Jacob Beser, the only crew member to fly on both atomic bomb missions over Japan at the end of World War II, died early yesterday of cancer at his home on St. Albans Road in Pikesville. He was 71.
Mr. Beser was a young officer in the Army Air Forces on Aug. 6, 1945, when he flew aboard the plane Enola Gay on the bombing mission that devastated Hiroshima; three days later, he was aboard the plane Bock's Car when it bombed Nagasaki.
The Japanese surrender came five days after the Nagasaki attack, bringing an end to the global conflict.
Mr. Beser, who retired in 1985 as a Westinghouse Electric Corp. engineer and manager, always maintained that the decision to drop the bombs was correct at the time in the face of the casualties expected in an invasion of Japan.
He frequently spoke about the atomic bomb missions and his role in them. He was the radar operator, in charge of electronic counter-measures and protecting the bombs against the possibility that a radio broadcast could accidentally trigger the electronic part of their fuses.
In 1988, Mr. Beser wrote a book, "Hiroshima and Nagasaki Revisited," which covered the mission and his 1985 visits to the cities on the 40th anniversary of the attacks.
He appeared on both ABC and CBS television broadcasts from Japan during the anniversary observances.
In a 1980 television drama, "The Enola Gay, the Men, the Mission, the Bomb," he was portrayed by actor Billy Crystal.
A native of Baltimore and a graduate of City College, Mr. Beser interrupted his engineering studies at Johns Hopkins University to join the Army the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
As a result of trips to the atomic facility at Los Alamos, N. M. to work on the fusing, and guesswork based on the scientific qualifications of people with whom he worked, Mr. Beser reportedly had a more accurate idea as to the reasons behind their special training than did most other members of the 509th Composite Group of the 20th Air Force.
After the war, he worked for the Army Corps of Engineers in the construction of the Sandia, N.M., laboratories later used by the Atomic Energy Commission for weapons research. He then became a research associate at the Johns Hopkins medical school, where he helped to develop a pump used to circulate blood during heart surgery.
He worked for the AAI Corp. from 1951 until 1956, and then began his career at Westinghouse. He retired from the Defense and Electronic Systems Center in Linthicum as deputy program manager and subcontracts manager of the defense meteorological satellite program.
A former president of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, he also served as a member of the board of the national Associated Jewish Charities and Welfare Fund and as president of its migration service agency.
He was on the boards of the Jewish Family and Children's Services and the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, where he was active in the brotherhood.
A former commander of the Maccabean Post of the American Legion, he also had been an adult leader in the Boy Scouts and was awarded the Shofar Award of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting.
Mr. Beser also enjoyed boating.
He is survived by his wife, the former Sylvia Rosen; four sons, Larry, Nicholas and Eric Beser, all of Owings Mills, and Jerome Beser of Pikesville; a sister, Sonia Snyder of Alexandria, Va.; and eight grandchildren.
Services will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow at the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, 7401 Park Heights Ave.