Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

July 7, 2013

Moment in history: Enola Gay a powerful reminder of war-torn era

SAMANTHA PERRY
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— On display near the center of the National Air and Space Museum annex, the silver plane seems modest in comparison to some of the other technological wonders on display. It’s not as large as the Space Shuttle Enterprise, as sleek as the Air France Concorde or as designer-friendly and cool as the SR-71A Blackbird.

But the silver plane commands respect, nonetheless.

At the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center, near Dulles International Airport in Fairfax, Va., the history of flight is on display. Not just with pictures and artifacts, but real planes. The center is actually an airplane hanger — three football fields long — and the planes are carefully placed in exhibits across the large display area.

The center opened in December 2003 as a sister center to the National Air and Space Museum.

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When I walked into the center in 2004, the Blackbird immediately caught my attention. It was so sleek and modern, it compelled a second look. At a distance, the Space Shuttle Enterprise was visible. “Wow.” Who could not be impressed by the space shuttle? Looking to the left, I saw the unmistakable long, slim shape of the Concorde and, again, muttered something like “Amazing.”

I was at the center with a group of editors for a class/lecture/discussion on how the aviation industry evolved to meet its changing needs. We were at the center early, hours before it opened to the public, and were wide-eyed as we walked through the display of planes to reach our class area.

We were trying to hurry, fully aware we would have some time after class to look at the planes, but, one by one, we all seemed to pause at the silver B-29 Superfortress bomber.

The black block letters on her side quietly proclaimed her place in history.

Enola Gay.

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Although I’m not old enough to remember World War II, I am well aware of the role the Enola Gay played in bringing an end to the war.

On Aug. 6, 1945, the Enola Gay dropped the first atomic weapon used in conflict on Hiroshima, Japan. When I stopped and stared at the Enola Gay, I could not help but think of the war-torn era. Of the thousands of American lives lost in this war, and the thousands lost on the other side.

War is hell. We should remember that more often.

When my eyes caught sight of the Enola Gay, my first thought was of the pilot, and the other men in the plane that fateful day. Young men who were following orders that would change the course of history.

I thought of the many young Americans who lost their lives at Pearl Harbor and Normandy and in countless other battles in this war.

I thought of my great-uncle, Ken, a tail-gunner, who our family lost when his plane was shot down somewhere over Europe.

I also thought of the people who died that day in Hiroshima, and the tragedy that it took so many deaths to finally bring the war to an end.

War is hell. We must remember that.

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The Enola Gay is unobtrusive, yet awe-inspiring. One can’t look at her without realizing the huge role she played in ending a global conflict.

Yes, the Enola Gay took many lives. But her role in bringing the war to an end also saved many more.

In the shadow of our country’s Independence Day celebration, it’s important to remember the part the Enola Gay played in our history.

Friend or foe? It depends on which side of the line one was on.

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The Enola Gay exhibit has been controversial in the past, with some Hiroshima survivors calling for it to mention the large numbers of deaths caused by the plane’s use. According to previous Associated Press reports, the Smithsonian has refused on the basis that information accompanying other planes primarily concentrate on technical details rather than their specific uses.

It is a shame this plane has been in the midst of protests. It, and its pilots, flew what one would assume was one of the most difficult missions ever — mentally and emotionally. They deserve some peace.

It’s true that we should be aware of the number of deaths caused by the Enola Gay. And we are.

That is why we get chill bumps when we see the black block letters on her side.

Why we pause when taking a breath when we stare inside the cockpit. Why we are quiet, so very quiet, when we stand beside the Enola Gay, perusing the plane and her moment in history.

We know what she did, why she did it, and the full consequences of the action.

War is hell. And at times like this, we do remember it.

Samantha Perry is editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at sperry@bdtonline.com. Follow her @BDTPerry.