Bill Leslie's Carolina Conversations

NC & the Bomb

Posted August 6, 2009

It happened 64 years ago today. A farm boy from Davie County did something that would change the course of history. Thomas Ferebee dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. Thomas was 26 years old at the time. He was the bombardier aboard the Enola Gay. The B-29 plane carried an atomic bomb nicknamed “Little Boy.” Major Ferebee shouted “bomb away” as the “Little Boy” tumbled out of the plane. At least 80,000 Japanese were killed instantly. Thousands more would die later from radiation exposure. It was the beginning of the atomic age.

Ferebee went on to serve a lengthy military career extending into Vietnam. Before retiring from the military to sell real estate in Florida he accumulated many prestigious awards including The Silver Star. Ferebee died nine years ago. Until death he maintained a clear conscience. He claimed his act on August 6, 1945 saved many lives by ending a horrible world war.

What are your thoughts today on Mocksville’s Thomas Ferebee? Did he do the right thing? Did he help make the world a saver place? Or did he help usher in a deadly arms race that would consume the powerful nations on the globe and put the planet in peril of destruction?

Please share your thoughts.

If you’d like to learn more about Thomas Ferebee check out the NC Museum of History in Raleigh. A large collection of items from Ferebee’s military career can be found at the museum.


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  • Iconoclast Aug 6, 2009

    I also lived in Davie County for a time and went to high school with Ferebee's nieces; also, my mother was a school teacher in the same school as their mother (Ferebee's sister-in-law). Ferebee was an American hero. He accepted a difficult assignment as just another part of his duty. (Enola Gay's crew trained in secret for months to be perfect for the mission.) In his later life, he was very modest about it and rarely even spoke of it. I can say without a doubt that his family and hometown are extremely proud of him.

  • luvbailey Aug 6, 2009

    No matter what the cause, what the outcome, war is hell, but necessary sometimes. Any individual may be called upon to fill some truly significant role. Bombadier on the Enola Gay a hero? Yes, but no more so than the pilots, navigator, etc. And after all, they were following orders, fullfilling the mission.

    My dad was a "mess" sargent in Europe in WWII. A hero? Nope. A truly significant role? Well, just ask the men he fed!!

    Although I am truly saddened by any war, I am also truly greatful for those brave men and women, past and present, who have served in war to protect our great country and our lives and freedom.

  • thefensk Aug 6, 2009

    The firebombings were not just of Japanese cities. The Dresden bombings were on a par with the atomic bombings. As Garnerwolf1 points out, many hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed in the many firebombings of German and Japanese cities. So this one plane, this one bomb, this one bombadier, it was just people doing their jobs, just like the thousands of other planes/bombs/bombadiers. Our combat losses of bomber crews was HUGE.

    Germany and Japan brought this upon themselves. The atrocities they committed were far worse.
    Another history lesson not told ... plans to develop multi-stage rockets capable of hitting the US; also submarine-launched missles were on the drawing boards with the same intent. Hitler even shipped a number of V2s to the Japanese but no one knows whatever happened to them.
    Of course, without the V2? No moon landing. The Saturn V was basically just a really really big V2.

  • rlink Aug 6, 2009

    Related to this story is a great interview of the pilot of this B-29 by Studs Terkel. A little long but facinating.

  • khoggard Aug 6, 2009

    I think that he did the right thing. He did usher in a new age but it would have happened sooner or later anyway, so why not let it be done by the US. I agree with r u crazy too that the Japanese or the Germans would not have hesitated to drop it on us.

  • r u crazy too Aug 6, 2009

    He was an American hero. He did what was necessary to end the war. Does anyone even think that Japan, or Germany would have hesitated for a second about using the bomb on us if they had a chance? or todays terrorists?

  • abbync2001 Aug 6, 2009

    I grew up in Mocksville and always heard of our hometown hero. It is fortunate that he had a clear conscience, as his action certainly saved many American lives that would have been lost by a continuing war.

    When Ferebee died, I remember my grandfather lamenting on the fact that the Winston-Salem news station didn't open the six-o'clock with a story of his funeral. I honestly don't recall much being mentioned at the time.

  • efsmiths Aug 6, 2009

    Having grown up in Mocksville, it is always a thrill to see a mention of Tom Ferebee. I actually had a relative of his as a grade school teacher. That community gave him the support of his war service and his conviction that he did the right thing.

  • Garnerwolf1 Aug 6, 2009

    What's interesting is how we teach history. Most everyone knows the story of 'the bomb'. What is not taught however is the fire bombing campaign against Japanese cities, by the US, prior to the A-bomb. These fire bombs killed hundreds of thousands more than did the two A-bombs.

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