Historian Shigeaki Mori and WWII B-24 Pilot and Hiroshima POW survivor Thomas Cartwright came together to tell us a story that only they knew. They wrote the historical record of Americans who died from the blast and radiation effects of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in the books Secret History of Americans in Hiroshima, and A Date with the Lonesome Lady: A Hiroshima POW Returns.
494th Bombardment Group (H), 866th Bomber Squadron
The 494th Bombardment Group (H) was the last of the B-24 heavy bombardment groups that was formed and trained by the US Army Air Forces. The 494th BG was composed of the 864th, 865th, 866th, and 877th Bomber Squadrons, and (in late July 1945) the reassigned 373rd Bomb Squadron of the 14th AF 308 BG (H) from the Far Eastern Air Force (FEAF) CBI/China. No other B-24 Squadrons were formed in the 7th USAAF, and no additional crews were formed and deployed in the war. Crew 42B was one of the last replacement crew assigned to the 866th Bomber Squadron. Fittingly in so many ways, the motto of the 494th was: Ultimum Fit Primum––the last shall be first.
Known officially to the USAAF as 494th Bombardment Group (Heavy) B-24 replacement crew 42B, most of what we know about these men as a crew is gleaned from the memoir and interviews of Thomas Cartwright. Six of the Americans who were killed by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima were part of a crew that was originally assigned to Cartwright in August of 1944. It is likely that their superior training performance marked them for advanced training in the use of radar, and it wasn't until April of 1945, about the time of Germany's defeat, that they were deployed into the Pacific Theater for combat. They nearly missed combat altogether while waiting In Kauai, Hawaii, for assignment. In May, 1945, they were assigned to be one of the final two replacement crews for the 866th Squadron of the 494th Bombardment Group (Heavy) of the 7th Air Force, already stationed in Angaur, an island in the Palau Group in the Caroline Islands of the south Pacific. Arriving on 30 May, Cartwright was told that his crew would be split up and assigned to fill missing slots among the veteran crews, but that never happened.
The B-24 bomber that they brought to Angaur likely was equipped with new radar bombing technology and was quickly reassigned to more seasoned crews. After flying a few training missions in Angaur, crew 42B was transported by ship to the newly captured Okinawa-jima, arriving two weeks after more senior flight crews in their Squadron flew the B-24's as part of the air echelon to Yontan Airfield. The 494th was now in striking range of the main islands of Japan, and "the last became first" when they were the first B-24s to fly a combat mission to bomb mainland Japan on 5 July, 1945.
Crew 42B was assigned their first official combat mission on 17 July to bomb Chiang Wan airfield at Shanghai, China. This was the 494th's first combat mission to China and the men were provided detailed briefings about not just the bombing target but a nearby POW camp, how they might escape if shot down with cash, "blood chits", and the help of a Chinese "underground". Two of the 494th B-24s were shot down on that eventful mission and the stories their deaths and survival are harrowing. Due to continued poor weather over Honshu, the 494th was sent back to bomb Chiang Wan on 22 July. That mission was flown by Turek's crew among others, and was one of the few B-24 missions filmed in color, shown below (video credit: Will Bond). Once the weather cleared over Kure Harbor near Hiroshima in Honshu, Japan, Cartwright and his men flew their second and final combat mission. Their squadron, led by the former crew of the Lonesome Lady (but on that mission flying B-24M #980), Emil Turek and Rolf Slen followed the poorly conceived orders that led to the demise of the Lonesome Lady, Taloa, and #980---bombing the Japanese Battleship, Haruna, on 28 July. Both the Taloa with Joseph Dubinsky's crew and the Lady with Cartwright's crew were brought down by artillery fire while flying through "a box" of flak over the target.
On 28 July, 1945, Tom Cartwright and his crew flew the Lonesome Lady on Mission #138 of the 494th BG (H). Their goal was to sink the Japanese Fast Battleship Haruna. Eight of the men shown here were prisoners of war (POWs) for the last weeks of the war; only two of the nine aboard Lonesome Lady returned home. Ralph Neal was not a usual member of Crew 42B; however, despite removal of his guns to gain payload capacity and flight range, he was assigned to fly Mission #138 as ball turret gunner in place of Frank Baker (bottom left in the posed crew photograph above), who was on sick call at that time. Six of the American POWs who died in Hiroshima belonged to this crew.
