Morris R. Jeppson, 87

Morris R. Jeppson, 87, an Enola Gay weaponeer who armed atomic bomb

Lt. Jeppson, pictured before his first and only combat mission.
Lt. Jeppson, pictured before his first and only combat mission. (National Museum Of Nuclear Science And History)
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By Emma Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Morris R. Jeppson, 87, one of two weaponeers who armed the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, prompting the surrender of Japanese troops and the end of World War II, died March 30 at a hospital in Las Vegas. His family could not provide a specific cause of death but said he had been hospitalized for back pain and a severe headache.

Known as "Dick," Mr. Jeppson was a 23-year-old Army Air Forces second lieutenant when he boarded the Enola Gay, a B-29 bomber, for what would be his first and only combat mission.

It was the wee hours of the morning on Aug. 6, 1945, and "Little Boy," the bomb that would introduce the world to nuclear warfare, lay in the plane's belly in safe mode. It had to be armed in flight en route to its target to avoid accidental detonation during takeoff.

At 2:45 a.m., the Enola Gay and its cargo took off from Tinian Island in the Pacific and headed for Hiroshima, 1,800 miles and six hours away. Lt. Jeppson, the weapons test officer, and his boss, Navy Capt. William S. Parsons, climbed into the airplane's bomb bay to ready Little Boy for discharge.

Capt. Parsons was responsible for installing the charge that would be fired into the weapon's uranium core, setting off a nuclear explosion. Lt. Jeppson armed the bomb's electrical system, pulling out three green safety plugs and replacing them with red firing plugs.

Nobody but the two weaponeers knows for sure who was last to touch the warhead. Reference books and historical accounts differ.

But it's likely that Lt. Jeppson "put the last thing into the bomb that made it hot," said Dik Daso, curator of modern military aircraft at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum.

The pair finished their work within 30 minutes after takeoff. Then they climbed into the pressurized cabin and waited another 5 1/2 hours before the plane jerked upward, signaling that Little Boy had been let go.

The flash came 43 seconds later, sending an enormous mushroom cloud into the sky and killing and wounding more than 100,000 people.

"No joy at that point," Mr. Jeppson told Time magazine in 2005. "But it was a job that was done."

The Enola Gay returned to Tinian, where her crew of 12 received a hero's welcome. Eight days later, after an atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki, the Japanese agreed to surrender. A formal document of surrender was signed Sept. 2.

Mr. Jeppson received the Silver Star and went on to a civilian career in electronics and applied radiation. He maintained that he had no regrets about the bombing. He told reporters that his wife's car bore a bumper sticker that read "If there hadn't been a Pearl Harbor, there wouldn't have been a Hiroshima."

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