Rowley reflects on Atomic Bomb blast

The mushroom cloud was at 40,000 feet when Fallbrook’s Vern Rowley was able to look back and see the historical, ominous cloud formed by the atomic bomb blast on Hiroshima, Japan, Aug. 6, 1945.

“The top of the mushroom was about five times the width of the stem and probably three football fields wide, when I saw it,” reflected Rowley. “It was a mixture of white and gray smoke, and it was rising fast. The blast occurred seven hours after the mission had departed Tinian Island, part of the Mariana’s chain in the South Pacific.”

Rowley, a Fallbrook resident since 1954, was surprised when a meeting was called about 12:30 a.m. on that day, 17 days before his 23rd birthday.

“That is when we learned why we had been training for over two years in perhaps the most secretive mission in U.S. history,” said Rowley. Titled ‘The Manhattan Project,’ Rowley said his unit had begun training in December of 1944 at Wendover Army Airfield in Utah.

“Our squadron was the 509 Composite Group,” he said. “Our training took us to various locations including Batista Field in San Antonio de los Banos, Cuba.”

Rowley said ironically, Lt. Col. Payette, who was head of security and always reminding the soldiers that “loose lips sink ships,” passed away unexpectedly and his assistant had no idea what the secret mission was.

Fortunately someone else did, and a meeting was called.

“Col. Tibbets told us we were going to find out what ‘the big secret’ was. He said we were going to drop an atomic bomb, which he nicknamed, ‘Little Boy,’ on Hiroshima and it would be devastating. He compared it to exploding five box cars filled with TNT.”

“It actually was more powerful [than that],” said Rowley. “Five aircraft would be involved. I was on board the Jabit III, piloted by Major John Wilson. I was the radar observer and a staff sergeant. The other B29’s included the Enola Gay, piloted by Colonel Tibbets, the Full House, Necessary Evil, and Straight Flush.”

Rowley said his aircraft was to precede the Enola Gay in flight by one and a half hours in order to perform weather reconnaissance over Kokura (the Pittsburgh of Japan and a large munitions plant), considered an alternate target.

“It was a beautiful, sun-filled day over Hiroshima,” said Rowley. “Our meteorologist radioed the Enola Gay that visibility was 1/10 and clear as a bell. We powered down for our return to Tinian Island at 8 a.m. Our course was less than 100 miles from Hiroshina.”

Approximately 15 minutes later, Rowley said the Enola Gay radioed the successful drop and explosion.

“We all took turns looking out blistered windows at the enormous cloud,” said Rowley. “We had been warned not to look at the initial flash, that it could cause eye damage. However our tail gunner saw the flash, but I never heard that he had any problems [as a result].”

When the men returned to North Field, they were told they were to leave the following day for the United States “to pick up more weapons and return to Tinian,” said Rowley.

Three days after the Atomic Bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, another was dropped on the city of Nagasaki.

“We departed for Kwajelein Island on our trip to Hawaii and then the U.S.,” he said. “As we prepared to depart from Hawaii two days later, our commander received a message that Japan had surrendered unconditionally and that the war was over. We were now to continue to the United States to prepare for our discharge.”

Less than 10 years after serving in the military, Rowley moved to Fallbrook and began a construction company, V.J. Rowley Construction.

“We built many homes and buildings in the area including the present Zion Lutheran Church,” he said.

Now 90 years old, Rowley sustains an active lifestyle and is a much sought-after speaker across the nation. He is a regular feature at the annual meeting of the 509 Composite Group survivors.

Rowley is one of the founders of the International Business Men’s Fellowship, a Christian men’s organization, now 16 years old, that operates worldwide. He operates a chapter in Fallbrook that meets for breakfast every Saturday morning at 8 a.m. at Denny’s Restaurant. It is open to any man interested in joining.

In reflecting on his life’s experiences, Rowley said, “The bomb drop experience was second to my personal relationship with and knowledge of Jesus Christ.”

