Beser, Jacob, born 15-05-1921 in Baltimore, Maryland, and grew up in Baltimore, where he attended the Baltimore City College (high school) graduating in June 1938. Beser then studied mechanical engineering at The Johns Hopkins University, also in Baltimore, but dropped out the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor to enlist in the Army Air Forces. He was Jewish and extremely restless to get into the fight against Adolf Hitler. Because of his training and educational background Beser was sent to Los Alamos and worked on the Manhattan Project in the area of weapons firing and fusing. There, he met or worked with various luminaries in the Manhattan Project, such as Robert Bigham Brode an American physicist, Norman Forster Ramsey a physicist, a Danish physicist Niels Bohr , an Italian–American physicist Enrico Fermi , Edward Doll the Fusing Team Leader , and General Leslie Richard Groves. The unit that dropped the atomic bombs, 509th Composite Group , was activated at Wendover Army Air Field, Utah, 17-12-1944. The crews trained with practice bombs called “pumpkins” because of their size and shape. The pumpkins were useful for training, having been designed to have the same aerodynamic qualities of the Fat Man atomic bomb. The 509th deployed to Tinian in the Marianas in May 1945. It was a self-contained unit, with personnel strength of about 1,770 soldiers, mechanics, specialists and aviators. It consisted of the 393rd Bomber Squadron, the 320th Troop Carrier Squadron , the 390th Air Service Group, the 603rd Air Engineering Squadron , the 1027th Air Materiel Squadron, the 1395th Military Police Company, and the First Ordnance Squadron (in charge of handling the atomic bombs. On 06-08-1945, the first atomic bomb to be used in combat was dropped by a B-29 Superfortress bomber, the Enola Gay, over the Japanese city of Hiroshima, killing 70,000 people, including 20,000 Japanese combatants and 20,000 Korean slave laborers. The button was pushed by Major Ferebee, Thomas Wilson. the bombardier of the Enola Gay. The thirteen-hour mission to Hiroshima under the command of famous pilot Colonel Paul Tibbets, began at 0245 Tinian time. By the time the Enola Gay rendezvoused with its two accompanying B-29 Superfortresses at 0607 over Iwo Jima, the group was three hours from the target area. “Little Boy’s” detonation was triggered by radar sensors on the bomb that measured its altitude as it fell. Beser’s job was to monitor those sensors and ensure that there was no interference that could have detonated it prematurely. The bomb fell away from the aircraft at 09:15:17 Tinian time. Beser did not watch the bomb detonate but he heard the bomb’s radar signals switch on and then cut off at the moment the intense light generated by its detonation filled the plane.
Three days later in a second B-29 Superfortress bomber, Bockscar,
Beser repeated this task over Nagasaki with Fat Man, the plutonium implosion bomb that became the second and last atomic bomb used in combat. Beser was the only crew member to accompany both atomic bomb missions and besides the commanding officers/pilots, had a scientific understanding of the new weapons’ potential and destructiveness, as a result of his earlier high school and university education.
In 1946, Beser was one of the founding members of Sandia National Laboratories, in New Mexico. He came home to Baltimore and in the mid-1950s began a long career working on defense projects for Westinghouse.
When asked about his atomic bomb missions on numerous interviews, Beser made the following response:
For years I have been asked two questions. Would you do it again? Do you feel any guilt for having been a part of Hiroshima’s destruction?
One has to consider the context of the times in which decisions are made. Given the same set of circumstances as existed in 1945, I would not hesitate to take part in another similar mission.
No I feel no sorrow or remorse for whatever small role I played. That I should is crazy. I remember Pearl Harbor and all of the Japanese atrocities. I remember the shock to our nation that all of this brought. I don’t want to hear any discussion of morality. War, by its very nature, is immoral. Are you any more dead from an atomic bomb than from a conventional bomb?
He wrote a book about the experiences of flying on both flights; Hiroshima & Nagasaki Revisited was written in 1988. Beser was an amateur (“ham”) radio operator, holding the callsign W3NOD.
Death and burial ground of Beser, Jacob.
He died of natural causes on 16-06-1992, age 71, in Pikesville, Maryland, and was survived by his wife Sylvia, their four sons, and nine grandchildren. He was inducted into the “Hall of Fame” of his alma mater high school, Baltimore City College, the third oldest public high school in America. Jaco Beser is buried at Baltimore Hebrew Cemetery Reisterstown, Baltimore County, Maryland, Division 1, Section 5, Lot 1099