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Remembering 75 years ago

Voltaire man on ship ‘in the vicinity’

Eloise Ogden/MDN Paul Tibbets, pilot of the Enola Gay, autographed this photo on display in the Dakota Territory Air Museum, Minot.

Don Wunderlich was a helmsman on a ship with Admiral William Halsey Jr.’s Third Fleet when the Enola Gay B-29 bomber dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, 75 years ago on Aug. 6, 1945.

Wunderlich, of Voltaire, said his ship, the USS Wadleigh, a destroyer, was “in the vicinity” of Japan when the bomb was dropped that day.

“When the announcement came over the PA system, I was standing by the steering wheel and heard the captain say, ‘We might hear some big noise now,’ “ meaning people would celebrate, Wunderlich said.

He said one would have thought there would have been a big celebration but not so.

“It was dead silence – nothing but quiet,” Wunderlich said.

Eloise Ogden/MDN This brass medallion indicates the Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri. It is displayed with other items at the Dakota Territory Air Museum, Minot.

During the final stages of World War II, the Enola Gay, piloted by Col. Paul Tibbets and Robert A. Lewis (co-pilot), became the first aircraft to drop an atomic bomb. The bomb was code named “Little Boy” and targeted the city of Hiroshima, causing near-destruction of the city, according to atomic bomb history.

After word was received of the bomb being dropped, Wunderlich said people began hoping they could get out of the military and those with longevity likely would get out first.

“I stayed in nine more months before I got out,” Wunderlich said.

On Aug. 14, 1945, Japan announced its surrender to Allies.

Later in the month Wunderlich’s ship escorted a hospital ship, the USS Benevolence, into Tokyo Bay to pick up sick and allied prisoners. He said they anchored the previous day in Sagami Bay, stayed overnight and escorted the ship from Sagami Bay to Tokyo Bay.

After that, he said they went back to the fleet (back to sea) on regular duties.

On Sept. 2, 1945, they left the fleet to go to Tokyo Bay for the surrender ceremony. His ship was several hundred yards away when the surrender was signed aboard the USS Missouri.

“Binoculars were in short supply,” Wunderlich said. He said some were able to watch the signing and others watched after the signing.

“It didn’t take long,” Wunderlich said.

His ship stayed overnight and then returned to the fleet for its regular duties.

Wunderlich, 94, is one of the three remaining members of the Minot World War II Last Man’s Club. The group normally held a picnic the last Sunday in August in conjunction with the Veterans of Foreign Wars picnic.

World War II exhibit

Dakota Territory Air Museum in Minot has a new World War II exhibit including memorabilia pertaining to the bombing of Pearl Harbor in Dec. 7, 1941 and the surrender ceremony on the USS Missouri on Sept. 2, 1945, the latter following the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, and a second bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, on Aug. 9, 1945.

World War II came to an end on Sept. 2, 1945 when, on the decks of the USS Missouri, a surrender ceremony “formally brought an end to the bloodiest conflict in human history,” was held, according to the USS Missouri website. The ceremony lasted only 23 minutes, beginning at 9:02 a.m., with a brief opening speech by Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

News of the bombing

Back in the U.S. on Dec. 6, 1945, many people learned the U.S. had dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, by reading their newspaper or hearing a report on the radio.

The Minot Daily News reported the bombing in its Monday, Aug. 6, 1945, edition. The banner headline stated the atomic bomb had been dropped in Japan that day.

Arlene Berdahl of Minot was living in Michigan, North Dakota, when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.

“I remember that only too well,” she said.

She had just turned 19 a month earlier, was married and had a baby.

“I guess we heard about it on the radio,” she recalled. “I know everyone was pretty excited about it and talking about it.”

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