US Army Air Force 7th AF B-24 Bomber Replacement Crew 42B
2nd Lt. Thomas C. Cartwright, S/N O-831661, York, South Carolina
Pilot, York, SC; deceased, 11 January, 2015
2nd Lt. Durden W. Looper, S/N O-2067143, Arkansas
Co-pilot; deceased (KIA, Hiroshima, ~6 August, 1945)
2nd Lt. Roy M. Pedersen, Jr., S/N O-2071822, Ames/Avees/Atlantic, Iowa
Navigator; deceased (KIA, 28 July, 1945)
2nd Lt. James M. Ryan, S/N O-785427, Binghamton, New York
Bombardier; deceased (KIA, Hiroshima, ~6 August, 1945)
Sgt. Hugh H. Atkinson, S/N 39214204, Seattle, WA
Radio Operator; deceased (KIA, Hiroshima, ~6 August, 1945)
Sgt. William E. Abel, 36440823, Denver, Colorado
Tail Gunner; Liberated from Ofuna Interrogation Center on September 1, 1945; deceased (6 September, 2006)
Sgt. Buford J. Ellison, S/N 38368550, Abilene, Texas
Flight Engineer; deceased (KIA, Hiroshima, ~6 August, 1945)
Corporal. John A. Long, Jr., S/N 33707730, New Castle, Pennsylvania
Nose Gunner; deceased (KIA, Hiroshima, ~6 August, 1945)
S/Sgt. Ralph J. Neal, S/N 15402164, Kentucky (Reading, Maryland)
Gunner; deceased (KIA, Hiroshima, 19 August, 1945
Like many crews, Cartwright's became very close. The team was formed late in the war, and after basic training, flight training, navigation and bombing training, their long anticipated deployment the Pacific Theater of Operations was interrupted for a recall to advanced training in the new radar bombing technology. Their backgrounds were varied from shockingly dirt-floor poor to urban New York. The next-of-kin contact information, shown below, was attached to the Missing Aircraft Report (MACR).
Co-pilot, S/N O-2067143 (MIA/KIA) Huntington, Arkansas
Looper was one of the married crew members. He and Cartwright, as pilots, became a close-working team very quickly.
Navigator, S/N O-2071822 (MIA / KIA, BR) Ames/Atlantic, IA
Known as "Pete" to his crew mates, Pedersen's skills were proven during flight training and his ability to navigate the way from California to Oahu, Hawaii, with uncanny precision. Cartwright recalled a revealing misadventure with his close friend, "Pete", when they were hazed by a senior officer soon after arriving at their deployment location at Barking Sands, Kauai, Told that new crews had to wait a month before allowed to enter the Officer's Club, Pete noticed that the senior officer had left the ignition keys in his parked jeep. He and Tom left the keys where they found them, after "liberating" the jeep for a joy ride.
After Taloa and Lonesome Lady were brought down by artillery and the curtain of flak above the Haruna, a Missing Aircraft Report (MACR) was filed by 866th Squadron Lead Crew #39 in the B-24 #980. Bombardier Vito "Lil Davey'" Nacci and Tail Gunner Rex Reeves reported that a shell appeared to enter the plane near the pitot tube and pass between Cartwright and Pedersen's pilot and navigator positions. Cartwright confirmed that, but stated the shell entered "farther out to the right of the flight deck". After the war, Cartwright knew only that the Japanese military reported incorrectly that Pedersen's remains were found amongst the Lonesome Lady wreckage.
Cartwright did not understand how the Japanese report could be true––he was certain that he, himself, was the last man to escape the plummeting plane, leaving through the fire surrounding the bomb bay immediately after Looper followed his orders to bail out. Cartwright wrote numerous times to the War Department seeking more information about Pete but her received none. Upon writing to Pete's father, Roy Pedersen, Sr., after the war, Cartwright learned that Pedersen's father was notified in April, 1946, that Pete was killed in action on 28 July, 1945 over Kyushu. This was clearly incorrect, since they were flying over Honshu, not Kyushu. A few years later, Cartwright learned. that Pete's remains were returned to the Pedersen family in 1949.
More than 50 years went by before Roy Pedersen's fate was learned by Cartwright. In his characteristically prosaic style, Cartwright wrote in his memoir that in 1995, soon after Mr. Shigeaki Mori established correspondence with him, Cartwright ask if any information was available about his Navigator and close friend. Mori collected disparate accounts before learning that Pedersen's remains were found in 1947 several miles away from where Looper and Cartwright landed and the Lonesome Lady crashed.
2nd Lieutenant James M. Ryan
Corporal John A. Long, Jr., Nose Gunner
Johnny Long was the oldest member of this crew, and apparently the only one to be drafted into service. He was married to Luella Long, who never remarried. His pilot spoke of him as a serious gunner and the coffee drinker of the crew, and as having a somewhat fatherly demeanor to the younger men. Long smuggled a carpenter toolbox on board to work on projects overseas.
