By Turner Walston
Published in News on August 5, 2005 1:49 PM
Saturday marks the 60th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki three days later led to the surrender of the Japanese government on Aug. 15, 1945.
Although the plane and pilot involved have earned a place in history, few recall the North Carolina airman who actually pulled the trigger releasing the bomb.
Col. Tom Ferebee was the bombardier on the Enola Gay that day. A Wayne County veteran, Hugh Howard of Pikeville, grew up with Ferebee in Davie County and says his part in making history should not be forgotten.
Howard said this week that stories recalling the critical moment in world history almost always note the pilot, Col. Paul Tibbetts, but seldom make reference to Ferebee. He said a recent editorial in the Air Force Times singles out Tibbetts, but doesn't name any other member of the crew.
Ferebee died in 2000.
Howard and Ferebee grew up on nearby farms. Howard attended high school with Ferebee's two younger sisters.
The war, Howard said, touched every family.
"No farmer would have two sons at home working on the farm," he said.
Howard said he did not mind doing his military duty. He said he believes Ferebee felt the same way.
"He was probably just like I was," Howard said, "tickled to death to get off the farm."
Howard was captured by the enemy during the war and spent time in a military prison. On the day the bomb fell on Hiroshima, he had been freed and was back stateside. He said he remembers hearing the news of the bomb and the incredible amount of death and destruction it caused on his car radio as he drove home from Winston-Salem.
"I had to pull off the road and cry," Howard said. "When they announced news that Tom was the bombardier that dropped that bomb, I just pulled off the road and cried. I specifically remember that."
Howard said the feeling in his hometown of Mocksville was one of jubilation.
"Knowing that the war was coming to an end, we knew then that we didn't have to worry about going back," he says.
Ferebee remained in the Air Force until 1970, and defended the necessity of the bombing until his death.
"I'm convinced that the bombing saved many lives by ending the war," he told Newsweek magazine upon his retirement.
In later years, he would warn of the dangers of more nuclear weapons.
"We should look back and think just what one bomb did, what two did and think about what just one hydrogen bomb would do," Ferebee said in a 1985 interview with The Orlando Sentinel. "I think we should definitely realize it just can't happen again."
Howard spoke with Ferebee in the early 1990s, and said the bombardier exemplified the attitude of World War II veterans.
"He did it with no regrets," Howard says. "For us, it was routine, it was just a job that we had to do."
Howard recalls his own military service fondly, despite the horrors he endured.
"I've never looked back on it and had any remorse," he said. "I have all kinds of memories that hang on and on."
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