24 Responses to "Rowley reflects on Atomic Bomb blast"

  1. Living testament   August 8, 2013 at 4:57 pm

    When I hear arguments about the moral aspects of the use of the first nuclear weapons that ended WWII, I can’t help but think about what my father, a retired Marine officer told me. He was staged for the assault on Kagoshima, fully expecting to be killed in the upcoming invasion. Had the bombs not dropped, the invasion would have gone forward, arguments saying the Soviet intervention would have negated that aside, tens of thousands of Americans were spared their ultimate demise and I and my siblings are alive and thankful that these two bombing missions did go forward and end the war.

    This world is a better place because of these acts. As costly in lives to the Japanese it was, many more lives were spared and the world was shown the devastating effects of nuclear weapons such that, thankfully, with vigilance we have been spared further use of such devastating weapons.

    Thank you, Rowley.

  2. Unbelievable!   August 8, 2013 at 7:30 pm

    So Jesus and the murder of 100,000 plus people were this man’s most notable life experiences? Make believe superstition and the real time killing of flesh and blood human beings are this man’s biggest life achievements? Unbelievable!

  3. Old   August 9, 2013 at 4:29 am

    A story not often told is the bombing of Tokyo ("Operation Meetinghouse") which killed between 80,000 and 130,000 Japanese civilians, and was the single most destructive bombing raid in history with more deaths than either of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Three hundred and thirty-four B-29 bombers in one raid dropped conventional bombs in a mission that was acknowledged as the single deadliest air raid of World War II. In the aftermath photos of Tokyo were much like those of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    Had the atomic bomb not been developed we could have sent those same 334 bombers against Hiroshima and Nagasaki with the same results, the atomic bomb was more efficient but not necessary to win the war. That Japan surrendered because of the atomic bomb is controversial. Noted Japanese historian Tsuyoshi Hasegawa thinks otherwise. See his story in the Boston Globe.

  4. Carla   August 9, 2013 at 6:17 am

    Warfare is barbaric by definition. But the intentional targeting of civilian population centers and the deliberate mass murder of noncombatants at the hands of the United States government was and is totally reprehensible and can never be excused. Whether we as nation will ever face up to and admit our culpability in the commission of this war crime awaits to be seen. But our actions remain no more pardonable and history should judge us no less harshly than the Nazi’s calculated leveling of Warsaw and Rotterdam or the brutal Rape of Nanjing at the hands of the Japanese army.

  5. Unbelievable Alright   August 9, 2013 at 11:04 am

    Everyone knows Hiroshima was an industrial military city and legitimate target per every convention and treaty known at the time. Anyone who calls that murder while ignoring what the Japanese were doing to civilians has a broken moral compass.

  6. Shaun   August 9, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    God Bless Vern Rowley and the many other brave heros who served in WW II. They were truely the generation that saved the world from the destructive tyranical forces governing Germany and Japan at the time.
    If the US had not entered the war Germany’s death camps and the Japnese atrocities commited in the Philipines, Korean and China would be the norm.
    If the US had not bombed Germany and Japan WW II would have drag-on costing millions of mores lives lost than resulted from the bombing.

  7. FR86   August 9, 2013 at 2:50 pm


    I’d be interested to know what country you hold in any high regard as an example of your views?

    How would you have ended the conflict in WW II?

    Just curious


  8. Reality Checker   August 9, 2013 at 4:40 pm

    To Unbelieveable Alright… Your comment saying anyone who calls that murder while ignoring what the Japanese were doin to civilians has a broken moral compass, well that might be true. But, I believe they are just plain stupid. I feel sorry for people like that, because they are soooo misinformed. They’ve been fed bullcrap all their lives and not only don’t know any better, but don’t care either. Id love to see how attitudes like those would change if they were accidentally taken back in time to WWII and had to live during those times. I bet those opinions would change dramatically and quickly. If not, they would experience what awards traitors receive. In today’s times, they feel proud to display opinions that would have gotten them in between a rock and a hard place back in the day. Today, it’s just cool to run down America and show your commie colors. Unfortunately those people don’t have half a clue what their running their mouths about.

