light … green and orange flashes … the picture of hell.”
That’s what Kermit Beahan, a former Baytown Refinery employee, witnessed
when the atomic bomb exploded over Nagasaki Aug. 9, 1945. He was the
bombardier aboard the B-29, “Bock’s Car.”
By 1985 Beahan was a retired NASA contractor living in Nassau Bay
near Clear Lake and not at all pleased with the way the press was
covering the 40th anniversary of the end of World
War II. However, he had fond memories of working in Baytown
before the war and consented to be interviewed by Bryan Nethery, then
a Texas A&M University student and a future ExxonMobil engineer working
that summer in The Sun newsroom.
“I just hope I’ll go down in history as the last man to ever drop
the atomic bomb on a human being,” Beahan told Nethery.
On his 27th birthday Beahan had become the second bombardier to release
an atomic bomb over Japan. The first A-bomb fell on Hiroshima three
days earlier from the “Enola Gay.”
In his opinion, the bombing raids made sense, given the alternative
of invading Japan with conventional weapons. Countless more casualties
would have resulted with more suffering on both sides, he said, and
the war would have lasted much longer.
Beahan, before the history-changing raid over Japan, already had flown
22 missions over Europe and had earned a ton of medals.
William Craig, in his book, “The Fall of Japan,” said Beahan was a
“tremendously efficient technician … an authentic hero from the skies
Beahan later served as a B-17 and B-29 instructor in Midland
but was eager to get back in the thick of battle. Col. Paul Tibbets
at Wendover Air Field in Utah offered him a special assignment involving
a new weapon that was being developed to shorten the war. That’s all
Tibbets would tell him.
Beahan’s friend, Maj. Tom Ferebee, had recommended him as the bombardier
on this special assignment. When the first A-bomb fell, targeting
Hiroshima, Tibbets was the pilot and Ferebee, the bombardier.
not Nagasaki, originally had been the target in Beahan’s assignment,
with orders to bomb visually instead of by radar. If they couldn’t
get a visual fix on the target, the crew had orders to abort the mission.
Smoke and haze, drifting from a fire in a nearby city, blocked the
view of Kokura. In addition, two enemy fighter planes spotted Bock’s
Car and took after the plane while anti-aircraft from the ground joined
in the attack.
It was time to leave.
The pilot, Maj. Charles “Chuck” Sweeney, decided to head toward the
secondary target, Nagasaki. With fuel running low, the plane could
make only one pass before returning to the air field on Tinian Island.
Again, poor visibility. Beahan could see a general outline of the
city and the docks but the arms complex was not in view.
Contrary to orders, Sweeney wanted to use radar to deploy the bomb,
and Admiral Frederick Ashworth, co-leader of the mission, reluctantly
Seconds before it was time to release the bomb, a hole opened in the
clouds and they could see everything.
Nicknamed “Fat Man,” the bomb exploded with the power of 21 kilotons
of dynamite 1,850 feet above the Mitsubishi complex, the industry
that produced the torpedoes used at Pearl Harbor.)
Ashworth later described Beahan as the flight’s hero. “He held his
cool. He had only one shot. He reacted and he did his job.”
When the plane finally made a harrowing, forced landing on Okinawa,
it had seven gallons of fuel left.
During The Sun interview, Beahan recalled that Rice football teammate
John Sylvester helped get him his job at Humble Oil & Refining Co.,
now ExxonMobil. He referred to Sylvester as “Leche,” the nickname
that only friends from away back knew.
Like all male employees at the refinery back then, Beahan had to start
off in the labor department, digging ditches. He soon advanced to
pipe fitter, then went to the rigging department and lastly, the acid
Beahan previously had served a brief stint in the Army Air Corps,
and as war seemed inevitable, he decided to rejoin. He was serving
as a bombardier instructor when Pearl Harbor was bombed on Dec. 7,
He died of a heart attack in 1989 and is buried at the Houston National
© Wanda Orton
Baytown Sun Columnist
9, 2015 columns
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