Notable deaths elsewhere

April 08, 2010|By Tribune Newspapers

MORRIS JEPPSON, 87

Armed Hiroshima atomic bomb

Morris "Dick" Jeppson, a weapons specialist who was midflight when he completed arming the first atomic bomb, which the Enola Gay B-29 Superfortress dropped on Hiroshima in World War II, has died. He was 87.

Mr. Jeppson, a retired scientist and businessman, died March 30 of complications related to old age at Summerlin Hospital Medical Center in Las Vegas, said his wife, Molly.

The historic combat mission on Aug. 6, 1945, was the only one Mr. Jeppson ever flew.

Worried about his family's safety, he remained silent for decades about his role in the attack that killed at least 80,000 people, leveled two-thirds of the Japanese city and ignited controversy for having unleashed atomic power as a weapon.

When the Army Air Forces unit that flew the mission gathered in 1995, Mr. Jeppson attended and spoke in public about the bombing for the first time.

"You had a job to do, you just did it," Jeppson had often said since then.

The mission is credited with helping to bring an early end to the war.

Mr. Jeppson, one of several men trained to arm the bomb, was a 23-year-old second lieutenant when he was chosen to climb into the bomb bay on a coin toss.

With him was weaponeer Navy Capt. William "Deak" Parsons. Together they began arming the bomb, with Mr. Jeppson acting as assistant, handing over tools.

A few hours later, Mr. Jeppson made a final visit to the bay to change out three green safety plugs - each "the size of a salt shaker," he later said - for the red plugs that armed the bomb.

He made his way to the cockpit and told the plane's pilot, Col. Paul W. Tibbets Jr., that the bomb called "Little Boy" was set to go.

Once Mr. Jeppson felt the B-29 jerk up, he knew the bomb had been dropped.

"People were looking down and seeing this enormous cloud coming up and the destruction spreading," Mr. Jeppson told Time magazine in 2005. "And that's the point that it's somber because you know a lot of people are getting destroyed down there in the city."

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