By Josh Lanier
Sixty-three years ago, Dewey Moose was sworn to secrecy for his involvement in one of the biggest wartime decisions of the past century. Now, he fears contributions he and several others made are being forgotten.
Moose, along with the 300 hand-selected men of the U.S. Army’s 509 Composite Group, worked for months in the summer heat at Wendover Airforce Base to refit a B-29 bomber to hold the atomic bomb. None of the men knew what they were working on, but they knew it was big.
“We were told, ‘What you see here, what you hear here, leave it here,’” Moose said. “If they caught you talking about it somewhere, they’d ship you off to Alaska or something like that.”
The men of the unit were unaware of the magnitude of their work until Aug. 6, 1945, when the Enola Gay, piloted by Moose’s commanding officer, Lt. Col. Paul Tibbet, dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.
Moose joined the military in 1942 after he received a “nice letter” from “Uncle Sam saying you’re in.” He was 25 when he was drafted and had spent his life working on the family farm in Statesville. He trained in Miami and Patterson, N.J., before ending up in Wendover. And although he was never closer than 1,000 miles to any front fighting lines, the war hit home.
“We were all worried about an invasion into Japan,” he said. “We were scared of what might happen back then because we was at war.”
Before Moose and the ground crew received orders to begin preparing that B-29, the public and the military had a different belief of how the war would be won.
“Before the decision was made to drop the bomb, the military was preparing for a full scale invasion of Japan,” said Richard Kohn, a military historian and professor at UNC-Chapel Hill. “There was a massive undertaking of procuring thousands of pounds of bullets, beans and medical dressings to begin that assault.”
The first wave of invasion troops was scheduled to land Nov. 1, 1945, on the southern islands of Japan. Called Operation Olympic, the plan was to push toward the heart of Japan with a second wave of invasions near the Tokyo plain scheduled for March 1 the following year. But the plan had drawbacks.
“There would have been massive bloodletting,” Kohn said. “Tens of thousands of Japanese and Americans would have been killed in an invasion of that size.”
Based on the projected casualty reports, President Harry S. Truman made the decision to move forward with the Enola Gay, Kohn said.
More than 140,000 died from the first bomb dropped over Hiroshima. An estimated 80,000 died from the second atomic blast three days later in Nagasaki. Six days later on August 15, 1945, the Japanese surrendered.
Tibbet and his flight crew got the headlines and the medals. Moose and the ground crew received a handshake and a pat on the back.
“I was one of the forgotten,” he said.
Moose left the military in 1945 and began work as an auto mechanic in Souix Falls, Iowa. He married the woman he fell in love with after she was his waitress at a nearby diner and they raised two children.
Now 92, Moose, who lives in Harrisburg, said he has fond memories of those days back at that Utah air field.
“My dad loves the military and he loves his service,” Dewey Moose, Jr., said. “He doesn’t love it because it gives him something or he feels deserving, he loves it because he got to fight for his country.”
Two years ago, Moose Jr. and his father went to Washington D.C. to see the silver-winged Enola Gay on display at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.
“Dad started talking about his time with that plane and a crowd of people started to gather around,” Moose Jr. said. “They started to come around and Dad put on a class for those people.”
Moose doesn’t talk much about his time in the military. His uniform was stolen in a home break-in several years ago and he rarely pulls out a photo album filled with photographs of his time in the service. He said he still struggles to fully comprehend the damage inflicted by the atomic bomb he helped deliver, but doesn’t regret his service or anything he did.
He spends most of his day with his dog Bubba or riding his motorcycle because it makes him “feel like I’m only 40 or 50 years old.”
“Dad is one of those guys everyone wants to be around,” Moose Jr. said. “He’s the kind of guy that everyone wants to know … and trust me, people may not remember all of what he did while in the military, but people will remember him.”
• Contact Josh Lanier: 704- 789-9144.