These Manila Tags Document a B-29 Tail Gunner’s War—And Cont…

My father, Sherman Oxendine, was a B-29 tail gunner flying missions over Japan within the final months of the struggle. He stored a group of bomb-arming pins, all labeled with the goal, date, and bomb load—however there’s one I’m particularly inquisitive about. One in every of his tags signifies a provide drop for prisoners. Why would there have been a bomb pin for that form of drop?
—David Oxendine, Huntsville, Ala.

For sure, readying excessive explosives for flight was lethal severe enterprise. These easy cotter pins, hooked up to manila tags, match right into a gap in each bomb fuze, bodily blocking the firing plunger from inadvertently placing the detonator. Simply earlier than flight, floor crewmen rigged one other security system into the system—an arming wire—which disabled the spinning vanes of the fuze till the second the bomb was dropped. As soon as the arming wire was put in, the cotter pin might be safely faraway from the fuze. Because of this, discarded fuze tags generally littered the bomb bays of American plane.

A tag dangles from the fuze Non-public First Class Linvel J. Putty is inserting right into a bomb aboard a B-24 Liberator earlier than a mission; he’ll subsequent insert an arming wire and take away the pin hooked up to the tag. (PhotoQuest/Getty Pictures)

Fliers in each Europe and the Pacific picked up the wayward tags and scribbled the date and goal on them, making a memento from every of their bombing missions. These pocket-sized curios turned a form of fragmented diary of a crewman’s fight profession. The Nationwide WWII Museum and different establishments exhibit units of tags fairly much like those penned by your father.

As soon as the capturing struggle ended within the Pacific, B-29 bombers stored flying. However as an alternative of hauling bombs, the plane now lugged chow and provides to 158 prisoner of struggle camps in Japan and enemy-occupied territories. These airdrops delivered 4,470 tons of lifesaving materials urgently wanted by males who had undergone years of brutal captivity.

The plane of Operation Swift Mercy hefted wood bins strapped into bundles and rigged to descend to earth below cargo parachutes. No fuzes, detonators, or bombs have been concerned. So why the additional fuze pin in your father’s assortment? By this time—what could be his twelfth journey to Japan—your father was invested in custom. If he didn’t discover a strategy to commemorate this last operation, he’d all the time be one tag brief.

There was one more reason, too; your father’s humanitarian flight to the Tokyo space on August 30, 1945, was nonetheless, technically, a fight mission. Even with little probability of encountering enemy flak or fighters, each grueling and harmful Superfortress flight over 1000’s of miles of water flirted with calamity. Because of this, up till the second the give up paperwork have been signed a couple of days later, on September 2, each B-29 crewman who made the flight received credit score for a “fight mission”—even when they have been delivering garments, drugs, and meals as an alternative of TNT and napalm.

Your father almost definitely picked up a discarded tag from an earlier offensive operation and inscribed it with all of the pertinent information for his August 30 mission of mercy, thus telling the story of every considered one of his precarious assignments, together with the final.  —Cory Graff, Curator

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