During his years in World War II, Bill Joseph was a gunner and radar operator on a B-29 bomber; he spent much of his time fighting Japan’s military forces.
From his position in the “left blister” of the plane, he said, he brought down enemy planes and saw bombers go down all around him. In one battle over Tokyo, he remembers, 30 American bombers went down.
He earned five air medals, each one representing five completed missions. Among his service medals is the Distinguished Flying Cross, which is awarded for heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight.
Joseph’s final mission, his 26th, was to find some Navy pilots who had disappeared near a bay in Japan. Days before he departed Iwo Jima, leaders on both sides of the conflict announced that the war was over. Despite that, Joseph said, enemy planes fired at him.
Some of the scariest times, he said, involved mechanical failures on the plane. On one occasion, a bomb got caught up and failed to exit the plane when the bomber doors opened. Joseph and another soldier ventured out onto a narrow catwalk, with no parachutes, to release it. On another occasion, a gasoline leak caused the pilot to abort a flight and head back to the base, frightened that the slightest spark could set the plane alight.
He also saw the B-29 that later, escorted by two other B-29s on Aug. 6, 1945, dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
He remembered planes that were kept separate, under guard. No one among the ranks guessed their purpose until after they delivered an atomic payload to Hiroshima.
“Then we knew,” he said.