BATON ROUGE, La. — The bomber best known for dropping the atomic bombs on Japan also flew countless other raids. Karnig Thomasian's final mission on a B-29 Superfortress ended in flames when bombs collided and exploded in the air over Burma in 1945.
He parachuted out and spent six months in a Japanese prison camp.
On Thursday, he was once again in a B-29, flying from Baton Rouge to New Orleans. He and other veterans will be on hand at the WWII AirPower Expo in New Orleans this weekend.
As the bomber named Fifi took off in Baton Rouge, the 90-year-old Pompton Plains, New Jersey, native peered out of the glass-covered nose where the bombardier sat during missions. He moved the bombsight from side to side.
"I was thinking about my bombardier ... and how vulnerable he was. He was wide open to flak," Thomasian said of runs they often made through a barrage of anti-aircraft fire.
Charles Chauncey was also on board. He flew 22 firebomb raids, including three on Tokyo in what he called the "blitz" of March 1945. Although official estimates put the death toll at 125,000 from the bombings, Chauncey said he believes many more died.
"Most countries would have capitulated at that point," he said. "The Japanese didn't. So we actually bombed something like 70 cities."
David Fisher, of Lafayette, Louisiana, also took part in the flight. The last time the 89-year-old Fisher was in the big bomber, he was a radioman on a mission dropping supplies to American prisoners at a Japanese POW camp after World War II ended in September 1945.
Like the atomic bombings, the firebomb raids were widely criticized, but Fisher and Chauncey said they had no qualms about the civilian death toll nearly 70 years later.
"I don't care if you ran a hamburger stand feeding factory workers," Chauncey said. "They're as much a part of the war effort as anybody else."