Remembering the atom bombs
Sixty-seven years after atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, George Taylor of Duluth was still wrestling with his role as a service member in World War II. And no wonder: the choice to use nuclear weapons to end the war has been hotly debated sinc...
Sixty-seven years after atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, George Taylor of Duluth was still wrestling with his role as a service member in World War II. And no wonder: the choice to use nuclear weapons to end the war has been hotly debated since the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Aug. 6 and 9, 1945.
Taylor, who was born in Duluth in 1922, received his first draft notice after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. He didn't see the notice, though, because his father Arthur intercepted it and requested a deferment. He needed George's help to support the family.
His father had a dry cleaning business on West 21st Street. The customer service part of the business was housed in a building separate from where the dry cleaning was performed, using naphtha gas. One day, Mr. Taylor, in a hurry to finish a job he had promised to a customer, bypassed a couple of the normal safety routines. The naphtha gas exploded, searing his lungs and leaving him disabled.
George then got a job with the National Youth Administration, a New Deal project that was initially part of the Works Progress Administration established to educate and secure work for Americans between the ages of 16 and 25. In that capacity, he worked on the construction of the tennis courts at Old Main, the campus of what was then the Duluth State Teachers College.
George received a second draft notice, and in 1943, he signed up for the Army. He knew what he wanted -- to be in the Army Air Forces. After scoring well on an IQ test, he was allowed into the Air Forces and assigned to the Eastern Signal Corps Training Center at Fort Monmouth, N.J., for advanced training in aviation radio repair.
Meanwhile, the Army asked Col. Paul W. Tibbets, Jr., to create and head up a classified aviation unit. In December 1944, the group, known as the 509th Composite Group, was formed and assigned the task of figuring out how to deliver an atomic bomb to targets in Germany and Japan. One of the select few singled out to participate in this unit was George Taylor. Unbeknownst to him, FBI agents had visited his family and friends in Duluth to determine if he was a security risk.
The unit trained in the deserts of the West and Southwest, starting at Wendover Army Air Field in Utah. By the time the pilots and ground crew were ready to begin training near their intended targets, it was determined that the war in Europe could be won using conventional weapons. Japan was the only Axis nation targeted for the use of atomic weapons.
The 509th Composite Group was sent to the Mariana Islands to prepare for its anticipated mission. Taylor was assigned to the 1027th Air Materiel Squadron. When he arrived, other personnel were already handling the task of aviation radio repair, so he was instead assigned to managing the flow of supplies in and out of inventory. "I was a bookkeeper," he chuckled. However, he did some radio repair work from time to time, including work on the Enola Gay.
The orders were received. On Aug. 6, 1945, Hiroshima was bombed. Three days later, Nagasaki was hit.
"People have sometimes asked me if I feel guilty because so many people died," Taylor said sadly. "I always responded that my first mission was to protect American lives."
But on the Honor Flight of May 15, another WWII veteran talked with George as the plane carried them and 83 other service members to Washington, D.C. He offered his own perspective.
"This other veteran --
I don't know his name -- had served in Europe," Taylor recalled. "He had fought in the Battle of the Bulge and in another major offensive. He told me, 'After the war in Europe ended, my unit was supposed to be sent to the Pacific. I didn't know if I could survive a third time in combat. When we heard that you guys dropped the bomb on the Japanese -- ' Here George stopped, choking up, 'I felt like you saved my life.' "