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Guest Column: A veteran remembers the B-29 bombers

The U.S. Air Force used Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers, like the one seen here, in World War II.
The U.S. Air Force used Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers, like the one seen here, in World War II.
Courtesy U.S. Air Force

I vividly remember the Boeing B-29 Superfortress, a magnificent aircraft that was a major factor in ending World War II in the Pacific. With its higher speed, pressured crew compartment and greater endurance, the B-29 bomber could fly at higher altitudes than any other WWII bomber.

The last combat mission of World War II began Aug. 15, 1945, when fighter pilot Jerry Yellin took off from Iwo Jima — which served as a stop-over point for planes that could not return to home base — to attack an airfield in Japan. If Japan’s rumored surrender were to occur, Yellin was to cancel the mission and return to base. But Yellin never received the coded surrender message while in flight, and he landed on Iwo Jima to discover that the war had ended three hours earlier.

Sadly, Captain Jerry Yellin died in California last year at the age of 93.

Meanwhile, as Gen. Douglas MacArthur launched the battle to retake the Philippines, I flew from New Guinea to Manila with a stopover at Morotai in the Moluccas, a chain of islands east of Borneo.

While there, I received urgent orders to fly to Guam in the Mariana Islands to prepare the communications for the invasion of Japan. I was in Guam when a B-29, the Enola Gay, dropped the first atomic bomb named on Hiroshima. Enola Gay was the name of the pilot’s mother.

The second atomic bomb, called Fat Man, was carried by another B-29, Bock’s Car, named for the pilot, Fred Bock. I still remember the warm greeting Col. Bock gave me when we met several years after the war.

Critics have since claimed that the war in the Pacific could have ended without the use of the atomic bombs considering the Japanese were already on the verge of collapse. But while I was in the Philippines, the Japanese fought ferociously and I saw no indication that they would soon surrender.

During the late 1940s, Boeing built a passenger plane modeled after the B-29. Called the Stratocruiser, it was a double-deck airplane with main accommodations on the upper deck and a spiraling staircase leading to the lower area.

The blunt-nosed Stratocruiser was to be the ultimate in post-war luxury travel. With high anticipation, I made a reservation on one of the first non-stop Stratocruiser flights from New York to Seattle to attend a conference. The wide seats and the refreshments served in the lounge eased the discomfort from the long flight.

Unfortunately, the Stratocruiser had a short life span and was retired early due to its troublesome engines and the introduction of jet airliners.

George Rand, of Franklin Square, is a former engineering manager and university instructor. He served with the U.S. Army in the Southwest Pacific Operations Area during World War II.