By Jaime Onofrey
Arhur and Annette Olson
Arthur Olson, my grandfather, grew up in Torrington, a small town in
Connecticut, where he met his wife, Annette, and raised his two
daughters, Joan and Joyce. After having completed eighth grade, Arthur
dropped out of school to be an apprentice for his grandfather at J.H
Rosenbeck, where he learned how to be a tool and dye maker. Later, he
worked for Pratt and Whitney making parts for engines until he enlisted
after the start of World War II. World War II brought with it a sense
of change and support, but for Arthur Olson, the war meant separation
and loss. Although he hated leaving his wife, Arthur dutifully
enlisted. He was shipped off to an island in the Pacific known as
Tinian Island, where he and other trained mechanics repaired B-29s that
were used during air raids.
|Capturing Tinian Island
Tinian Island was captured in 1944, and was used as an air base to
house the new B-29s. The United States began the invasion of Tinian on
July 24, 1944. U.S troops encountered 9,162 Japanese Army and Navy
determined to defend the island. Although the U.S troops were
significantly outnumbered, the U.S. military forces were able to
successfully launch a surprise attack against the Japanese forces. 328
Marines died and 1,571 were wounded. Because the Japanese soldiers who
had survived did not want to be caught by the American troops, they
committed suicide by jumping off the rocky cliffs surrounding the
island. Bt the time Arthur had completed his training at Fort Hood in
Kansas and was shipped off to Tinian Island, the island had become a
secured air base. The island was considered to be the largest airfield
in the world with six runways, each 8,500 meters long.
Map of Tinian Island
|Life of the Island
After Tinian had successfully and officially been secured in August of
1944, soldiers began to arrive on the island. Tinian soon became a sort
of home away from home as the soldiers began to set up hospitals,
cafeterias, warehouses, and chapels throughout the island and gave the
roads such names as 42nd street and Broadway. The beautiful beaches
around the island and the crystal clear water provided much
entertainment for the weary soldiers during their free time. Arthur
also remembers that many soldiers passed their free time by writing
letters to their friends and family members. Arthur recalls that he had
tried to give his wife clues as to where he had been stationed through
the letters that he wrote to her. He would ask her such questions as
“how is your sister Maria?” or “what is your cousin
Tina up to?” but unfortunately much of the letters that were sent
had to be censored so that locations would not be given away. Although
the scenery of the island was quite beautiful, Arthur recalls that life
on the island was rough at most times. Pacific storms would blow in
without warning and heavy downpours would last only a matter of minutes
before the skies would clear up and the soldiers could have time to
prepare for the next round of storms.
Arhur (left) and George
The strongest memory that Arthur has of the island is one that brings
back painful images and emotions. Arthur remembers walking through a
field of beautiful red tropical flowers, but this image of beauty was
soon lost to Arthur after he bent over to examine the flowers closer
only to uncover the decaying body of a fallen Japanese soldier. Arthur
admitted, “that image has haunted me in my dreams”.
Although this memory has proved to be painful, Arthur also recalls
happier memories from his stay on Tinian. Arthur’s youngest
brother, Roger, arrived on the island after being sent over on a supply
ship. Later, the middle brother, George arrived with his team, called
the Seabees, who were responsible for maintaining the airfields. This
“reunion” is said to have been a rare event, rare enough,
even, for their story to be published in newspapers.
Arthur's brother, Roger
"Little Boy" and "Fat Man"
As part of Arthur’s training, he was required to work with bomb
parts in order to get a sense for what he was to be working with on the
island. Even though he knew that he would be required to handle bombs,
Arthur was unaware that Tinian was being used as the base for the
famous atomic bomb “Little Boy”, which was dropped on
Hiroshima and “Fat Man”, which was dropped on Nagasaki.
Hiroshima was a prime target because of its large population. Hiroshima
was also chosen as a target because it served as a base for the
Japanese army and was an industrial center. Arthur remembers that the
soldiers stationed on Tinian were not told of the importance of the
mission, but that they all knew that “something big was about to
happen”. Arthur remembers that the men on island made up a verse
about the mysterious 509th:
Into the air, the secret rose,
Where they’re going nobody knows;
Tomorrow they’ll return again,
But we’ll never know where they’ve
Don’t ask about results or such
Unless you want to get in Dutch;
But take it from one who is sure of the
The 590th is winning the war.
On August 6, the Enola Gay, flown by General Paul Tibbets, departed
from Tinian, carrying the atomic bomb “Little Boy”.
Captain William S. Parson, the bomb commander, wrote, “The base
of the cloud looked like boiling dark colored dust and it covered the
city proper, right under our bomb was the southern headquarters of the
Jap army. Although the cloud was impenetrable, throughout the day, I
have no doubt that the Jap army headquarters in Hiroshima no longer
exists”. Arthur remembers that the men on Tinian were called
outside for the arrival of the Enola Gay. Arthur remembers standing
outside saluting the pilots of the bomber and thinking, “the war
is over, this is it”.
Ending World War II
Atomic Bomb "Fat Man"
|Because the Japanese did not surrender after the bombing of Hiroshima,
Nagasaki was bombed on August 9th an in effort to force a surrender,
but the expected surrender did not come. Hundreds of B-29s
departed from Tinian towards Japan. However, the Japanese emperor, who
was devastated by the effects of the atomic bombings, surrendered. On
September 1945, military leaders and representatives of the Allied
Powers assembled aboard the American battleship, Missouri, in order to
make peace agreements, finally ending the war.
For the next several months, the men stationed on Tinian remained on
the island to clean and pack up. After two years of service and 16
months in the Pacific, Arthur was discharged. He had been promoted to
sergeant and was awarded three campaign stars for his Asiatic-Pacific
ribbon, as well as the Philippines Liberation ribbon with two stars and
the American theater and Victory ribbons. Upon return home, Arthur went
back to work at his grandfather’s business, Rosenbeck, as a
tool and dye maker until he retired at the age of 62.
||Although my grandfather never experienced any real combat during his
service, he, and the other mechanics serving on Tinian, sacrificed much
to help America defeat the Japanese. Through his stories I have gained
a higher respect for the soldiers who were willing to risk their lives
in order to defend their country, and I have a gained a higher
understanding of my family’s history.
|All images taken from Arthur Olson's personal diary created during his service on Tinian
Enola Gay and the bombing of Hiroshima in World War II . Mid Coast Marketing. 24 Jan. 2008
<http://www.theenolagay.com/index.html>. Path: The Plane.
Gurney, Gene. B-29 Sotry: The Plane That Won the War. Greenwhich, CT: Fawcett Publications, 1963.
Olson, Arthur. Personal interview. 29 Dec. 2007.
Pike, John. "Tinian." GlobalSecurity.org. 26 May 2005. 8 Nov. 2007 <http://www.globalsecurity.org/
"Victory." Los Alamos National Laboratory. 2006. Los
Alamos National Security. 8 Nov. 2007
<http://www.lanl.gov>. Path: history; project y; building the atomic bomb; victory.