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I was acting officer in charge of LCT 991 at Tinian on 26 July 1945 when that LCT offloaded the atomic bomb from the heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA 35). The 991's skipper, Ens. Donald Powelson, was at Guam on TDY. We had a number of Army officers on board and a Navy commander, all from Stateside. A friend by the name of Ens. Podoll (spelling?), another LCT skipper, came as my guest.
We worked the Indianapolis twice, the first time to remove a huge crate and the second to remove a canister. Life jackets at the ends of long lines were tied to both cargoes. The Army officers guided the crate to our deck with ropes tied to its corners. I asked the senior officer, a major, why we couldn’t have simplified things by combining both loads. He told me that was what he wanted and dropped the subject. The officers wore pressed uniforms and polished shoes, a novelty at Tinian.
While being lifted onto a truck to haul to the B-29 airbase the crate slammed a number of times against the shoulder-high steel bulkhead near the starboard edge of our LCT, making an awful clattering noise and ripping loose some rungs. The major, already showing signs of tension, delivered an impressive vocal outburst at the crane operator.
The evening before the Indianapolis arrived LCT Group 39 CO Lt. Robert Taylor told me I would work the cruiser the next morning, that I would have to carefully censor letters by my crew, that my crew would have to look sharp, that I would have a number of Stateside officers on board. None of us on the LCT or at Group 39 headquarters had any idea what the cargo would be, and would not know until the bombing of Hiroshima.
Years later I learned through a historical account that the crate contained "the detonating mechanism and cannon" for the atomic bomb and that no one knew what it would take to set it off. The canister contained 200 pounds of uranium, so any detonation inside the crate would have been from conventional explosives. Still, bad enough for us. The crate was described as 15 feet long, the canister three feet by four feet high.
Within a few days we learned of the atomic bombing and then of the torpedoing of the Indianapolis. The enormity of those events locked in memory trivial images – of a boatswain sitting on one of the cruiser’s hatch covers practicing on his pipe tunes of utility bright with energy, of Tinian half a mile away rich in tropical green, of a brief moment alongside the cruiser that was so tranquil.
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