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Frederick Ashworth; Helped Drop Atom Bomb

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Associated Press
Wednesday, December 7, 2005

Retired Navy Vice Adm. Frederick L. "Dick" Ashworth, 94, the weaponeer aboard the B-29 that in 1945 dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan, died Dec. 3 at Arizona Heart Hospital in Phoenix while undergoing heart surgery.

Adm. Ashworth, who retired from the Navy in 1968, was assigned to the Los Alamos-based Manhattan Project, which built the A-bomb.

On Aug. 9, 1945, three days after the bombing of Hiroshima, he was aboard the bomber that dropped a weapon nicknamed Little Boy on Nagasaki. Adm. Ashworth was assigned as the weaponeer, responsible for arming the bomb during the flight. Estimates of the death toll in Nagasaki range from 60,000 to 80,000 people.

Adm. Ashworth, in an August talk to a Los Alamos historical group, said the mission was "fraught with problems," including clouds that hid the city of Kokura, which was the primary target, the potential for a crash landing with the bomb aboard and low fuel after the weapon exploded.

The weather over Kokura was so bad that the B-29 -- named Bock's Car after its commander, Frederick Bock -- flew on to Nagasaki.

Adm. Ashworth said that during the return flight, the crew heard a radio report that the Japanese had approached the Swiss about surrendering. "That gave us a pretty good inkling that maybe, by golly, the war might be over," he recalled.

Japan surrendered unconditionally Aug. 15.

Adm. Ashworth was born in Beverly, Mass., and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1933. After the war, he did military liaison work with the Atomic Energy Commission and commanded the Navy's 6th Fleet, then based in France.

Survivors include his wife, Ercie Bell Ashworth; three sons; three grandchildren; and one great-grandson.

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