An American face to the tragedy of Hiroshima

63 years ago, New Castle man was among 10 POWs who died in bombing


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Sixty-three years ago this month, on Aug. 6, 1945, the atom bomb obliterated Hiroshima.

Everyone knows what followed: Nagasaki (Aug. 9), VJ Day (Aug. 14) and the formal end of the most brutal war in history (Sept. 2 in Tokyo Bay).

But one piece of the story remains obscure, and a man from Lawrence County is at its center.

Among the estimated 140,000 victims at Hiroshima was a group of at least 10 American prisoners of war.

One of them was Cpl. John Long Jr., a steelworker from New Castle.

A gunner on a B-24, he was captured after his plane was shot down over Kure and held prisoner in the heart of Hiroshima. He was 27 when the Enola Gay dropped the bomb.

In a ceremony four years ago, his photo was added to the Hiroshima memorial for victims. In a sea of 9,000 photos of Asian faces, his is the only American.

For his family, it's a significant inclusion, showing the indiscriminate destruction of such an awesome weapon.

"I think most Americans would look at all those Japanese faces and say, 'That's too bad. A lot of Japanese people died.' But you get one American face and they might feel a little more of a connection," Nathan Long, Cpl. Long's great-nephew and a teacher in Tokyo, said in 2004 when he presented the photo.

He couldn't be reached last week, nor could Cpl. Long's reclusive 90-year-old widow, Luella Long, who still lives in the same tidy home in South New Castle that she once shared with him after they married in 1942.

Through the years, she has refused to be interviewed, once even rebuffing a reporter sent from Japan to tell her story.

She won't even talk to Cpl. Long's pilot in 1945, Thomas Cartwright, 84, who wrote a book about his experiences, "A Date with the Lonesome Lady: A Hiroshima POW Returns."

"I have attempted to contact her several times without success," he said from his home in Moab, Utah.

Mrs. Long spent 65 years working at G.C. Murphy, and never remarried.

"I only remember her going on two dates," said her brother, Louis A. Phelps, 81, who lives in Centre County. "I guess she felt that you married for life and that was it."

Information about her husband is scarce. He grew up in the New Castle area, graduated from school there and went to work in a steel mill in nearby Ellwood City. A National Guard member, he shipped off for war in 1942 with other local men, although he was older than most.

Louis Phelps, who drove Cpl. Long's 1937 Plymouth around town after he'd left for the war, recalls him as a well-liked fellow.

"He was sort of a hero of mine," said Mr. Phelps.

After training in California in 1944, Cpl. Long flew on Mr. Cartwright's B-24 Liberator, "Lonesome Lady," as a waist gunner. They flew scouting missions out of Okinawa and on their first bombing mission attacked the Japanese military base at Shanghai, China.

"It was risky, all right," said Mr. Cartwright. "Quite a few planes got shot down on that mission over Shanghai. When we flew out, we knew that there were planes that wouldn't come back."

Cpl. Long was the oldest member of the 10-man crew, a serious but affable flier who brought along his own tools.

"He was a big coffee drinker," laughed Mr. Cartwright, who was 20 at the time. "He seemed to always have a cup of coffee in his hand."

Mr. Cartwright described Cpl. Long as particularly vigilant, scanning the skies from his post in the center of the ship and reporting anything out of the ordinary to the skipper.

On its second bombing run, July 28, 1945, the Lonesome Lady attacked the battleship Haruna in Kure harbor. Veteran bomber pilots said the ship and shore batteries put up the heaviest anti-aircraft fire they'd ever seen.

The bombers managed to sink the Haruna, although it turned out that the ship had off-loaded its fuel earlier and wasn't going anywhere.

"So we were bombing a useless battleship," said Mr. Cartwright.

After the Lonesome Lady dropped her bombs, flak ripped into her and crippled one of her engines. Lt. Cartwright started to lose control and ordered everyone to bail out.

One man died when his chute didn't open, but everyone else survived.

The airmen were quickly rounded up on the ground by the Japanese, although two of them shot an irate Japanese captor as he approached with a rifle. Mr. Cartwright said he later learned from the man's daughter why he was so angry -- his son had been a kamikaze pilot.

The airmen were taken to Hiroshima, although they didn't know where they were then.

"We were all scared as hell," Mr. Cartwright said. "A lot of POWs were beheaded."

As the pilot, Mr. Cartwright was separated from the others and sent to Tokyo for interrogation. Another crew member ended up in Kure and survived.

The other six, including Cpl. Long, remained captive in a military police building in Hiroshima and died there when the atomic bomb fell.

No one realized it at the time, though.

"It wasn't until I got back to the States that I put two and two together and realized that I had been in Hiroshima," said Mr. Cartwright. "I thought that when I was first taken out [to Tokyo] that I would be the unlucky one."

The story of the POWs remained largely unknown until the 1970s, when researchers began to dig through archives. In 1977, a Japanese professor found a roster of 20 American POWs listed as killed in the atomic attack, although further research revealed that some of those were actually killed elsewhere in medical experiments.

The true Hiroshima prisoners were the crews of the Lonesome Lady, another B-24 and a Navy dive bomber all shot down on July 28 over Kure.

Near the site of the headquarters, now an office building, is a plaque for the American airmen who died there. Mr. Cartwright wrote the words:

"The atomic bomb devastated the city and its people with a force beyond any known before. US Air Force and US Navy airmen interned as POWs at the Chigoku Military Police Headquarters, which was located at this site, near the epicenter, were among the victims. This plaque is placed in the memory of these brave and honorable men. May this humble memorial be a perpetual reminder of the savagery of war."


Torsten Ove can be reached at tove@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1510.


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