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voice trailed off. WAR HEROES Continued from page 17

U.S. Navy Mineman 2nd Class Clinton Nesmith was a rare witness to his- tory in that he actually saw the two atomic bombs used against Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A board member of Harmon Electric Association for over 30 years, Nesmith, now 88, was another country boy born and reared near Gould. In early spring 1944 he marched down to his local Air Force recruiter to enlist. He wanted to be a pilot.

“There were no openings for pilot training. I tried the Navy. They couldn’t take me for fl ight training either.”

He enlisted in the Navy anyway on May 2, 1944, and was assigned to a tech- nician school to assemble and work on explosive mines. Mines were planted in harbors and sea lanes to destroy surface ships or submarines. They could be laid by minelayer boats, refi tted ships, submarines, aircraft or dropped by hand. The more sophisticated ones were pressure-set to detonate beneath larger ships. Others came equipped with counting devices that allowed them to destroy a number-designated ship in a convoy or armada.

After he completed training, a circuitous route by sea transport and patrol bomber (PBY) amphibious aircraft deposited him on the island of Saipan, whose Japanese tenants had been evicted by island-hopping U.S. Marines and infantry. More than 30,000 Japanese were killed in bloody battles from June 15 to July 9, 1944, at a cost of some 3,000 American lives. Halfway through the fi ght, Japanese Emperor Hirohito issued an imperial order encouraging the 25,000 Japanese civilians of Saipan to commit suicide rather than surrender. Over 22,000 killed themselves, many leaping from “Sui- cide Cliff” or “Banzai Cliff” with children in arms.

Nearby Tinian Island fell that same month, after which Seabees promptly transformed it into the busiest airbase of the war. Seven squadrons of the 58th Bombardment Wing fl ew combat and reconnaissance sorties from the island into the heart of the Japanese empire. From a Quonset hut mine shop, Nesmith helped assemble mines and load them onto B-17, B-24, and the new B-29 bomb- ers to be planted in strategic shipping lanes around Japan. The B-29 runway ended at a cliff overlooking the ocean. Loaded bombers took off, dropped out of sight over the edge of the precipice, then slowly gained lift as their retracting landing gear skimmed the waves. Rescue boats patrolled to pick up crews that had to ditch. Nesmith watched fi ve planes go into the drink on a single morning as overloaded bombers roared from the cliff at 30-second intervals. On July 26, 1945, the USS Indianapolis delivered secret cargo to Tinian—a matching pair of atomic bombs called ‘Little Boy’ and ‘Fat Man,’ escorted by fi ve civilian technicians. As an explosive expert, Nesmith helped offl oad the bombs into specially-constructed “Atom Bomb Pits.” All he knew was that they were supposed to be something extraordinary that would “win the war.” One of the civilian techs occupied the bunk next to Nesmith’s. “I kept asking him questions and he kept answering, ‘I don’t know.’” Four days after the Indianapolis delivered the bombs, a patrolling Japanese submarine torpedoed and sunk, resulting in the greatest single loss of life in the U.S. Navy. Only 316 sailors out of a crew of 1,196 survived the explosion and four days of exposure to prowling sharks and the elements. At 2:45 a.m. on August 6, 1945, the B-29 bomber, Enola Gay, piloted by Colo- nel Paul Tibbets, took off from Tinian carrying Little Boy. Knowing something momentous was about to occur, Nesmith and most of the airbase on Tinian stayed up all night listening to military radios, waiting. At 8:15 a.m., Japan time, ‘Little Boy’ exploded over Hiroshima. Nesmith heard Tibbets on the radio exclaiming how the furious blast set Enola Gay on her nose while he and his co-pilot pulled back as hard as they could on their yokes to prevent being sucked into the confl agration. Three days later, on August 9, Major Charles Sweeney fl ying B-29 Bockscar loosed ‘Fat Man’ onto Nagasaki. The two bombings killed nearly a quarter- million people.

“I got just plumb weak,” Nesmith says today, recalling those historic nights. “I’m just glad we owned the bomb. If the Japanese had owned it instead …,” his


Japan announced its surrender six days later, on August 15, 1945. “I was just happy to be going home,” Nesmith says.

Nesmith returned to Greer County, married his wife, Verna, and got down to the business of farming 10,000 acres. They retired from farming a few years ago and now live in Mangum. Their four children—Michael Nesmith, Mark Nesmith, Linda Cook and Lea Powell—live nearby.

Through their war records and over a century of combined service on the boards of their respec- tive electric co-ops, Dale Shaw, Robert Williams and Clinton Nesmith are living testimony to why their generation is known as America’s Greatest. OL

Boots, helmet and am- munition similar to what was used during WWII. These items belong to writer Charles Sasser who served in the Army for 29 years (active and reserve) with 13 years in the Special Forces. Photo by Charless Sasser

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