Sgt. Bill Abel, Tail Gunner
19 November, 1919 – 6 September, 2006
There is no known record of an account written by Bill Abel, who was the only crewman other than Cartwright to survive the final mission of the Lonesome Lady and the war. He survived the flight from Okinawa to Etajima near Kure Harbor, Honshu, Japan, the flak, the fire, bailout, a Japanese search party, turning himself in, rough treatment at the notorious "off the record" Japanese Navy Interrogation Center, Ofuna, and not being executed at the end of the war. Abel continued to serve his country as a Master Sergeant in military conflicts in Korea and Vietnam. Cartwright writes of his thrilling reunion with Abel in Okinawa, and met with him at his home in Denver, Colorado, in 1998. At their last meeting, Abel told Cartwright that the next time they visit he would tell the whole story of what happened to him as a POW. However, Cartwright soon after received a postcard from his tail gunner's wife stating that the men's reunions left Abel severely distressed and actively reliving terrifying events in his sleep. She asked that he not visit again and Cartwright honored her request.
Sgt. Hugh H. Atkinson
To the dismay of his wife, the outgoing and popular Radio Operator, "Huggy" or "Hughey" was the youngest member of the crew. Much is written by Cartwright and Mori about Atkinson as a POW.
Sgt. Buford J. Ellison
"B.J." Ellison was from Abilene, Texas, where it wasn't uncommon for ranch hands to raise their family in dirt-floors homes. His crew were very happy when Ellison was promoted from Gunner to Engineer, replacing a man who was not competent in that role. Cartwright noted that Ellison had gone to glider training, Cartwright used to tell a story about the first time his crew was "shot down". The event occurred after Cartwright completed advanced training at Maxwell Field near Montgomery, Alabama and was assigned a crew of nine men. The men were training at Muroc Dry Lake Desert in California, practicing navigation and shooting the B-24 machine guns at targets that were towed far behind other planes. A gunner in another plane left ammunition in his gun, which "popped off" and shot out one of Cartwright's engines. One of Cartwright's waist gunners alerted the crew to a smoking engine, which caused Cartwright to feather the prop and make an emergency landing at Edwards Field, also at Muroc. On the ground, the men saw a prototype jet and were sworn to secrecy and to not talk even to each other about what they saw. They probably did not consider it a breach of national security to tease Ellison about the scoop-nosed secret propellorless plane obviously belonging to him since it was clearly a glider.
S/Sgt. Ralph Neal, Ball-turret Gunner
Both Abel and Cartwright were fortunate enough to return safely to their squadron Yontan, Okinawa without further mishap. However, the 494th BG lost men even after the fighting ended. In September, 1945, the 494th carried bombs no longer, and was tasked with carrying POWs from Japan to Okinawa for care and further transport (usually) via the Philippines and back to the United States. At least two planes were lost in that effort, including the Les Miserables, which crashed (into Taiwan?) during a ferry mission, and lost all crewmen and former POWs. Another plane encountered a Cyclone and all were ordered to bailout before ditching. Some of the Ex-POWs were too weak from malnourishment and poor treatment to pull their own parachute open, and they fell to their deaths. Seeing what was happening, the Air Corps crew stopped each ex-POW, pulled the cord and made them hold their chute, throwing it just after they jumped from the plane.
Hometown: York, S. Carolina, just over the state border from Charlotte, N. Carolina.
In the published memoir of his WII service, A Date with the Lonesome Lady, A Hiroshima POW Returns, Dr. Cartwright chronicles his military training, combat assignments, and his post-war efforts to piece together the the fate of his crew despite very little information from the US War Department. The book includes his brief reflections on the use of atomic weapons then and potentially in the future, and shares a poignant, first-hand perspective from an historical experience that is not otherwise available to us.
Cartwright was the only POW liberated from Omori prison camp in the Tokyo-Yokohama area who was dropped off at an (unnamed) destroyer before being transferred to the Cruiser USS Reeves, where he rejoined other former POWs of Omori.
Cartwright, aboard the U.S.S. Reeves in Tokyo Harbor on 2 September, 1945, was in view of the formal surrender ceremony aboard the Admiral Halsey's flagship, the Battleship Missouri. His memoir tells the story of his return to his Bomber Squadron at Yonton Field in Okinawa and home via the Philippines on the USS Benevolence.
Lt. Cartwright wrote numerous letters to the US Army Air Force requesting information about his crew. He had last seen Bill Abel on Okinawa, after they were both liberated from the notorious, undocumented, Ofuna Navy Interrogation Center and the Omori prison camps. He had last seen six of his crewmen in a prison cell somewhere in southern Honshu (Hiroshima, he later learned), and he had last seen his navigator, Roy Pedersen, bailing out of the flak-stricken, out of control Lonesome Lady.