Remembering A Texan's Role In Ending World War II | KERA News

Remembering A Texan's Role In Ending World War II

Aug 17, 2015

This month marks the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Japan. Two atomic bombs named ‘Little Boy’ and ‘Fat Man’ were dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 in an effort to end World War II. A Texan, Major James Hopkins, piloted one of the planes on the Nagasaki mission. 

His son, SMU Professor Emeritus Jim Hopkins, joined KERA's Justin Martin to talk about his father.

  Interview Highlights: Jim Hopkins

... on Major James Hopkins' role in WW II: "He was ... in an elite, unique unit that was created to drop the two atomic bombs, which resulted in the great destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The unit was composed of 200 officers, 1,200 enlisted people, and my father was group operations officer of this unit. He had already served a year in North Africa with 43 bombing missions, so now he was integrated into this new unit that trained for almost a year for this very specialized mission. If, in fact, the bomb was going to materialize, and it was up to the scientists and the engineers at Los Alamos, they were creating and designing the atomic bomb. "

... on Hopkins' plane, called 'Big Stink': "It was a combination of an observation plane and also a photography plane. There were a lot of mishaps -- the raid on Nagasaki, as somebody said, was a fiasco. Whereas the first mission, the mission on Hiroshima, was, as they say, a textbook mission; nothing went wrong. On the second mission, Nagasaki, the plane carrying the atomic bomb was unable to get access to fuel that had been prepared for the journey, and when the mission was finally completed they landed on the island of Okinawa with literally no gas left in their tanks. The props of the plane just spun until they were still. So it was very perilous -- there was flak, there were Japanese aircraft -- there was a rendezvous that was not successful between the pilot of the plane with the atomic bomb and my father. My father, in fact, caught up with the other two planes and photographed were taken from his plane and then providing observation as well."

... on how his father's role affected him: "Some years ago, an associate curator of the Hoover Institute found a piece of paper that obviously had been torn from a bulletin board. And he said this document, which he reproduced online, is in many ways the most interesting documents in the entire Hoover collection -- and he said it's the strike for the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima signed by an obscure army major, James Hopkins, and it's for me. That obscure army major who signed this document for the raid on Hiroshima was not obscure to me, to his family, to the small cluster of friends and relatives in Palestine. So his story was duplicated a million times across the country and you know most of this story, most of the young men and women who fought that war were quote obscure if you're looking top down. So that really inspired me to take a look at my father's experience and that of the 509 composite bomb group."

Professor Emeritus James Hopkins developed an SMU course on the Manhattan Project. He recently spoke on the atomic bomb at the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas.