Donald Hornig was a year out of graduate school when he received a mysterious job offer. No one would even tell him what or even where the job was, so he declined – until the President of Harvard University called and convinced him to take it.
Soon after, Hornig bought an old car and headed for Los Alamos, New Mexico. He would become one of the youngest leaders of the team that developed the first atomic bomb and the last surviving witness of the detonation on July 16, 1945.
Albert Einstein & Julius Robert Oppenheimer
Born in Milwaukee, Hornig “was the first in his family to go to college,” said the Associated Press. He studied physical chemistry at Harvard, earning his Doctorate in 1943. In Los Alamos, the head of the Manhattan Project, J. Robert Oppenheimer, gave him the job of developing the firing unit that triggered the detonation.
The Trinity tower. “At 9 p.m., I climbed the 100-foot tower to the top, where I baby-sat the live bomb,” Dr. Hornig recalled in a 2005 NPR interview. Credit Los Alamos National Laboratory
On the eve of the blast, Hornig “was assigned another task,” said The Washington Post. Oppenheimer decided that someone should be at the site to babysit the bomb, he later remembered.
As lighting and thundered raged outside, Hornig sat by the bomb reading a book of humorous essays. In the morning, “he took his place beside Oppenheimer in a control room more than 5 miles away.”
When the bomb exploded, at 5:29:45 a.m., Hornig recalled, “My first reaction, having not slept for 48 hours, was, ‘Boy am I tired.’ My second was, We sure opened a can of worms.” He later described the massive orange fireball as, “one of the most aesthetically beautiful things I have ever seen.”
Hornig went on to teach at Brown and Princeton universities, said the New York Times, before becoming science adviser to President Lyndon Johnson. “Working for Johnson was reportedly not easy; the president disdained scientists because many of them opposed the Vietnam War.
Hornig was named president of Brown University in 1970, where his budget cuts restored the institution’s finances. Upon his resignation in 1976, he described his tenure as “bittersweet.” He returned to Harvard and to teaching to end his career.
Donald Hornig was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on 17 March 1920 and the world lost him on 21 January 2013 in Providence, Rhode Island.
Originally posted on The Letters Project: Almost as soon as I declared that I hadn’t seen a pilot log that continued from the first one, I picked up a little notebook that served as a log for the remainder of 1944 and 1945 up to September. It notes the first time Walt flew a P-51,…
Sadly, four days later after delivering the components of the atomic bomb from California to the Pacific Islands in the most highly classified naval mission of the war, USS Indianapolis is sailing alone in the center of the Philippine Sea when she is struck by two torpedoes and sunk within twelve minutes. The ship was without a sufficient number of lifeboats, her disappearance went unnoticed for almost four days and the navy search team was called off early. Therefore, only 316 men of her 1,196-man crew were rescued. This has been considered the most controversial sea disaster in American history.
For the next five nights and four days, almost three hundred miles from the nearest land, the men battle injuries, sharks, dehydration, insanity, and eventually each other. Only 316 will survive. For the better part of a century, the story of USS Indianapolis has been understood as a sinking tale. The reality, however, is far more complicated—and compelling. Now, for the first time, thanks to a decade of original research and interviews with 107 survivors and eyewitnesses, Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic tell the complete story of the ship, her crew, and their final mission to save one of their own.
part of the Indianapolis crew
It begins in 1932, when Indianapolis is christened and launched as the ship of state for President Franklin Roosevelt. After Pearl Harbor, Indianapolis leads the charge to the Pacific Islands, notching an unbroken string of victories in an uncharted theater of war.
Then, under orders from President Harry Truman, the ship takes aboard a superspy and embarks on her final world-changing mission: delivering the core of the atomic bomb to the Pacific for the strike on Hiroshima.
Vincent and Vladic provide a visceral, moment-by-moment account of the disaster that unfolds days later after the Japanese torpedo attack, from the chaos on board the sinking ship to the first moments of shock as the crew plunge into the remote waters of the Philippine Sea, to the long days and nights during which terror and hunger morph into delusion and desperation, and the men must band together to survive.
Captain Charles Butler McVay III, US Navy
Then, for the first time, the authors go beyond the men’s rescue to chronicle Indianapolis’s extraordinary final mission: the survivors’ fifty-year fight for justice on behalf of their skipper, Captain Charles McVay III, who is wrongly court-martialed for the sinking.
What follows is a captivating courtroom drama that weaves through generations of American presidents, from Harry Truman to George W. Bush, and forever entwines the lives of three captains—McVay, whose life and career are never the same after the scandal; Mochitsura Hashimoto, the Japanese sub commander who sinks Indianapolis but later joins the battle to exonerate McVay; and William Toti, the captain of the modern-day submarine Indianapolis, who helps the survivors fight to vindicate their captain.
USS Indianapolis survivors on Guam, August 1945
McVay was found guilty on the charge of failing to zigzag. The court sentenced him to lose 100 numbers in his temporary rank of Captain and 100 numbers in his permanent rank of Commander, thus ruining his Navy career. In 1946, at the behest of Admiral Nimitz who had become Chief of Naval Operations, Secretary Forrestal remitted McVay’s sentence and restored him to duty. McVay served out his time in the New Orleans Naval District and retired in 1949 with the rank of Rear Admiral. He took his own life in 1968.
A sweeping saga of survival, sacrifice, justice, and love, Indianapolis stands as both groundbreaking naval history and spellbinding narrative—and brings the ship and her heroic crew back to full, vivid, unforgettable life. It is the definitive account of one of the most remarkable episodes in American history.
From: War history on-line, “In Harm’s Way” and the USS Indianapolis official website.
The wreck of the USS Indianapolis was finally found 19 August 2017.
In a 1958 interview, Truman was asked about the soul-searching decision he went through to decide on dropping the bomb. He replied, “Hell no, I made it like _ (snapped his fingers) _ that!” One year later at Columbia University, he said, “The atom bomb was no great decision.” He likened it to a larger gun.
The components for the 20-kiloton weapon were being shipped to Tinian Island, in the Marianas, aboard the “Indianapolis.” The top-secret package arrived at its destination a mere 24 hours after the official operational order for the bomb was sent to General Carl (“Tooey”) Spaatz.
Prince Konoye, after laboring two years for a route to peace, swallowed poison and died the day before he was to turn himself in as a war criminal.
The bomb, when it arrived, was a metal cylinder approximately 18 inches in diameter and two feet high, but when fully assembled, it measured ten feet long and 28 inches in diameter. It had originally been nicknamed “Thin Man” after the movie and the expected shape, but when it was completed, they changed it to “Little Boy” and gave the small bundle its own hiding place. The secrecy involving the bomb storage area was so secure that a general was required to have a pass to enter.
509th Composite Group, WWII
The other members of the 509th Bomber Group, not included in the mission, knew something was brewing, but they also were unaware of the exact plans. Hence, an anonymous writer was inspired:
Into the air the secret rose, Where they’re going, nobody knows. Tomorrow they’ll return again, But we’ll never know where they’ve been. Don’t ask about results or such, Unless you want to get in Dutch. But take it from one who is sure of the score, The 509th is winning the war.
“Bockscar” upon delivery to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, in 1961. The nose art was added sometime after the raid against Nagasaki. (U.S. Air Force photo)
The crew of the ‘Enola Gay’ even received a humorous menu as they entered the mess hall for breakfast:
Look! Real eggs (How do you want them?)
Rolled oats (Why?)
Milk (No fishing)
Sausage (We think it’s pork)
Apple butter (Looks like axle grease)
Butter (Yep, it’s out again)
Bread (Someone get a toaster)
Harry S. Truman did not have the outstanding record that most people look for in a president. He had poor eyesight and was unable to complete a 4-year college. Later, he failed as the owner/operator of a small mining and oil business, as a farmer and then as a haberdasher. (In my opinion, that only left politics as an option.)
HST was elected to the Senate with the assistance of the corrupt Thomas J. Pendergast and proved to be an unimportant legislator. His only military achievement was in successfully tightening up the discipline of the rag-tag outfit he was given. He was chosen as the Vice-Presidential candidate because southern democrats liked him and FDR needed those votes. (I’m afraid these facts were located during research, they are not my own thoughts – unless specified.)
