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I am a New York-based writer, travel lover, and author of The Drive North and Destination Paranormal. I have several other books in the works, including fiction.

Learning About History at Utah’s Historic Wendover Airfield

When I was at the bookstore last, I picked up a copy of The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes. It is apparently the authoritative book on the events and people surrounding the invention of the atomic bomb and its use. After a recent trip to Utah, of all places – standing where history was made at the Historic Wendover Airfield – I have become more interested in the history of the bomb and how it was developed.
The first atomic bomb, nicknamed Little Boy, was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945. Three days later, Fat Man was dropped on Nagasaki by a second B-29 bomber team. Decades later, there is still much controversy surrounding the bombings and whether or not it was the right decision to use the atomic bomb as a weapon of war. There is an immense amount of history surrounding it. This is the reason why I picked up the book. I wanted to try to better wrap my head arround the history and reasons for the bomb’s use. This was all inspired by a visit to Utah’s Historic Wendover Airfield.
I stood in an old hangar at the Historic Wendover Airfield on an Utah Office of Tourism-sponsored trip. It looked like a relic long since forgotten and better off scrapped and cleared off the airfield for safety. I couldn’t imagine the building ever being used again – I stayed close to the entrance, fearing collapse – it’s time obviously over.
“We’re standing on an important part of where the Manhattan Project took place,” explained James Petersen, the president of the Historic Wendover Airfield. The hangar was once and briefly the home of the B-29 Superfortress bomber the Enola Gay. It was named for the mother of pilot Colonel Paul Tibbets, the man who flew it and lead the mission to drop Little Boy on Hiroshima.
It never occurred to me that atomic bomb history had taken place anywhere else but Los Alamos, New Mexico. It was in that area that the first atomic test blast occurred and it surely must have been in that same area where everything else happened. But that isn’t even close to true; there were several locations around the United States and Canada where research, preparations, and organization were all done for the dropping of the atomic bombs before the planes and the bombs were taken west from the United States to ultimately be used on Japan.
The Enola Gay hangar, now undergoing preservation renovations, isn’t the only historically important aspect of the airport. As a matter of fact, the whole of the Historic Wendover Airfield is important to World War II history in relation to the dropping of the atomic bombs. It was at the airfield where B-29 bomber teams were trained to drop the bombs.
The U.S. Army initially purchased the land for additional bombing ranges in 1940. Western Utah, far into the desert and away from any major metropolitan area by at least 100 miles, was an isolated area with consistently good weather that would be perfect for target practice. A few years later, Colonel Paul Tibbets would change the airfield’s history by choosing it over locations in Kansas and Idaho for the 509th Composite Group’s training location.Today the Historic Wendover Airfield is a shell of what it once was in the 1940s. Then it was home to nearly 700 buildings, which included such things as a hospital, housing units, a movie theater, and much more for a city that blossomed to a home for thousands from what was once only a town of about 100 individuals.

Attention is once again being paid to Wendover’s airfield, but the renovations are slow because of the lack of funds. Our group learned this from Petersen as we stood inside the entrance to the Enola Gay hangar. Money is not only needed to renovate the hangar, though, but also for museum expansion and the pit where the “pumpkin bombs” were attached for training.
We stood at the edge of the hole, looking down into it, learning from Petersen that it was there where the large, round and sometimes painted orange test bombs were attached to the B-29s before their test runs. They would get the bombs, drop them on precise targets in order to test the circuit and radar systems, and then bank hard to avoid the subsequent blast which would come from an atomic bomb explosion.
Before my visit to the Historic Wendover Airfield, I had naively assumed that all history surrounding the atomic program occurred in New Mexico. But after learning about the historic importance of the Wendover Airfield – as well as so many other locations around the United States and Canada – I believe the overall renovation plan for the Historic Wendover Airfield is worthy of attention. Walking through the museum, stepping out onto the tarmac where history was made, and hearing the stories from President James Petersen made me believe this; it is an important and tangible piece of our history, both good and bad, for not just the United States but also the world.

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