On Aug. 6, 1945, the American bomber Enola Gay flew over Hiroshima, Japan, and a young airman from North Carolina dropped the bomb that would change history.
Thomas Ferebee from Mocksville had a distinguished career in World War II and was picked for the elite crew that flew over Japan with the first atomic bomb. The war was coming to a close, and President Harry Truman decided to drop two bombs in an effort to avoid having to invade Japan.
Ferebee was a 26-year-old major when, at 8:15 a.m. in the morning of Aug. 6, he pushed a lever in the B-29 that released the 9,000-pound bomb.
“Bomb away,” he told the crew, and 43 seconds later, the bomb erupted over Hiroshima as the B-29 pulled away to avoid the blast.
The crew of the Enola Gay didn’t know they were dropping an atomic bomb until the pilot, Col. Paul Tibbets, told them hours before they dropped it.
Ferebee remained in t he Air Force after the war and flew bombing missions in Vietnam. He retired from the Air Force in 1970 and never regretted dropping the bomb on Hiroshima.
He told Newsweek magazine in 1970, ”I’m convinced that the bombing saved many lives by ending the war.”
Ferebee, the third of 11 children, was a standout athlete in high school and entered the Air Force. He flew missions over Romania and North Africa and his keen eye in the Norden bombsight led to his selection for the atomic mission.
He died at the age of 81 in Florida and is buried at the Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church in Mocksville. His family gave his papers to the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh.