Mitchell Bierman talks about his father, Melvin Bierman, who was considered one of 27 folks america despatched into the air through the bombing of Hiroshima. Monday August three, 2020


The plan was set, and now there was no turning again. The countdown had begun for Capt. Robert A. Lewis, Sgt. Melvin H. Bierman and the 67 different Individuals who would quickly be taking off on a mission to Hiroshima that just a few of them absolutely understood. 

Years of top-secret planning, laboratory heroics and daredevil check flights over desert in unproven B-29 bomber planes had come right down to this within the early-morning hours of Aug. 6, 1945: a six-hour, 1,500-mile flight from Tinian, a pleasant island within the principally hostile Pacific, to Hiroshima, the place we might drop “the massive one” on Japan. 

Quickly, it could be no secret what america had been as much as because the bombing of Pearl Harbor. So within the remaining hours earlier than take-off, Military brass informed the lads to jot down their remaining letters residence and provides them to the chaplain — simply in case they did not come again. 


Bierman, the Jewish son of a clothes retailer from Passaic, knew one thing was up, though he could not —or would not — say what. He was younger: simply 5 years earlier than, he’d graduated from Passaic Excessive Faculty, a member of the Historical past and Drama golf equipment.


“Tonight, I’m going on a mission that can go down in historical past,” he wrote to his dad and mom. “It’s a dream mission, the mission that any American man can be proud to be of. It could be the best single issue to make the Japs give up unconditionally.” 

‘No person wins at struggle’

Bierman, 23, was a tail gunner aboard the Crucial Evil, considered one of two help planes that accompanied the Enola Homosexual, the airplane that dropped the bomb that morning. Within the cockpit of the Enola Homosexual and serving as co-pilot was Lewis, solely 26, a Ridgefield Park native who just a few years earlier than had led his highschool soccer workforce to the state championship.  

Because the mushroom cloud rose over Hiroshima, Lewis scribbled into his flight log the phrases that also hang-out 75 years later: 


“My God, what have we performed?” 

Like the opposite 67 Individuals who participated within the Hiroshima mission, Lewis and Bierman are lengthy gone. On the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and, three days later, Nagasaki, nobody who was aboard planes is alive — though their story is preserved via oral histories maintained by the Atomic Heritage Basis and the Nationwide Museum of Nuclear Science & Historical past, and within the piles of letters, newspaper clips and heirlooms stored primarily by the youngsters of the Atomic Age. 


Bierman, who served as a tail-gunner aboard on each the Hiroshima and Nagasaki missions, was one of many crew members charged with taking photos after the explosions. He produced a few of the first photos of the mushroom cloud, photos that Bierman’s son, Mitchell, has hanging in his residence in Randolph, with a handwritten word from his father. 


“Image I took as we had been getting out of the best way when the ‘mushroom’ got here up larger than was anticipated,” Bierman wrote. “We simply bought out of the best way in time — in any other case we might have been roasted.” 

The struggle successfully ended 5 days after the bombing of Nagasaki, when Japan surrendered. Mel Bierman got here residence to Passaic to the household enterprise, promoting garments — and have become fairly profitable, opening Stage III outlets in Passaic and Higher Montclair, and later shopping for Ginsburg’s, a high-end girls’ retailer downtown on Major Avenue. 

Mitchell was born in 1962, 17 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He was the youngest of three youngsters born to Mel and Carol Bierman — Anne being the oldest, adopted by Louis. His dad and mom had been companions within the clothes enterprise, and the household lived a cushty center class life on Idaho Road in Passaic. 


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“My father labored within the entrance of the shop, doing all of the schmoozing and hiring,” Mitchell stated. “My mom labored within the again, doing the books.” 

Mel, who died in 2013 at age 91, put collectively a 90-page memoir that Mitchell now has. The son additionally retains his father’s uniform and the Air Medal he obtained for the A-bomb missions in a glass case. 


Like many veterans, Bierman did not speak a lot concerning the struggle, however was pleased with his position in it. As soon as the nuclear genie was out of the bottle, the world by no means be the identical, and the arms race was on. Of their writings, Bierman and Lewis remained satisfied that two atomic bombs that originally killed greater than 200,000 folks in the end saved extra lives by forcing Japan to give up. 

Mitchell stated his father regretted the large lack of life, “however felt that in that point, and in that place, it was the appropriate factor to do. Not that he was basking within the glory of getting been a part of that. However he felt that if the enemy bought the bomb, they had been going to make use of it. These casualties might have been our casualties. No person wins at struggle.” 

Return to North Jersey

Whereas Bierman bought clothes, Lewis returned residence from the struggle to promote sweet. He labored on the Henry Heide Sweet Firm in New York and for Estee Sweet Firm in Parsippany, making candy confections in between attending the occasional reunion with the Hiroshima crew.


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Lewis by no means publicly regretted the bombing, however it seems that he did get uninterested in having to defend it. He expressed his frustration in a 1975 interview with The File, 30 years after Hiroshima. 


“The bombing of Hiroshima is one thing that’s over with. What good is it going to do us to speak about it?” he stated. Lewis added that the following nuclear arms race had successfully led to a stalemate. 

“At the moment I’m happy the bomb hasn’t been used once more. I hope it has turn into a deterrent pressure, and possibly we gained’t have so many wars,” he stated.

Within the years after Hiroshima, Lewis had a falling out with Col. Paul W. Tibbets, whom the Military chosen over him to pilot the airplane that dropped the bomb. Lewis was thought-about the most effective and most daring pilots within the Air Forces, a person who twice had crash-landed however saved his crew each occasions. 


Lewis had as soon as flown with Charles Lindbergh on a newly minted B-29 Superfortress and obtained the famed aviator’s approval. Lewis had flown tons of of missions however had no fight expertise, and the Military put Tibbets in charge of the Hiroshima mission. 

So as to add insult to damage, Tibbets took command of the B-29 that Lewis was flying, and even changed some members of the crew. Then Tibbets named the airplane the Enola Homosexual, after his mom. 

Fox Information host Chris Wallace studies in his new guide, “Countdown 1945,” that Lewis grew to become “furious” when he noticed “Enola Homosexual” painted on the nostril cone a day earlier than the mission. 

“This was it, the ultimate indignity, Lewis raged,” Wallace writes. “First Tibbets bumps a few of Lewis’s regulars from the crew. Then Tibbets decides he’ll lead the mission. Now this?” 


‘A mission that can go down in historical past’

The Enola Homosexual took off at 2:45 a.m. on Aug. 6, with Lewis assuming the position of co-pilot. A New York Occasions reporter, William Laurence, requested Lewis to maintain a log.  A duplicate of that handwritten log is stored on the Aviation Corridor of Fame & Museum of New Jersey at Teterboro Airport. 

Lewis describes the second the bomb dropped, when the airplane made a pointy flip and the crew braced for the flash and explosion. Two members of the crew forgot to placed on their darkish welder’s glasses, Lewis wrote. 

“Then in about 15 seconds after the flash, there have been two distinct slaps on the ship and that was all of the bodily results we felt. I turned the ship so we might observe outcomes and there in entrance our eyes was undoubtedly the best explosion man has ever witnessed.” 


Because the Enola Homosexual high-tailed again to Tinian, Lewis struggled for phrases to explain what he felt.


“I’m sure your complete crew felt this expertise was greater than anybody human had ever thought doable,” he wrote. “It simply appears unattainable to grasp. Simply what number of did we kill? I actually have have the sensation of groping for phrases to clarify this. I would say my God what have we performed.” 

Leaving their mark

Lewis returned residence after the struggle and at numerous occasions lived in Ridgefield Park, Maywood and Lake Mohawk in Sussex County, based on newspaper clippings. He additionally dabbled in sculpture, and later in life grew to become an advocate for a nuclear arms freeze, based on his obituary. He was dwelling in Virginia when he died in 1983 at age 65. 

The home through which he grew up, at 28 Hazelton St. in Ridgefield Park, nonetheless stands. Sarcastically, at the moment a historical past instructor lives proper subsequent door.

“Sure, I do know who used to dwell there,” Paul Bouchard stated when he answered the door at some point just lately. Bouchard, 51, teaches at Ridgefield Park Excessive Faculty and says he tells the Lewis story, however feels that the atomic bomb does not have as a lot resonance with youngsters as when he was a child. 


“I feel for this era, 9/11 is the defining occasion,” he stated. “And a lot of the youngsters going to highschool at the moment weren’t even born when 9/11 occurred.” 

Bouchard stated he grew up in Oradell and had a number of neighbors who served in World Struggle II. “The Chilly Struggle was a really actual factor to me,” he stated. “Do I feel Hiroshima and Nagasaki have relevance at the moment? Completely.” 

The destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was the end result of the Manhattan Venture, the race to separate the atom and construct the final word weapon. Though the Manhattan Venture was top-secret, constructing the bomb in the end required greater than 600,000 folks concerned in all types of duties. 


Considered one of them was Bierman, who dropped out of NYU to affix the Military when the struggle broke out. He was initially assigned to an Infantry unit at Fort Jackson in South Carolina, till he was mysteriously plucked from his unit and placed on a prepare sure for Miami. 


“To his dying day, he did not know why he was chosen,” his son Mitchell recollects. “The Military by no means informed him, and he did not ask. There is a phrase in Yiddish, ‘beshert,’ which suggests ‘future.’ My father believed that it was meant to be.”

In a memoir that Mitchell has compiled primarily based on tapes his father recorded earlier than his dying in 2013, Bierman tells how he was mendacity in a foxhole throughout coaching in South Carolina when a sergeant approached in the midst of the evening and stated, “Observe me.” 

“I did not say goodbye to my buddies or my group in any respect,” Bierman wrote. “I simply left. I used to be torn away.” He was placed on a prepare to Miami, the start of an odyssey that will take him to tail gunner’s college and in the end to Wendover Subject in Utah, the place the Military was assembling the B-29 crews for the atomic bomb drops. 


Like many veterans, Bierman did not boast about his service, though he was pleased with his contribution. And he risked his life, just like the others, and felt no have to apologize. 

His daughter, Anne Bierman Cion Grunberger, recollects bringing her father into her historical past class in junior highschool through the 1960s to inform the story.  

“There was not a second that he regretted it,” she stated. “As a result of he felt if we didn’t get them, they had been going to get us. He at all times stated it was the appropriate factor do. We at all times stated, ‘Dad, why did they select you?’ And he at all times stated, ‘I don’t know.’ ” 


Along with his work within the clothes enterprise, Bierman grew to become deputy mayor and president of the Chamber of Commerce. In a 1980 interview with the Herald Information, he acknowledged that Hiroshima and Nagasaki ought to by no means occur once more. 

“It’s a good argument in opposition to any extra struggle, and they need to present photos of what occurred [at Hiroshima and Nagasaki] typically,” he stated. 

Richard Cowen covers Superior Courtroom in Passaic County for For limitless entry to a very powerful information from prison trials to native lawsuits and insightful evaluation, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.


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