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Albany WWII veteran's luck could be atomic

World War II veteran pilot Edgar Ross Gatlin holds a picture drawn of himself standing in front of his biplane trainer.

World War II veteran pilot Edgar Ross Gatlin holds a picture drawn of himself standing in front of his biplane trainer.

ALBANY -- Tinian Island.

To those who know about World War II's Pacific Ocean Theater of war that name remains synonymous with the atomic bomb.

Edgar Ross Gatlin Jr., 85, was assigned to the 505 Bomber Group, 313 Wing at the opposite end of the island just before the Enola Gay's B-29 crew dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945.

"We weren't allowed to fly near that end of the island. We weren't allowed to go near that end of the island at all," Gatlin said. "We knew there was something up at that end of the island."

After the bomb -- nicknamed "Little Boy" -- devastated Hiroshima, Gatlin's commander came in to one of the Quonset huts to speak to his men. The second bomb, "Fat Man," would hit Nagasaki Aug. 9.

"He told us what had happened, that it was devastation," Gatlin said. "After the second bomb (demolished Nagasaki) we sort of knew the war was over. It was a relief. Up until then, we were under a lot of stress."

Before the atomic bombs essentially ended the war, Gatlin and his crew was scheduled to take part in the massive strategic incendiary-bombing that had put 67 Japanese cities to the torch.

Gatlin's training to bomb the enemy began when he was 19. It began with learning to fly a biplane and it continued until he was able to fly a B-29 Superfortress. The same plane type that dropped the fire bombs and the atomic bombs.

"I enlisted at 19 and was made a second lieutenant. I never got to fly combat," Gatlin said. "The bomb ended the war, but bridge (the card game) saved my life."

While still on Tinian after the war servicemen had little to do. To avoid boredom they played card games and hunted the rats that infested their Quonset hut living quarters.

"If you caught or killed five rats you got a medal in front of your squad," Gatlin said. "It was the 'Distinguished Rat Cross.'"

Gatlin also played a lot of cards. Bridge was a favorite game.

A superior rank pilot said he needed a co-pilot and a couple gunners to man his plane. The mission was to fly supplies to American POWs in Japan.

"I had my flying hours in," Gatlin said. "I also had a bridge game. I said, 'No.'"

Two gunners from Gatlin's crew went on the mission, they did not return.

"They crashed into a mountain in Japan," Gatlin said. "They died. They were the oldest and youngest crew members."

The Army Air Force sent Gatlin to the Philippines after Tinian. There he boarded what he and his wife called a "slow boat" back to the states.

"When he went overseas, they told me he would be gone for three months or 35 missions," said Isabelle Gatlin, 83. "He was gone 13 months."

Gatlin and his wife had met at a military dance in Albany while he was training at Turner Army Airfield in 1944. While Gatlin got his pilot's wings in Albany he also got his wings clipped.

The Gatlins married in March 1945 before Edgar, who prefers to go by Ross, shipped out to Tinian. Upon his return, the couple went to college together and both graduated from the University of Georgia.

The couple has three children, Charles Ross Gatlin, Peggy Rice and Cindy Edwards. Gatlin retired from a career that included real estate and banking in 1986.

After spending a few years retired in Florida, the Gatlins returned to Albany in 1995. "Because it is home," said Isabelle Gatlin.