This was the man sent to Germany, sailing on the “Augusta” with Secretary of State, James Byrnes and Admiral Leahy to attend the Potsdam Conference to begin on 17 July 1945. The primary agenda for the massive meeting dealt with the revision of the German-Soviet-Polish borders and the expulsion of several million Germans from the disputed territories. The code name for this conference was “Terminal,” with Stalin, Churchill and Truman representing the three major powers.
16 July was significant in that the Atomic bomb was successfully tested, exploding the equivalent of 20,000 tons of TNT and a blast point of 750 degrees F. Oppenheimer would then prepare the test results for his report to Henry Stimson in Potsdam. Truman confided the news to Churchill and the two rulers instantly decided that at least two bombs would be dropped on Japan.
This decision was made despite the arguments of Adm. Leahy, General “Hap” Arnold and Gen. Dwight Eisenhower who strongly spoke against it’s use, calling it completely unnecessary. Many of the scientists that worked on the Manhattan Project felt that such a dramatic scientific discovery should not be used. The petition, “…the liberated forces of nature for the purpose of destruction … open the door to an era of devastation …,” was signed by 57 scientists. They had the foresight to visualize the nuclear problems that we face today, but their qualms went unheeded.
The Potsdam Proclamation demanded the unconditional surrender of Japan, but did not make mention of two clearly important issues – (1) that the atomic bomb was is existence and (2) whether or not the Emperor would retain his seat in the palace. Both of these provisions would have clarified the true situation for the Japanese Army. Many, on-site at Potsdam, believe that the Japanese were purposely and maliciously misguided.
26 July, the same day that Clement Attlee defeated Winston Churchill in the election for Prime Minister, the Potsdam Declaration was sent to the enemy. The exact wording of this document made it unthinkable for Japan to accept. Once again, the lack of understanding for a foreign culture would hinder the road to peace.
MGeneral Makato Onodera, in Norway, 1942
Keep in mind, while still at sea on the ‘Augusta,’ Byrnes had received a message from Sweden stating that Japanese Major Gen. Makoto Onodera, having authorization from the Emperor, wished to enter into peace negotiations. The only stipulation being that the Emperor remain in power.
By this time, Prince Konoye had spent two years laboring to uncover a route to peace. The prince had had the correct procedure all along, but mistakenly had chosen the Soviet Union as the go-between. Stalin had his own agenda in mind for the Japanese and their territories and therefore he deceitfully strung the envoys along with various delaying tactics.
Allen Dulles, OSS
OSS Allen Dulles, who assisted in negotiations when Italy fell, was working on the same premise in Switzerland. Nevertheless, as spring turned to summer, militarists in Japan continued to plan for Operation Decision (Ketsu-Go) and ignored their government’s attempts for peace. Disregarding Japan’s concern for their Emperor, the Potsdam Declaration was considered by Premier Suzuki and the military to be a re-hashing of the Cairo Declaration which deemed it to be marked as “mokusatsu” (‘ignore entirely’ or ‘regard as unworthy of notice’)
In regards to the A-bomb, Secretary of War, Stimson and his assistant, John McCloy, told Truman, “We should all have our heads examined if we don’t try to find a political solution.”
“From May onwards, prisoners in a terrible state came in daily,” recorded a British gunner unit in Burma, “many of them armed with nothing more dangerous than bamboo spears, trembling with a mixture of malaria and humiliation.”
British soldiers in Burma
But if some proved ready to quit, others did not. To the end, most Japanese who lost their ships at sea deliberately evaded Allied rescuers. On the deck of HMS Saumarez, destroyer Captain Martin Power was directing rescue operations after sinking a Japanese convoy off the Nicobars, when he suddenly heard a “clang” against the ship.
Andaman and Nicobars Islands
Peering over the side, he saw a bald, heavily built Japanese man clinging to a scrambling net with one hand, while hammering the nose of a shell against the hull with the other. Power drew his pistol, leaned over and whacked the man’s head.
“I could not think of anything else to do – I spoke no Japanese. Blood streaming down his face, he looked up at me, the pistol 6 inches from his eyes, the shell in his hand… I do not know how long I hung in this ridiculous position, eyeball to eyeball with a fanatical enemy, but it seemed too long at the time. At last he dropped the shell into the sea, brought up his feet, and pushed off from the ship’s side like an Olympic swimmer, turned on his face and swam away.”
