July 18, 2004 by

Charles W. Sweeney


Categories: Military

Brig. Gen. Charles William Sweeney was a 25-year-old major when he helped end World War II.
On Aug. 6, 1945, Sweeney piloted a B-29 observer plane known as the “Great Artiste.” He was flying beside the Enola Gay when it dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, an attack that killed at least 80,000 people.
Three days later, Sweeney and his co-pilot Fred Olivi were given a second mission. Flying in the B-29 known as the “Bock’s Car,” they bombed Nagasaki, Japan. The city of Kokura was the primary target, but clouds and smoke forced Sweeney to bomb Nagasaki instead. It was the first bomb he had ever dropped on an enemy target.
“The shock explosion was felt by those of us in the strike plane. The turbulence of the blast was greater than that at Hiroshima. Even though we were prepared for what happened, it was unbelievable,” Sweeney once wrote. According to the Nagasaki City Atomic Bomb Records Preservation Committee, more than 73,800 people died from the blast. Six days later, Japan surrendered.
The Massachusetts native always had a passion for flying. He graduated from high school and joined the Army Air Corps as an aviation cadet in 1941. Sweeney worked his way up the ranks to become a brigadier general in 1956; he retired from the military two decades later. Sweeney received numerous honors, including the Silver Star, the Air Medal, the National Defense Medal and the Asiatic-Pacific Service Medal with two bronze stars.
A stout defender of the atomic bombings, Sweeney spent his final years speaking to the media and at college and universities about his participation in the war. He also published the book, “War’s End: An Eyewitness Account of America’s Last Atomic Mission.”
Sweeney died on July 15. Cause of death was not released. He was 84.

20 Responses to Charles W. Sweeney

  1. Michael S. Moore

    General Sweeney was kind enough to allow me to interview him for the Madison Courier, Madison, Indiana 47250 while he was at the Air force Museum in 1995. I was working at the base, but I had worked at Jefferson Proving Ground in Madison, Indiana and had learned that General Sweeney was stationed at JPG during the was as an army pilot testing bombs at the Jefferson Proving Ground. I wrote an article on General Sweeney for the Madison paper and several Madison folks remembered him. Emmet Wood who operated the local flower store said that Lt Sweeney would come in to buy flowers to be given to various ladies in the town. General Sweeney told me that he flew an army plane under the Madison Milton bridge that spans the Ohio river. General sweeney was here but a short time, but did important work in testing 500, 1000, and 2000 pound bombs. His interview was left on file with the local Jefferson County Public Library. It was an honor and a pleasure to meet a very important person. Mike Moore, mathematician JPG 1974 to 1994.

  2. Carl K. Roshong

    Although I never met Genral Sweeney in person, I had the rare pleasure of sitting in the pilot’s seat of Bock’s Car and having my picture taken with his daughter Elizabeth by the plane at Wright Patterson AFB. She was kind enough to have her father autograph the several pictures and return them to me. His daughter was a Lieutenant in th Mass. ANG at the time and I was CMSgt, attending the same school at WPAFB. She asked me if I would accompany her on a private tour see her father’s plane. (She had not seen it before). What a thrill! The class shown by his daughter must be indicative of the type of man and patriot General Sweeney was. My condolences go out to his family.

  3. John Danehy

    I did not live in the WWII era and, as a youth, did not understand the tremendous respect the golfers had for the man I caddied for several times in the early sixties at Wollaston Gof Club. His self confidence and exurbrance for life was only overshadowed by his concern for others as reflected in one seemingly insignificant but memorable event in my life. We teed off late one summer afternoon. At the tenth hole, the foresomes were backing up and the golfers paused for lunch. The General asked if I had lunch. When I told him that I would “tough it out” until the round was completed, he opened the pocket in his golfbag and gave me the turkey sandwich his wife Dorothy had made for him. Thank you for lunch, General and may God bless you for your dedication to your country, family, and your fellow man.

  4. scott johnson

    I lived on Saipan and Tinian for ” years and became interested in the atomic missions. I spoke with General Sweeney from his home in Lowell and had a series of questions for him.One of the questions read,” As the bomb bays doors opened can you recall your thoughts?” There was a pause and then a reply, “How many Japanese I was about to kill but more importantly how many americansI was going to save.As for anyone who questions our motives for dropping the bombs some 50 years ago I say this;if your son was returned unrecognizable from an island they couldnt pronounce nor find on a map how would you have felt at that given moment?You would want this horror to end.And this is what we did.”I sent him the book,”Wars End” and he autographed it for me.He was indeed a unique individual. My only regret is that I never got to shake his hand for the contributions he made to his country.

