It's been more than 70 years since the historic, top-secret mission, but 92-year-old Russell Gackenbach recalls the mission over Hiroshima like it was yesterday.
CLEARWATER, Fla. - It's been more than 70 years since the historic, top-secret mission, but 92-year-old Russell Gackenbach recalls the mission over Hiroshima like it was yesterday.
He worked as a navigator aboard the B-29 Superfortress, Necessary Evil.
"The only thing we were told at the time was do not go through the cloud," Gackenbach said, referring to the mushroom cloud.
Those were the orders -- even though most didn't understand the significance. The crew on the mission had no idea they were about to drop a nuclear bomb over Hiroshima, Japan.
"I did not see or hear the word 'atomic' until the next day," he said.
The men onboard Necessary Evil were following the first two attack planes and were in charge of observing and photographing the actual bombing.
"As soon as the flash was over, I could take my glasses off. I went to my little navigators window… because we were making a circle around it," he said.
Roughly one minute after detonation, Gackenbach snapped an iconic photo from 30-thousand feet.
As they started flying back to base, the cloud grew bigger and bigger and they still did not know what they were witnessing.
"We didn't realize at first that we started the atomic age," he said.
This veteran -- now living in Clearwater -- is one of the only remaining survivors from the historic mission.
Just days after the initial bombing, Japan surrendered, marking the end of WWII.
Although the attack killed thousands, it ultimately saved thousands, too.
"I have no regrets. My only hope is that nobody, no country, no group will ever drop a nuclear weapon again," Gackenbach said.
To this day, he has no idea why he was selected for the top secret mission.
But every year he still gets countless of his pictures in the mail, asking for an autograph.
He's a man who earned his popularity, by shaping history and fighting for his country.
"I was just doing my job," he said.