Phillips Barnes was an electronics test officer during World War II, a relatively inconsequential title on the surface of things. Barnes, however, flew on a mission over Japan, one that carried the second atomic bomb. He was the sole individual responsible for pulling the green safety plug just moments before it dropped on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. He quietly slipped that plug into his pocket as the B-29 returned to the west.
That green plug, which dramatically represents the end of WWII, the end of so many lives and the difficult decision to drop a second atomic bomb, is now on display at the Harry S. Truman Library and Presidential Museum in a temporary exhibit that highlights the extraordinary events of that summer 70 years ago when the man from Independence suddenly became 33rd president of the United States.
“Till We Meet Again – The Greatest Generation in War and Peace” is both sobering and heart-wrenching, global and intimate, as it offers a recap of events that brought the U.S. into WWII and the world as it was when Franklin Roosevelt died. Original footage shot by the Japanese of the attack on Pearl Harbor plays on one monitor near a case displaying a letter from then Senator Harry Truman offering to resign his position in Congress to go to war. That request was denied by General George C. Marshall in January 1942.
Hand-written letters from Harry to Bess Truman, along with Truman’s personal diary, give insight to the challenges the new president faced. But one of the first challenges – getting the oath of office right. You’ll see a little cheat sheet the president held in his hand on top of the Bible with the words he must repeat. Nearby – a charming letter from the legendary Maria von Trapp, a refugee from the war in Europe, wishing the president strength and good health.
The heartbreak: a piece of rock from the tunnel where U.S. troops were holding out, waiting for relief that never came, on the Pacific island of Corregidor and the Bataan Peninsula; an ornament from a building that once stood in Nagasaki; a lovely green malachite urn containing dirt from the battlefields of Bastogne, given to the president by the people of Belgium.
The exhibit continues through January 2016 and each Wednesday, designated White Glove Wednesday, museum curator Clay Bauske will bring from the archives a special object for closer review. Some of the items you might see include a copy of “Mein Kampf” autographed by Adolf Hitler, the first U.S. flag flown over Berlin, and the original German surrender documents.
The second weekend of each month through January also includes lecture series, movies, concerts and special commemorative events.
Check out those special events at the Truman Library website. If you’re a veteran or active military, you receive free admission to the library throughout this special exhibit. And families of four – you can save more than $5 by purchasing your tickets online rather than at the door.