Safety plug for Nagasaki’s “Fat Man” atomic bomb
Where: Harry S. Truman Library and Museum, Independence, Missouri.
Almost 25 years ago, Clay Bauske of the Truman Library received the type of phone call that gives a museum curator pause. The caller said he was the electronics test officer aboard the airplane that dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan, on Aug. 9, 1945. Better still, he had one of the safety plugs from the bomb and wanted to donate it to the museum.
“I was, to say the least, skeptical of his claim,” Bauske says. “Rarely do you get cold calls from people who have in their possession significant artifacts from historical events that shaped world history.”
The story checked out, though, and in 1988, electronics test officer Philip Barnes visited Independence and presented the safety plug to the library.
The bomb dropped on Nagasaki that day was called Fat Man and was a plutonium bomb, unlike the uranium bomb Little Boy that had been dropped from the Enola Gay on Hiroshima three days earlier. Maj. Charles Sweeney piloted the aircraft that dropped Fat Man, a B-29 bomber named Bockscar. The tag on the plug attests to its provenance and is signed by Barnes and Navy Cmdr. Frederick Ashworth, the weaponeer responsible for arming the bomb.
“This is one of those rare artifacts that immediately creates strong and wide-ranging emotional reactions in everyone who sees it,” Bauske says. “The enormity of the consequences of the only two atomic bombs to be used in war can’t help but draw out deep emotions.”
A version of this story originally appeared in The Kansas City Star by the same author.