TURLOCK — Sixty years ago today, Henry "Hank" Adams was a 20-year-old Army Air Corps flight officer and bombardier on a B-29 warbird that was making repeated bombing runs over Japan during World War II.
Adams said he and his fellow crew members on the Lucky Lady had just completed a bombing mission and returned to their air base on Tinian Island. Tinian Island is about 140 miles north of Guam and about 1,600 miles from Japan.
"We landed, but they told us we couldn't get off the airplane," the Turlock resident said Friday. "They told us there might be retaliation and we might have to take off again at any moment. We had no idea what was going on."
It was the day the United States dropped the first of two atomic bombs on Japan.
"I'll never forget Aug. 6, 1945. We had no idea what was happening," said Adams, 80. "After about an hour of sitting in our B-29 on the ground, our commander announced that the crew of the Enola Gay had just dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima."
The Enola Gay also was stationed on Tinian Island, and was about two miles from Adams' bomber.
"We couldn't believe it," Adams said. "We were all happy and excited that they had dropped the atomic bomb. The feeling was one of jubilation. We got off the airplane and celebrated.
"That night we had a party and continued to celebrate. Then, two days later, it was back to flying more bombing missions."
Adams, who lives with his wife of 50 years, Joanne, said there was much mystery surrounding the Enola Gay (named for the mother of the pilot, Col. Paul W. Tibbets Jr.).
"All we had known before the atomic bomb was dropped was that there were civilian scientists at the base on Tinian Island and there were B-29s, including the Enola Gay, that had had their guns removed, and we all wondered why," he said. "But that was top secret and classified information, and we had no inkling that we were about to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima."
Adams participated in 20 bombing missions against Tokyo in April 1945 — a strategy the U.S. military hoped would force Japan to surrender and end World War II.
"The fire bombings set Tokyo aglow and damaged the Presidential Palace, but the Japanese refused to surrender," he said.
President Truman, who had taken office three months earlier following the death of President Franklin Roosevelt, gave the order to use the atomic bomb.
Churchill agrees with Truman
Truman said he hoped that by bombing Hiroshima, he could avoid an invasion of Japan, which he believed would have cost tens of thousands of American and Japanese lives.
Britain's Winston Churchill agreed with Truman's decision and the bombing was ordered.
After Hiroshima was bombed, Japanese Prime Minister Baron Kantaro Suzuki refused to surrender and vowed to fight on.
Three days later, on Aug. 9, Major Charles W. Sweeney piloted another B-29, Bock's Car, and dropped another atomic bomb on Nagasaki.
On Aug. 14, 1945, the Japanese accepted terms for unconditional surrender.
In October 1945, Adams was transferred from the Marianas to the Philippines. He was discharged from the Army Air Corps in 1947 as a lieutenant.
Adams was born and raised in Turlock. He graduated from Turlock High School in 1943. He said his father, the Rev. Isaac Adams, was, in 1911, the first Assyrian to live in the city.
Adams said after high school, he received his draft notice in the mail and decided to enlist in the Army Air Corps at Castle Air Force Base in Atwater.
"I was 18 years old when I joined the Army Air Corps and I was 22 when I was discharged," he said.
After the war, Adams returned to Turlock and would later work at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Space in Sunnyvale, where he was an engineer and supervisor in the sensors department.
After 30 years there, Adams retired in 1989, and since then has traveled worldwide.
Bee staff writer Daryl Farnsworth can be reached at 578-2337 or email@example.com.