  9. Tom in Temecula   August 9, 2013 at 6:20 pm

    Why can’t we just admit what we did was wrong? If our country has not formally apologized to the peoples relatives who we murdered then we have no moral compass. America right or wrong doesn’t cut it. That time we got it really, really, really wrong. Unfortunately it wasn’t the first or last time either.

  10. Mr. Progressive   August 9, 2013 at 6:50 pm

    If we "were accidentally taken back in time to WWII and had to live during those times" we’d probably see # 8 proudly waving a Nazi flag given the stuff he says on here. You have issues dude!

  11. hawaii2364   August 9, 2013 at 8:25 pm

    I am the daughter of the co-pilot of the Necessary Evil. A gentle, kind man who raised a family of 9 children, who once sat down to dinner with a gentleman whose grandparents were killed in Hiroshima who told my father that the Japanese would never have stopped. I often wonder what the difference is…dying on a battle ship exploding into flames covered in gasoline and oil, or dying by hydrogen bomb, or a land mine or a bullet. This debate seems ludicrous, debating which weapons you can or cannot use…

  12. Kenyatta   August 9, 2013 at 9:41 pm

    Should it really come as any shock that a country founded on land theft and genocide would have any hesitation about committing wanton murder of people in Asia? Just pick up any US history book. That’s all America ever does is kill people of color either here or elsewhere.

  13. Seriously??   August 9, 2013 at 10:38 pm

    The ones waving the Nazi flag would be Kenyatta, Carla, unbelievable (clearly a Hitler lover) and Mr. Progressive. What a bunch of uninformed, ignorant losers. Oh wait, that is what the new generation is all about isn’t it. A bunch of brain washed robots.

  14. XX   August 9, 2013 at 10:51 pm

    My guess is that people who had families who died in Nazi concentration camps probably wondered why we didn’t drop one on Hitler’s armies too. Roosevelt and Truman both waited a long time to get involved. Japan shouldn’t have killed 1,177 of our officers and crewmen on the USS Arizona. If you go around bombing countries, you should expect retaliation.
    We just put a stop to it.

  15. Old   August 10, 2013 at 8:57 am

    It’s almost startling at how many people are ignorant of World War Two and the horrors committed by Japan. What’s even worse is that these same people vote!

  16. Reality Checker   August 10, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    Hi Old,
    Yes it sickens my stomach to see we have such brainwashed #^#* for brains that can vote. Thats how we ended up with a race baiting illegal alien in the white house. Hitler would be proud to see whats happened to the USA today. We would all be speaking German today if it werent for true American patriot that fought and supported those wars. And, lest the brain dead libs forget, they would be digging thier own graves in that society. Along with the blacks, hispanics, asians, muslims, and every other race not arian. In fact, those idiots wouldnt be alive today if we had t done what it took to win the wars. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, you brainless libs. You all have gotten your psychotic mentally defective attitudes from a mind altering education…i mean indoctrination… from and through the likes of MSNBC. Libs cant let go of that nor even have an open mind about things. That means they would have to admit to themselves and eveyone around them that they were WRONG!!!!! Like an alcoholic refusing to admit they have a drinking problem, but worse. Anyone ever watch the movie 1984? Those mindless drones.

  17. Old   August 11, 2013 at 8:25 am

    One last story. Some years ago my good friend Bud Harrington was at the head of the Fallbrook Chamber of Commerce. Bud had been a career military man serving in World War Two. After the war he married a Filipino girl and she told me how during the war Japanese solders grabbed her little brother as he walked home from school. They then tied him to a tree and used him for live bayonet practice, once finished they set him on fire. After the solders left she carried his body home. Both Bud and his wife are gone now. No one should ever feel sorry for the Japanese.

