We are sad to report the passing of our friend, Manhattan Project veteran Jack Widowsky. Widowsky passed away on March 22, 2018 at the age of 95. A military veteran, he was one of the last surviving members of the atomic bombing missions.
He was born in Newark, New Jersey on September 10, 1922. Widowsky was sworn into the United States Air Force on October 22, 1942 and was called for active duty on January 30 of the following year. After a series of tests, he qualified to become a navigator. Widowsky reflected on how pleased he was with this result in an oral history interview with the Atomic Heritage Foundation: “I just felt that I could do a good job at that. I wasn’t interested in being a bombardier or a pilot. That was my first choice.”
After graduating from navigation school in Louisiana, Widowsky became an official aerial navigator and was promoted to the rank of second lieutenant. He was assigned to a crew that was part of the 393rd Bomb Squadron.
He and his crew were a part of the 509th Composite Group under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Paul Tibbets. Widowsky regularly served as the navigator on the B-29 Top Secret at the Wendover Air Base in Utah and later on Tinian Island. The crew also flew long-range navigation training assignments in Cuba. He recalled, “We went to Havana a fairly good amount. On weekends, we went in. Went to bars, had a few drinks, but I’m not a big drinker.”
One of the biggest challenges Widowsky had to face in his work was the wind. “What affects the direction of the airplane is the wind velocity and the wind direction,” he remembered. “Sometimes you can run into some strong winds that can push you off course. I had to be on top of that every minute of the day.”
Widowsky participated in the Hiroshima and Nagasaki missions. He served as the navigator aboard The Big Stink, which was the backup strike plane on Iwo Jima during the Hiroshima mission. He described learning about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima: “We heard on the radio President Truman announcing we had dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima…we were all charged up for what we did. I say to this day, I am honored and proud that I participated in that. One reason is because we saved thousands of American lives. They had tens of thousands of GIs on Okinawa ready to invade Japan.”
On the Nagasaki mission, Widowsky and his crew flew on the Laggin’ Dragon, one of the weather reconnaissance planes. He recalled, “Then there was another mission coming up. We were to be an advance weather plane to Nagasaki, which was not the primary target. We went to Nagasaki, we radioed our weather report, went back to Tinian. I think it was Kokura was the initial target, but by the time the Bockscar got there, it was socked in [covered by clouds]. They were ordered to drop the bomb visually, not by radar. So, they went to Nagasaki and dropped the bomb on Nagasaki.”
Widowsky concluded in the interview, “Everyone can’t fly in the number one plane. The other planes had jobs to do, and you had to do it right. Otherwise the whole mission would have been cancelled, or not run the way it should have been.”
After the war, Widowsky became a salesman for candy and toy distributors, remaining in his home state of New Jersey. He retired in 2013. He and his wife were married for over seventy years.