THEY were Captains America all, crunched in the rattling hum of the Enola Gay that August morning of 1945. The crew of that B-29 bomber, including the young radarman from Baltimore named Jacob Beser, was about to embark on the newest -- and some say darkest -- dawn of warfare as the city of Hiroshima came into view.
argued, quite convincingly, that if the Allies had invaded Japan instead of dropping the bombs, as many as a million people could have perished.
Others argued, however, that President Harry S Truman knew the Japanese were near military collapse and wanted to detonate the bombs in a show of U.S. military might. But the men in the bombers and foxholes were far removed from the highest levels of decision making.
Mr. Beser lectured every year at Johns Hopkins University on the ethical question of the bombs. He spoke in high school classes or, over chilled martinis, could discuss long into the night the issues of nuclear deterrence and military strategy.
But if anyone would call him a murderer -- as would happen occasionally when anonymous callers telephoned his home around the anniversaries of the bomb drops -- Mr. Beser would tell them that war is an awfully savage business. He would remind the callers of the Japanese treatment of the Chinese, Filipinos, Burmese, Koreans and Malaysians. He would remind them of Pearl Harbor, the madness of Singapore and the Bataan death march. Click!
He wrote a book about his 1985 visits to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And he was working on a second book, "Quote a Raven Never More," when he died.
Mr. Beser was a native Baltimorean and graduate of City College. He joined the Army one day after the Pearl Harbor attack -- interrupting his engineering studies at Hopkins -- and was quickly swept up for a top-secret project at Los Alamos, N.M., called the "Manhattan Project," the deveopment of the atomic bomb.
After being discharged from the Army Air Corps, he returned to Hopkins to earn his engineering degree. In civilian life, Mr. Beser helped develop a pump used to circulate blood during heart surgery.
He spent most of his working life with Westinghouse Electric Corp. and retired from the Defense and Electronic Systems Center in Linthicum, where he was an engineer and manager. He was also active in supporting the Boy Scouts, Associated Jewish Charities and Welfare Fund and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.
He was persuasive, gentle, well read. He could have held a much higher profile, but instead was a man of quiet influence.
Jacob Beser had one last request from his widow before he died.
"He wanted to be buried in his military uniform," Sylvia Beser said. And he was.
Joe Nawrozki is a rewriteman for The Sun and Evening Sun.