of being a protectorate of nuclear weaponry? Would it not use it unless there is a good reason to use it? For me, I'd like to be reassured that Japan is a democracy and a world power and will protect what it has -- nuclear power and nuclear weapons if it can get nuclear weapons. Getting nuclear weapons would hold off North Korea for sure -- that would stop North Korea from ever using them -- that would involve Japan. I think it might be a deterrent to hold back China.

Mainichi: You said Obama's policy -- no nuclear weapons around the world, could be a little bit naive -- but this could be one of the dreams of human beings.

J: Yes.

Mainichi: But maybe we want to step forward and talk with North Korea, Beijing, Iran?

J: Yes. That would be a wonderful first step. And that would be a talk directed toward -- okay if you all are going to start cutting back, like Obama said he would like to do, and we've been trying to do that in this country all along against Russia. If those guys don't cut back, we have no choice but to get prepared to defend ourselves.

Mainichi: What do you think about this point? This is the first remark by the U.S. president -- using the atomic bomb -- the U.S. has a moral responsibility to act because only the U.S. has used the atomic bomb.

J: Yes.

Mainichi: What do you think about his remark, "moral responsibility"?

J: I think that is naive also. Suppose that question had been answered in 1945 -- in 1945, it's getting ready to the point where those weapons could be used. Okay. Here is President Truman sitting up here and he says we've got this weapon and already in the mill. Is this a giant invasion of Japan? You know, I don't know if you learned this in history, I hope you did. Japan is getting prepared to defend itself against this invasion. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are nothing compared to the loss of life and property -- not only American armed forces but Japanese military and civilians because the invasion was going to be larger than the invasion of Normandie. And the history book unearthed all this information -- the army, as I understand it, was being withdrawn from China to Japan for defensive purposes. And those armies were upwards of about a million -- well-experienced military people. So the invasion is going to be -- I'll tell you, this is a private opinion, I haven't heard it from anybody else, but I think the reason Truman made a decision to use these weapons and you can quote me on this -- I think it needs to be sent because I think it's partially an answer to what you have here.

Mainichi: So Obama's remark of "moral responsibility" ...

J: Is naive in today's world.

Mainichi: Maybe back then in 1945 Obama could not say such kind of things ...

J: No because I didn't finish what I was going to say. Truman faced this problem. I think his decision -- he had two choices. One is to hold off on the nuclear weapon and I'm sure it would do a lot of soul searching to do that. He said I'll do the invasion. And he had been briefed -- there was another invasion of Europe. I don't know what your history book told you, but it's called Dunkirk. Dunkirk failed. It was terrible in the news. You weren't even alive there. They had to withdraw all those armed forces from Dunkirk in Europe because the invasion failed. I think Truman saw, he got all the reports for the preparations to defend Japan. This is defending the homeland now. The Japanese are going to defend strongly. So I think Truman thought, well, if we go ahead with this invasion we are facing, the invasion will probably fail. So then he made a decision. I think.

Mainichi: So you think for the U.S. the only choice in order to stop the war was the bombing by using a new type of weapon.

J: Yes. To do it quickly. And it was going to cost a lot of lives and lots of destruction, a lot of heartache. But the invasion would have been far, far, worse.

Mainichi: Did you know the remark of "moral responsibility" before I met you today?

J: Yeah, but I discounted it. I discount everything Obama does.

Mainichi: What did you feel when you got the information that Obama said about moral responsibility -- just naive?

J: I've already concluded he is naive economically, also recognizing what the real world is out there. Everybody is struggling to get nuclear weapons. Everybody is needing nuclear power. If you get nuclear power with all that's been revealed about weapons, it's just a matter of dollars before you can make it (the weapon). And so to me, he is not going to be able to manage to do what he says he'd like to do.

Mainichi: I know many American people think just like what you said -- in order to stop wars immediately, quickly, they chose the atomic bomb.

J: Yes.

