Robert A. Lewis

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Robert A. Lewis (October 18, 1917 - June 18, 1983) was a United States Army Air Forces Officer serving in the Pacific Theatre during World War II. He was the co-pilot of the Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress bomber which dropped the atomic bomb Little Boy on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on 6 August 1945.

Early life[edit]

Lewis grew up in Ridgefield Park, New Jersey, and attended Ridgefield Park High School there, graduating in 1937.[1]

On August 6, 1945 Captain Lewis was the co-pilot of the Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress bomber which dropped the atomic bomb Little Boy on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Normally the aircraft commander assigned to the Enola Gay, for this important mission he acted as co-pilot, assisting Enola Gay's new aircraft commander Colonel Paul Tibbets. This was actually August 5 in the US, due to the International Date Line.

Captain Lewis as Co-Pilot, and his crew, minus their original co-pilot Dick Nelson, was Tibbet's crew for the mission, and it included 2 specialists for the arming of Little Boy, the uranium 235 fission bomb.

The entire story was written and copyrighted by Major Lewis just before his death in 1983. His sons and daughter are in the process of publishing the manuscript before the 75th anniversary of the bombing in 2020.

Guest appearance[edit]

On May 11, 1955, Kiyoshi Tanimoto, a Japanese minister who had been living in Hiroshima at the time of the bombing and survived the explosion of 6 August 1945, had traveled to the US with the Hiroshima maidens to get reconstructive surgery for them, and while there was the subject of an episode of the American show This Is Your Life. After meeting various friends, family members and former colleagues and parishioners, Reverend Tanimoto's special guest at the end of the night was Captain Lewis, by then retired, representing the crew of the aircraft that had so dramatically changed his life.[2]

By that time, Robert Lewis was working as a personnel manager for Henry Heide Candy Company, a confectionery company. Lewis described the Enola Gay's flight and the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima. When asked if he remembered his reaction on that fateful day, he remarked: [In the official log] I wrote down the words, "My God, what have we done?" This was not widely known to be a reference to his belief that this mission was enough to end the war in the Pacific. It took another bomb, on Nagasaki 3 days later to actually produce a Japanese surrender proposal.

Several years later, he starred in the show, This is Your Life, where he met and befriended Fr. Francis Schiffer, and the Hiroshima Maidens, but the appearance was not without controversy. Some of the statements by the host tried to portray Mr. Lewis as a troubled man, but it was never the case. He raised 5 children and had a lifelong commitment to a strong U.S. military. Mr. Lewis never regretted his role, nor did he make statements to the contrary at any time in the many interviews by NBC, CBS and was even the sole technical expert hired by NBC to complete the team creating the script for the drama, Enola Gay - The Mission starring Gregory Harrison as Captain Robert A. Lewis.

The writing team of the book selected Mr. Lewis based on two things. He had just started to write a historical account of the mission, and he completed a 3-hour interview with NBC News in NYC in prior years that he reviewed with the writing team. Several weeks later, the writing team came to Sparta, NJ and spent weeks working on the script and a complete mission review, based on all the items that Major Lewis had accumulated over the years of his USAAF experiences.

His copyrighted book, Silver Plate, is in the process of publication by his remaining children in 2016, aiming for the time of the 75th anniversary of Hiroshima.

Later life[edit]

In the 1950s, Lewis lived with his family in a home that he had built in Old Tappan, New Jersey.[3]

He was a chemist with a BS from NYU, and later became General Manager of Henry Heide Candy Company in Manhattan and later in New Brunswick, N.J. During World War II, he had to wait after enlisting to be processed into the USAAF Officer Candidate School (OCS). Captain Lewis went on to be a multi-engine test pilot in B-24, B-26, B-17 and B-29 bombers, which led to him as Co-Pilot and his crew being selected for the Hiroshima Bombing mission on August 6, 1945.

He was field promoted to Captain by General Curtis LeMay after demonstrating the B-29 and training the General on how to fly it. General LeMay addressed Lieutenant Lewis as Captain Lewis on the field at the conclusion of several days of training and testing. Lewis tried to correct General LeMay as to his rank, but the General insisted on Captain, with the field commission arriving several weeks later by USAAF mail to him based in the Midwestern US at the time.

Captain Lewis was always a "crew-first" pilot who survived 2 crashes due to electrical failure and engine failure. Only one crew member broke an ankle on the engine failure landing due to leaping from the burning aircraft too soon. Articles in the NYC area attested to his cool head under stressful conditions, ultimately leading to his selection as Captain of the best B-29 crew in the USAAF. Lewis led hundreds of bombing runs from Utah to Salton Sea, California leading up to his selection with his crew by Lt. Colonel Paul Tibbets. In early June, Lewis and his Co-Pilot Dick Nelson flew the entire crew and support crew from Utah to Tinian in the B-29 specially modified to carry Little Boy to Japan from the huge Tinian base that General LeMay controlled from Guam.

His log, the only minute by minute recording on paper by anyone on the crew that day, is part of his copyrighted historical manuscript being readied for publishing 35 years after he completed it.

After the war, Major Lewis became a pilot for American Overseas Airlines, later called American Airlines, specializing in the NY to London routes. He later left to rejoin the Henry Heide Candy Company and rose in later years to General Manager with several patent grants for candy manufacturing pump bars that eliminated waste by significant percentages. He was also the creator of nearly 10 new candies, both utilizing sugar and dietetic formulations that he created from his decades of chemistry knowledge.

In the 1970s Mr. Lewis lived in a small cottage on West Shore Trail in the quiet Lake Mohawk community of Sparta, NJ. He was adored by neighbors and could be counted on for a salutation and a friendly smile on daily walks around the lake.

Lewis had lived in Smithfield, Virginia, for two years before his death of a heart attack at home. He was later declared dead at a hospital in Newport News, Virginia.[4]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Fosdick, George. History of Ridgefield Park High School, Ridgefield Park Jr. / Sr. High School Alumni Association. Accessed February 12, 2008. "Bud Lewis '37 was the co-pilot of the Enola Gay Aircraft which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, leading to the end of World War II, a war in which over 1,000 RPHS graduates served. Many years later, when questioned about his role in World War II, Lewis commented, 'I would rather be remembered for being a member of RPHS Championship Football Team than for being the co-pilot of that plane.'"
  2. ^ Rakoff, David. "THEATER; Hiroshima Bomber and Victims: This Is Your (Puppet's) Life", The New York Times, January 11, 2004. Accessed February 12, 2008.
  3. ^ Lewis, Robert A. "How We Dropped the A-Bomb", Popular Science, August 1957. Accessed May 26, 2015. "A more or less typical suburbanite, Bud Lewis lives with his family (above) in a new home he helped to build in Old Tappan, N.J."
  4. ^ "ROBERT A. LEWIS, 65, CO-PILOT ON MISSION OVER HIROSHIMA", The New York Times, June 20, 1983. Accessed February 12, 2008.

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