Claude Robert Eatherly used to wake up screaming because he helped to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, on Aug. 6, 1945.
By his own account and that of relatives and friends, his role in ushering in nuclear warfare remained the central episode of his existence until he died last Saturday in the Veterans Administration hospital in Houston, Tex., at age 57. He had suffered from cancer.
"He said his brain was on fire," said his brother, James Eatherly, of Midland, Tex. "He said he could feel those people burning. He never forgot the thousands of people dying in those flames."
Claude Eatherly was a major in the Army Air Force and a B-29 bomber pilot in World War II. He was assigned to the 509th Composite Bombardment Group, whose mission was to drop the atomic bomb in Japan to help force an end to the war.
Maj. Eatherly was to fly a weather reconnaissance over Hiroshima. If the weather was clear, he would report this to col. Paul Tibbetts, the pilot of a B-29 nicknamed "Enola Gay." Tibbetts' plane was following Maj. Eatherly and carried the atomic bomb. Maj. Eatherly reported that the weather was clear and Tibbetts dropped the weapon on Hiroshima. About 100,000 people died as a result of the blast.
"Every night for 15 years, I have dreamed about it," Maj. Eatherly told Parade Magazine in the early 1960s. "I see great fires boiling fires, crimson fires, closing in on me. Buildings fall, children run - living torches with their clothes aflame. 'Why did you do it?' they scream. I wake up paralyzed with fear, screaming, sweating because I have no answer."
Maj. Eatherly did not participate in the atomic bombing of nagasaki, Japan, which occurred a few days after the Hiroshima raid and led Japan to surrender.
But he did take part in the atomic tests at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific after the wall, and at one time flew his plane into a nuclear cloud.
He left the Air Force in 1947. His marriage ended in divorce. He lived for some years in California and then returned to his native Van Alstyne, Tex. Maj. Eatherly was hospitalized several times for mental disorders and was arrested several times on charges ranging from armed robbery to forging checks. Police officials said he seemed to want to be caught for his crimes.
By the early 1960s, he had become an outspoken pacifist and foe of nuclear weapons, and some questioned his patriotism. He had lived in Houston for the past 20 years.
Paul Guidry, a fellow member of VFW Post 490, said at Maj. Eatherly's funeral Wednesday that he did not know if his friends "ever came to peace with himself. But he was 100 percent for America, and if you print anything, print that he was the most loving human being I have ever known."