Mainichi: Just after that, the Japanese concurred. Hirohito decided the war is over. But on the Japanese side, there are lots of opinions. Back then, in 1944, the Japanese military lost battles all over the world in the Pacific and China and many other places. They were losing their power. They didn't have energy, oil, they didn't have anything. After the war, an American group that studied military strategy issued a report saying that Japan must have had to surrender in several months even without dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Do you think using the atomic bombs were necessary to end the war?

J: Yes.

Mainichi: These 64 years, your thoughts were --

J: Still convinced. Yes.

(To be continued)

Interview with Enola Gay crew member Morris Jeppson (Pt 3)

Morris Jeppson is pictured in an interview with the Mainichi at his home in Las Vegas. (Mainichi)
The following are excerpts from a recent Mainichi interview with Morris Jeppson, 87, one of two surviving crew members of the Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress bomber that dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. The interview, conducted at Jeppson's home in Las Vegas, also contains comments from Jeppson's wife, Molly. (Interviewed by Takayasu Ogura, Mainichi New York Correspondent)

Mainichi: Since the U.S. used the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, many countries have developed nuclear weapons -- Russia, China, now India, Pakistan, North Korea and elsewhere. What is your opinion of nuclear weapons? Should they be used in order to end wars?

Jeppson: Not anymore. ... But that doesn't mean it isn't going to happen. Go back to 1942 or '41. Then Germany was actively pursuing the development of atomic bombs. (In Germany's case), the leader of the country, Hitler, said 'we are going to go more conventional.' So, had he put a little more effort behind it, his scientists ... would have been there first. That was always the concern for Los Alamos.

Mainichi: That Germany would have nuclear weapons first?

J: Yes. Had they done that, the whole world would be different. Now if the rest of the world today says we are not going to have nuclear weapons ... then the rest of the world will sit at the mercy of some new dictator that is willing to use all the weapons he can. And if he finds out the rest of the world is disarmed, he gets a free hand.

Mainichi: What is your position on nuclear weapons now?

J: I would like to see a gradual withdrawal of nuclear weapons everywhere, and that's been under way. There's been a big effort to get Iran and North Korea to come along with (disarmament), but it hasn't happened. Pakistan is arming itself. I'm afraid that as much effort as is going in around the world to try to (reduce) them to lower and lower levels, there is going to be somebody that is going to say, "No, I'm not going along with it."

Mainichi: So you think people have to step forward and aim for a non-nuclear world gradually?

J: I don't think you can do it now because there are too many countries. France and England have them, Pakistan, India and I'm sure Brazil is coming along. Most of their programs are secret. If there can be a gradual pullback, I would certainly favor that. But I don't think they can be eliminated.

Mainichi: You said you don't think nuclear weapons should be used any more in order to stop wars. But you also said you never regretted using the atomic bomb to stop the war with Japan. Please explain that.

J: Well, I've just explained it. Your history apparently disagrees with it a bit, but if those two weapons hadn't been used, that war wouldn't have ended in two weeks (after they were dropped).

Hirohito stepped forth, but the military, as I understand it, was not ready. The military in Japan wanted to make an invasion costly enough that the Allies, the U.S. would leave Japan alone to make its own destiny. And I would like to believe the destiny that Japan has achieved has been assisted by the way the U.S. handled affairs after the war. So that's about all I can say.

Mainichi: I think what you said is an historic remark, since many in the bomber crews have passed away.

J: Well, of course from the Manhattan Project a lot of people are still alive, but they were manufacturing explosives. And I guess you know that there was apprehension about Los Alamos -- that's one of the reasons why when we as the Air Force went over to Los Alamos, we would stop along the way and change our insignia from the Air Force to Army ordinance, because they didn't want the scientific group at Los Alamos to know that the Air Force was seriously considering using their weapon. And there were a lot of scientists at Los Alamos who took that same opinion of "moral responsibility."

Mainichi: President Obama plans to visit Japan next November, and may visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki. How would you feel if he visits Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

J: Badly, probably.

Mainichi: Why?

J: Well, you could go visit any bombed-out city, of which there were many around the world, in Japan and in Germany. War is bad. It kills people. It destroys property. So it's a matter of saying: Was it necessary? What were the choices you had? If you had made these choices, how much worse would it have been, or better?