***** ***** *****
By this time of the Pacific War, the Vietnam area of Indochina was in dispute. DeGaulle demanded that the current Vichy government take a firm stand, but this was a disaster. The Japanese had staged a pre-emptive coup against the Saigon administration. Frenchmen became POW’s and their future fate would cause Anglo-American arguments. When US planes arrived from China to carry out evacuations, the French were furious that the aircraft did not bring them cigarettes.
London’s Political Warfare Executive sent a directive to Mountbatten that highlighted the political and cultural complexities of the CBI: “Keep off Russo-Japanese, Russo-Chinese and Sino-Japanese relations except for official statements. Show that a worse fate awaits Japan if her militarists force her to fight on… Continue to avoid the alleged Japanese peace feelers.”
The Dutch, French and British owners of the old Eastern empires were increasingly preoccupied with regaining their lost territories – and they were conscious that they could expect scant help from the Americans to achieve this. The British Embassy in Washington told the Foreign Office:
“If we prosecute the Eastern War with might and main, we shall be told by some people that we are really fighting for our colonial possessions the better to exploit them and that American blood is being shed to no better purpose than to help ourselves and Dutch and French to perpetrate our degenerate colonial Empires; while if we are judged not to have gone all out, that is because we are letting America fight her own war with little aid, after having her pull our chestnuts out of the European fire.”
SOMEWHERE IN CHINA–This story has been held back for a while because the fellow was mighty sensitive about it, and he happens to be a tech sergeant, 6 feet 2 and weighing 200 pounds. He’s cooled off a little, so now it can be told.
The tech sergeant is Karl May of Yakima, Wash., an aerial engineer and gunner in one of the local Mitchell B-25 bombers. The tale goes back to the time when he was still a buck private, working as an armorer in his squadron and bucking like hell for a job on a combat crew.
They finally let him go on a few missions to try him out. He got along fine until his third trip. That was the raid on the big Jap base at Hankow, former Chinese capital, on the Yangtze.
There were two minor defects that day in the bomber to which May was assigned: there were no racks in the ship for fragmentation bombs and the interphones were temporarily out of commission.
Well, they were working the thing out all right without fragracks or interphones. They had Pvt. May squatting by the photo hole with a stack of frag bombs and the understanding that when the turret gunner nudged him in the behind he was to cut loose with all he had.
It happened that the bomber had a passenger that day–maybe an observer from Washington, maybe a newspaperman, maybe just a sightseer.
This worth person grew unaccustomedly chilly, saw that the draft came from the open photo hole and decided to ask the private beside it to close it. The private – yep, it was May – had his back turned, so the passenger sought to attract his attention with a gentle nudge in the rear.
Pvt. May reacted like the eager beaver he was. He held one frag bomb over the hole and let it drop. Then he turned another loose into thin air. He was preparing to drop every bomb in the ship – until he was rudely and violently stopped. To May’s dismay he learned: 1) that the ship was nowhere near Hankow, 2) that he had been given no signal and, 3) that he had just wasted a couple hundred dollars’ worth of U.S. high explosives.
B-25 dropping frag bombs
The mission proceeded to Hankow, where May dropped the rest of his bombs through the photo hole, an armful at a time. But his heart was heavy at the thought of having goofed previously.
When the plane returned to its base, there was an intelligence report from the Chinese Army waiting for it. According to this report, two bombs dropped on a Japanese barge on the Yangtze had scored direct hits, sinking the barge and drowning 160 Japanese soldiers.
T/Sgt. May never tells the story himself and he gets mad when he hears anyone else tell it. Only those who’ve seen the records will believe it.
ALONG THE STILWELL ROAD – The latest man-bites-dog incident turns out to be a fish story.
S/Sgt. Charles T. Hardin, Trenton, Tenn., power shovel operator for an Engineering Battalion along the Stilwell Road, used the world’s largest fishing tackle to bring in a 100-pound catfish out of the Dihing River.
Hardin, an engineer, was scooping up gravel from the river’s bed, as it had been his custom to do over many months since he has been in ol’ I-BT. He noticed a massive, torpedo-like form wending its way up to the spot where his shovel was operating.
Charles T. Hardin
Giving the controls a quick one-two, Hardin hit the lumbering fish with the big bucket and stunned him into insensibility. Then, skillfully maneuvering the huge snorting shovel, he hauled him in as easily as dipping for a trout.