  18. Pink   August 11, 2013 at 9:57 am

    I certainly do not feel sorry for the Japanese of WWII era, that is for sure. They were no better than the Nazi’s. My dear friend Nevie, now deceased, also a Filipina, was 12 at the time and she had to out run the Japanese soldiers, when they couldn’t catch her they started shooting at her with their machine guns. She managed to escape them but two of her friends didn’t.

  19. Older woman   August 11, 2013 at 1:43 pm

    "An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind"
    – Mahatma Gandhi

  20. Check it out   August 11, 2013 at 9:27 pm

    The Japanese attacked us (Pearl Harbor) without prior warning or provocation. By the standards of 1941, an act of cowardess. They committed multiple thousands of atrocities during WWII. They willfully murdered, raped and tortured men, women, and children. When they were asked to surrender, they refused. The bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima would never have happened if they had surrendered. They chose their own fate. It is what it is. Monday morning quarterbacking helps no one. For Carla, and all you America haters and communist lovers out there, you might want to check out what the Russians did to the citizens of Berlin when they were allowed, by NATO, to march into that city, during the fall.

  21. Redneck Bill   August 11, 2013 at 9:28 pm

    Turning the other cheek to a machine gun will leave you dead.

  22. BonsallGayGuy   August 13, 2013 at 6:59 am

    I think one of most common mistakes of historical analysis is the judging of events by contemporary standards and in isolation from the general mores of the era and the differing cultural standards in existence from place to place during the time in which the historical event took place.

    And while it is correct that the United States has engaged in frankly genocidal policies against many groups of indigenous peoples and have treated others appallingly as well, this conduct should not be mistaken as uniquely American. Mass slaughter, enslavements and subjugations etc. are part of human history and transcend national and cultural barriers. We humans have treated each other quite horribly at times.

    I’ve also never been one to view history as exclusively black and white with one side of historical conflicts having a monopoly on virtue and the other side none at all. But the juxtaposition of the Allied versus the Axis Pact nations comes as close to a struggle between good versus pure evil as humanity has ever witnessed.

    The leveling of Warsaw was simply the opening salvo of a Nazi plan for the elimination of not just the Polish state, but the ultimate liquidation the entire Polish population and 100 plus millions of their Slavic ethnic brethren. The obliteration of Rotterdam was done well after the Dutch declared it an open city and removed all military defenders. The Japanese actions in Nanking were just as barbaric and their attitudes and final objectives towards their Asian neighbors were equally as savage.

    I think the fundamental difference between the morality of the American versus the Japanese (and Germans) lay in the distinct motivations of each side. The Axis powers were morally capable of practically anything to quickly bring their opponents to their knees in order to continue onwards towards their next victim. The United States objectives were to quickly conclude a war that we never wanted, never started, so that we could simply go home.

  23. Eme Egge Brillhart   August 13, 2013 at 8:07 am

    I think that violence in movies and TV have made people numb to the experience of death and war. The men who fought in WWII did not do it because they wanted to kill people, they did it to defend our country, their families, their future generations. Many wanted to come home because it was so horrific. But these brave young men, fought to keep America. To me they and my father who was a Navy test pilot and bomber it was a strong sense of love and duty. Not many men in America sign up today with such courage and bravery for America.

  24. lisa duva   October 28, 2013 at 1:26 am

    My father James S.Duva was the Co-pilot and Navigator of the b-29 Weather Ship -The Reconnaissance …We didnt know he was there and flew out ahead of Tibbets and got the position to drop the Bomb..His good friend told us why my fathers did not talk about what he did in the war because = quote =He said my father was very sad what happened to the poor civilians in Japan ..he was devastated …and thought us gov. should of told them the full truth about the effects of it…He was stashed on Tinian , before the were deployed …Back then they were told only what they wanted u to know ….


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