Mainichi: If you have a chance to meet Obama, would you advise him not to go to Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

J: I would say that's his business because he is going to do what he wants to do.

Mainichi: You understand what he said about the moral responsibility of using the atomic bombs. If he visits Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he may apologize to Hiroshima's citizens. If he apologizes, what would you feel?

J: I would be indignant.

M: Yes, because it saved a lot of Japanese lives, too. Because the invasion could have killed thousands and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of the Japanese and Americans, and dropping the bomb ended the war. That saved a lot of people. I think the Japanese should realize that, that it saved a lot of them. You know a lot more people were killed with firebombing ... than were killed at Hiroshima. So if you think about that, that bomb was really not so bad. It was just part of the war, right? I mean, that the way we feel about it.

J: No, I think the statement that you quoted from Obama's speech is ... saying that the U.S. is guilty of using those weapons.

Mainichi: Moral responsibility?

J: That's called guilt. Isn't that guilt?

Mainichi: You think the U.S. President should not make such remarks?

J: Definitely not, no.

Mainichi: If you are invited by the citizens groups in Hiroshima or other relevant people, would you like to visit Hiroshima?

J: No.

Mainichi: You've never been to Hiroshima? Will you ever go?

J: No, I'm too old. I wouldn't want to.

Mainichi: You said you have visited Japan.

J: Yes, several cities.

Mainichi: At that time, six years ago in 2003, did you think about visiting Hiroshima?

J: No.

Mainichi: Why not?

M: Why? Why should we go?

Mainichi: Because you have a relationship with Hiroshima from the bombing, so perhaps you would want to know the situation in Hiroshima now?

J: Well, I read about that, so I don't have to go there to see it. ... But I'm not interested in going to Normandy either. War is war. It's past. We don't like wars.

Mainichi: Do you want to forget?

J: I'm not really forgetting. You've listened to me talk.

Mainichi: If it was possible, would you want to forget the experience of the war?

J: I don't think that's exactly the way I'd put it. It's a part of history that was a war. It was uncomfortable, and it's in the past and there are other things to be done in the world; preventing war being a good example.

M: I don't think he really liked dropping the bomb. Any kind of bombs.

J: Gosh. Nobody does. Nobody likes to do that.

M: He's a peaceful man.

Mainichi: On Aug. 6, 1945 you thought that dropping an atomic bomb was the only choice to end the war?

J: Yes that's right. Well at that point, we knew there was an invasion underway.

M: Well the emperor didn't want to end the war, you know.

J: Well, he made the decision. It's like Truman making his decision. Truman felt he had to make it, and Hirohito obviously felt he had to make (his decision). As I understand it was against the advice of his military supporters. Is that right? Is that the way you understand it?

Mainichi: Even on Aug. 15, some groups inside the Army didn't want to surrender. But everyone at the ministerial level wanted to surrender.

J: But they couldn't make the decision. And I remember the history of this -- the Japanese leaders were warned strongly that major destruction was coming if (a surrender) wasn't signed. And they could have made the decision. So if there is any blame of moral responsibility, it would be with the inability of the Japanese leaders to make up their minds. Because they knew for sure the invasion was going to take place. That's really probably the most significant point here. The invasion was going to be very, very difficult for Japan and knowing that it was coming, the Japanese leaders should have been strong enough ... to have surrendered. Then (the bomb) wouldn't have been dropped.

Mainichi: Stopping the war was the most important thing?

J: The most important.

Let's ask this question: Suppose Truman had decided, "Oh we can't do this atomic bombing thing." (The bomb) was demonstrated down at Alamogordo, though, (so the world would know) it's possible to make big explosions even if there had been no Hiroshima and Nagasaki. So all of the world would be clamoring to make big nuclear weapons, probably more so than they are now. So what would the world be like -- with everybody be clamoring to get something like they tested down at Alamogordo. I don't like to sound that, either.

