VEAZIE, Maine — After 70 years, World War II pilot and Veazie resident Paul Lucey still remembers the sight of the shattered cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Killing at least 225,000 people — most of them civilians — the bombings remain the only use of nuclear weapons in the history of warfare.
Behind the controls of his F48 Corsair fighter bomber, Lucey overflew the bombed-out cities just weeks after Little Boy exploded over Hiroshima Aug. 6, 1945, and Fat Man exploded over Nagasaki Aug. 9.
“[It was] kind of a black splotch on the otherwise green and brown countryside… It was just wiped out,” he recalled this week.
“There were a few skeletons of buildings, and — I don’t remember which city it was — but a smokestack had survived, some big tall smokestack just standing amid the rubble, a terrible thing,” he said.
The bombs had the desired effect, from the U.S. point of view and that of Lucey. News of the Japanese surrender was announced Aug. 14-15, with Emperor Hirohito signing formal surrender documents Sept. 2.
At the time of the bombings, which were top secret, Lucey and other Marines knew little about the American secret weapon.
“I don’t know how much was spelled out [about] what it was, but the word atom was in there … and we knew this was some kind of special bomb. My goodness,” he said.
Despite the terrible carnage, Lucey still feels the bombings were the right thing to do to bring hostilities to an end.
Arriving late in the war to the island of Okinawa, Lucey flew dozens of bombing missions over Japan and Formosa, now Taiwan, dropping 500 pound bombs on key targets, mostly air strips.
The fighter bomber raids met little resistance with most Japanese pilots and planes shot down earlier in the war, but Lucey was preparing to participate in the invasion of the Japanese home islands.
Casualty projections for the planned invasion ranged from tens of thousands to 4 million U.S. soldiers and 5 million to 10 million Japanese, assuming the country’s civilian defense force was utilized.
“If the Battle of Okinawa was any example … it would have been a bloodbath, and I think that had some influence on President Truman when he dropped that bomb,” he said.
Today, Lucey says nuclear weapons should be put in a box and never used again.
“When I think of the saber rattling we’ve had in the last 70 years, I wish some of those jingoistic leaders, belligerent leaders of some of these countries could have flown over there and superimposed Hiroshima over their capital cities,” he said.
“That may have made them think twice about talking war and everything. I still think so,” he continued.
As a Marine, Lucey was no stranger to war. An ROTC student at Brown University when the Japanese attacked the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor, he suspended his studies and joined the U.S. Navy Air Corps.
He transferred to the Marines when he completed his training in Florida. While he arrived on the battlefront late in the war, after the Battle of Okinawa, he flew a helicopter in the Korean War, picking up wounded and flying them to aid stations and flying supplies to the frontlines.
After his service in WWII, Lucey graduated from Brown University in 1948 and moved his family from Fall River, Massachusetts, to San Francisco, where he became a teacher and eventually a principal.
He and his wife stayed in California more than 50 years before returning to New England to be closer to his daughter, a professor at the University of Maine. His wife is now deceased and both of his children are college professors — his son teaches at the University of Hawaii.
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