NEW YORK – Survivors of the world's first atomic bombing gathered in diminished numbers near an iconic, blasted dome on August 6 to mark the attack's 75th anniversary, many of them urging the world, and their own government, to do more to ban nuclear weapons.
An upsurge of coronavirus cases in Japan meant a much smaller than normal turnout, but the bombing survivors' message was more urgent than ever. As their numbers dwindle — their average age is about 83 — many nations have bolstered or maintained their nuclear arsenals, and their own government refuses to sign a nuclear weapons ban treaty.
Amid cries of Japanese government hypocrisy, survivors, their relatives and officials marked the 8:15 a.m. blast anniversary with a moment of silence.
The United States dropped the world's first atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, destroying the city and killing 140,000 people. It dropped a second bomb three days later on Nagasaki, killing another 70,000. Japan surrendered August 15, ending World War II and its nearly half-century of aggression in Asia.
But the decades since have seen the weapons stockpiling of the Cold War and a nuclear standoff among nations that continues to this day.
Following the end of the war, Colonel Paul W. Tibbets, Jr., the pilot of the Enola Gay, the B-29 that attacked Hiroshima, became “the war's last hero,” The Detroit News (TDN) reported, adding that “although Tibbets became famous, most of the other heroes of World War II did not.”
Among those who never made it to the front page of any newspapers “and today they are only remembered by their children or grandchildren,” are Joe Tucker of Jackson, Michigan, and Bob Meyer of Nicollet County, Minnesota, TDN reported, adding that “they are representative of the almost one million soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen who saw combat during World War II.”
“When Joe was only 21 and Bob only 23, they flew dangerous missions over Japan and the Pacific, and repeatedly escaped death because of their bravery, resilience, and at times, random luck,” TDN reported, noting that also among the unsung heroes was Greek-American 1st Lt. Nicholas Poulos, 22, of Queens, New York, and Captain James Lloyd Shumate, 27, of Chickasha, Oklahoma, both “born on St. Patrick's Day five years apart; neither had the `luck of the Irish.'”
Poulos was killed in action, according to the New York State Military Museum and Veetrans Research Center, NYS Division of Military and Naval Affairs World War II Honor List which includes the New York U.S. Army & U.S. Army Air Force - Dead and Missing, and the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Coast Guard - Dead, Missing, POW and Wounded.
The listing for Poulos gives his branch of the military, Army, his ID number, and cause of death as killed in action with no cemetery or next of kin listed.
According to the Find a Grave website, Poulos' grave is located at Long Island National Cemetery in East Farmingdale, New York. His awards include the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, and Purple Heart.
“Bob [Meyer] always hoped Nick had somehow lived,” TDN reported, adding that “when he went to the last 29th Bomb Group reunion in 2008, 63 years after that flight, Bob finally found out Nick had been killed; he had not been recovered or taken prisoner.”
“On August 8th, less than a week before the end of the war, Bob was going to fly in the twelfth seat of his old friend Jim Shumate's B-29, Thunder Bird,” TDN reported, adding that “since Bob was going to be squadron navigator, his friend, Nick Poulos, one of Shumate's crew, gave Bob his lucky charm. At the last minute, Major Bob Anthony bumped Meyer so Anthony could lead the mission from Shumate's plane. In the confusion, Meyer forgot to give the good luck charm back to Nick before he took off.”
“On its 19th mission, Thunder Bird was the last B-29 shot down over Japan in World War II,” TDN reported, noting that “there is a photo showing it crashing toward earth after being hit in an engine by flak. All but two crew members died. Staff Sgt. Serafino Morone from New York was captured, tortured and killed, while Master Sgt. Lester `Cliff' Morris from New Jersey was taken prisoner and survived.”
“In a cruel twist of fate, Bob learned of the probable fate of the Shumate crew when he was assigned to interrogate Morris after he was repatriated as a POW in the fall,” TDN reported.
“A half century after the war, when Bob Meyer was in his 70's, he told his son `the night terrors are finally over,'” TDN reported, adding that Meyer “fought untreated PTSD and survivor's guilt for almost his whole life.”
Tucker, who passed away at the age of 87, and Meyer, at age 93, “never knew each other,” but “are inextricably linked because they both flew on the raid that killed even more people in one day than the atomic bomb, the fire-bombing of Tokyo six months before Hiroshima,” TDN reported.
At 5:35 in the evening of March 9, 1945, “the first of 290 new B-29 Superfortress bombers took off from Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands to begin the seven and a half hour flight to Tokyo,” TDN reported, adding that the “first plane was part of an air armada that killed 100,000 people in one night, 30,000 more than died at Hiroshima the day of the attack.”