Mainichi: You knew it was an atomic bomb even though very few people knew about it. At that time, did you know about the effects of atomic radiation?

J: Radiation? I don't think I knew that there was such a problem. I was pretty young.

M: All these people were young. They really didn't realize what the radiation would do to people because I know for years afterwards, Dick said, "You know, it's just so sad." I mean, he was really sad about the Japanese people that the bombing had injured. He didn't know at that time. He didn't have any special knowledge.

J: For the most part, I don't think Los Alamos really had much of an understanding of the radiation effects.

Mainichi: You think most of the people didn't know?

J: That's right. That's right. ... I think in general, the people of who were working fairly close (to the bomb project) didn't know (radiation) could be a serious problem. And the American people didn't know anything about it, of course.

Mainichi: In Hiroshima, still now some elderly people and some of their descendants suffer from the effects of radiation. How did you feel about that?

J: The information came too late. I never heard (radiation) as a subject of discussion ... in 1945 as being a byproduct of nuclear weapons. I think everybody thought in terms of blasting fire; a typical weapon.

Mainichi: When did the physicists get information about the radiation in Hiroshima?

J: Well, when a study group from the U.S. went to Hiroshima. That's where they learned that there had been a radiation problem.

M: None of us knew (at the time). People on the plane didn't even know.

Mainichi: So even the American physicists were a little bit surprised with the effect of radiation?

J: Absolutely, yes. It was an unknown factor. I had no idea. Of course, the Hershey report and things like that came out and that was the first knowledge that the people who went in could see there had been radiation burns among survivors.

Mainichi: If President Truman had known about the effects of radiation, do you think his decision to drop the bomb would have been different?

J: That's an interesting question. I don't know how to answer that question.

Mainichi: What have you been doing since the end of the war?

J: Well, I went to graduate school at Berkeley. And then as a graduate student, I worked for the North American aviation on a classified program looking towards nuclear powered aircraft and rockets.

Mainichi: In the military?

J: No, I'm a civilian. I've gone to graduate school. I got out of military as fast as I can get out and then I had a career. ... I worked for a radiation laboratory for two or three years building accelerators for accelerating protons. And I started a company called Applied Radiation in 1954 I think. We built linear accelerators which are used to make radiation for cancer therapy.

M: So he turned to healing.

J: Another aspect of nuclear physics.

Mainichi: I searched Japanese media sources, but I found very few interviews with the bomber crew members. Why? Did the bomber crews hesitate to speak with the Japanese media?

J: Some of them died of course. As far as Paul Tibbets is concerned, he wouldn't spend much time with you because he was strictly military and he had a job to do. He said we did a job and that's it.

Mainichi: In thirty or forty years, when those who experienced World War II have passed away, if the American President or many ordinary Americans decide the U.S. should apologize for Hiroshima and Nagasaki, how would you feel about that?

J: I think that one's easy to answer. If it's done once for an apology for something like that, think of all of the other things over history that should be apologized for, applying the same rule. It's just not necessary. War is war. There was a good reason for it, put it into history books or whatever. But nobody down the road has any right to apologize for something that happened in the past.

This question comes up in the U.S. all the time. ... (Like slavery,) it's history. It's all laid out. Why should anybody today apologize for anything that happened 150 years ago? It isn't necessary. It's giving somebody 150 years later a right to make this apology. No, they don't have a right to make an apology.

Mainichi: So you think that even in the future, American presidents should not apologize.

J: No. Never.

Mainichi: But if any American president apologized in the future, you would not like it?

J: I would be indignant. It's a matter of what right does he have to (apologize) for something that all these people fought for and died for on both sides. The Japanese thought (the war) was the right thing and doing good for them. It wasn't the right thing for anybody. But it happened, and you don't apologize for history.


Anonymous said...

Amen Jeppson, how about Japan apologizing for all of the Atrocities they committed during the war to the various countries around Asia, not to mention using ANYTHING they [Japan] could dream up to drop onto American civilians? What's done is done, nothing to apologize for, get over the fact you took on something way too big and lost. You're populas paid for it.

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