His piscatorial prize turned out to be a white bellied catfish, measuring almost six feet from tail to teeth. As Hardin put it, “I’ve scooped up a lot of gravel to help build this road, but I never caught anything bigger than a minnow before. This time I hit the jackpot.”
After the fish was hauled off to the company area, the boys began slicing off steaks for a fish fry was contemplated.
A real tribute was paid the Stilwell Road Isaac Walton by one of his buddies, who remarked, “Old Hardin can throw that bucket anywhere he wants!”
Poem from CBI WWII
THE DEVIL’S DILEMMA
I met the Devil yesterday beneath a shady tree;
His head within his hand was held, his elbow on his knee.
A frown he wore upon his brow; his horns were dull with dust,
And resting on his arm I saw his pitchfork red with rust.
“Well, ” I said, “what can it be that brings you up from Hell?
From all appearances it seems that things aren’t going well.”
He gazed at me with blood-shot eyes and bade me take a seat,
And so I sat and wondered why his face bore sad defeat.
“O, Mortal, know,” he spoke, “that once I ruled a proud domain;
Within the bowels of Earth I reigned o’er punishment and pains of those were sent to me who’d lived in sin and hate,
To suffer for eternity upon hot Hades grate.
My tortures were most terrible, no others could compare,
I though I had the latest thing in fire and brimstone there
But then came war upon the Earth with tanks and planes and guns,
And implements of war ne’er seen before beneath the sun.
Now all the souls that go below who’ve failed the living test,
No longer fear my kingdom, but go as if to rest!
But I must leave; I’ve dallied long and must be on my way.
I’m off to meet St. Peter and you’ll pardon me, I pray;
I have a plan we must discuss that may unscramble this,
For Earth’s no longer what it was; it’s Hell, that’s what it is.”
General MacArthur relieved the headquarters of Sixth Army and I Corps of further operational responsibility on Luzon in order that the two could begin preparations for the invasion of Japan. The headquarters of Eighth Army and of XIV Corps assumed responsibility for the further conduct of operations throughout Luzon, where the only Japanese force still capable of effective, well-organized resistance was the Shobu Group.
For Sixth Army and I Corps, the meeting of the 37th Division and 11th Airborne Division units south of Aparri on 26 June had marked the strategic end of the campaign in northern Luzon. This conclusion attained considerable logic. The juncture had divided the Shobu Group’s remaining forces and had occurred while Yamashita was desperately trying to withdraw all available units into his last-stand area.
Moreover, Sixth Army estimated upon relinquishing control to Eighth Army that no more than 23,000 Japanese were left alive in northern Luzon and that these troops were disorganized and incapable of effective defensive operations. The 6th Army further estimated that only 12,000 of the 23,000 Japanese were located in the Cordillera Central between Routes 4 and 11, the rest in the Sierra Madre east of the Cagayan Valley.
XIV Corps would have under its control the USAFIP(NL), now a seasoned and reasonably well-armed force of 21,000 men supported by two U.S. Army field artillery battalions. Also under XIV Corps was the experienced Buena Vista Regiment, equivalent in size to a U.S. Army infantry regiment less supporting arms and services. All in all, it appeared that XIV Corps would become involved only in relatively easy mopping-up and patrolling operations.
The 6th Army had greatly underestimated the Japanese strength left in northern Luzon, and the 8th Army’s estimates, made upon its assumption of command, were but little closer to fact. Actually, at the end of June, close to 65,000 Japanese remained alive in northern Luzon, 13,000 of them in the Sierra Madre and 52,000 in the last-stand area between Routes 4 and 11.
Caring for injured Filipinos
Although organization, control, and morale were deteriorating, and although most of the troops were ill armed and poorly supplied, the Japanese in the last-stand area were still capable of effective resistance when the occasion demanded. The task confronting the U.S. Army and guerrilla units in northern Luzon was of far greater magnitude than any headquarters estimated at the end of June. XIV Corps plan for operations against the remainder of the Shobu Group differed only in detail from those I Corps had previously employed. Reduced to their simplest terms, both sets of plans called for the exertion of unremitting pressure against the Shobu Group wherever Shobu Group troops were to be found.