  5. yyyx

    I respect General Sweeney, for his warm states before a US Senate committee hearing arising out of complaints by veterans groups that the proposed text for an Enola Gay exhibition at the Smithsonian’s air museum in Washington portrayed the Japanese as victims and the Americans as vengeful.
    We, chinese, full of thanks for his action in 1945 and the states above.
    The full text of that states can not be found over the web.

  6. Keith R. Wood

    Anyone could have done what Major Sweeney did. The B-29 isn’t hard to fly (as a couple of WASP ladies proved). He didn’t have much to do — he had one of the best navigators in the world, one of the best Superfort crews ever assembled, and his bombardier had “more bombsight than the bomb could use.” Still, though it didn’t take a hero to do what he did, the fact is that he led the crew who ended WWII. He flew an essentially unarmed, big, slow airplane over hostile territory to a city ringed with flak guns and fighter bases, all manned by crews who were defending their homeland. Sweeney and his crew, and the planes which flew along with them, knew that they had to get “Fat Man” to the target — them getting back home was optional. They went anyway. Led by Sweeney. And they ended a war, saving perhaps a quarter-million Allied lives and a million or more Japanese lives. Sweeney got them back, too, and now “Bock’s Car” sits in the Air Force Museum in Dayton, where I saw it just last Sunday. That one plane, that one crew, that one bomb, that one leader . . .together they brought an end to the war, a halt to the firebombing of Japanese cities, and forced the fanatics out of power in Tokyo, to be replaced by men who were ready to stop fighting, and could help their Emperor call it off. “Ended the greatest war in history” doesn’t look too bad in a eulogy, does it?

  7. Mike Osier Sr

    Had the priviledge of flying as a flight engineer (in training) on the 102nd Fighter Squadrons C-54. Several times General Sweeney was the command pilot and an excellent one at that. He handled the plane better than any pilot I ever flew with.
    Rest in peace.

  8. Louis Pecoa

    A current patient met him after Nagasaki. There was a fuel malfunction on Bock’s car and Major Sweeney had to land on Okinawa. At the 1/2way point of the runway all engines stopped. Major Sweeney reported being exhausted and after a 6 hour rest he took off for Tinian Island his base. My patient met him again about 15 years ago at a resort where General Sweeney signed 2 Air Force magazines to him and a couple of color photos with the General in sport clothes and chomping a cigar. Louis

  9. Nat Gianino

    I served with General Sweeney in the 102nd Wing as a SSGT in The Wing Administrative office. He was a jovial man, great sense of humor. One incident that I remember when we were stationed at Phalsbourg AFB in France in 1961, General Curtis LeMay made an inspection tour of our facilities and he, General Sweeney and the staff walked into General Sweeney’s office, closed the door and then I heard Gen. LeMay chew Gen. Sweeney up and down. Never found out why, but meeting with Gen. Sweeney after Gen. LeMay left one would never know that he had been “chewed out”. A great man, loved by all who served with him.

  10. Mike Moore

    The Jefferson County Historical Society has created a permanent display of Jefferson Proving Ground in Madison, Indiana. One of the artifacts in the county museum is a practice bomb dropped by Lt Sweeney while he was a pilot at JPG during WWII. The practice bomb was picked up from the ground at the bomb field by Test Director, George Miller in 1943. George Miller became a journalist and wrote several articles about General Sweeney as a pilot at JPG.
    Mike Moore, Volunteer at County Museum

  11. Robert M. Sullivan

    I met and shook his hand as a child when visiting the 102nd FW at Mass. ANG at Boston’s Logan International Airport. He was with his wife and was the C/O of the F-86H Sabre Sq. I collected acft. photos and still have them and treasure the photos of him in his flight suit with other pilots during their days of flying in Sabres. My friend and I would visit the ANG unit often and consider those fellows the luckiest pilots on earth flying Sabres, Starfighters and T-birds.
    Those were the days, days I shall never ever forget. I really miss seeing and hearing those magnficent flying machines flying over my home town of Chelsea, Mass. I was really saddened to hear of his passing. He served his country well.

  12. Robert M. Sullivan

    I should have included this free offer in my previous entry. If anyone wishes a couple of “scanned” photos of General Sweeney from his ANG unit just e-mail me at harmonicus@aol.com and I will e-mail them back to you. These are exellent photos of the General, in his prime.

  13. DAVE

    Met Gen.Sweeny in Corning New York around 1997
    We flew from Canada in a Cessna Crane (US vESION OF A BOBCAT)We talk to the Gen. about this aircraft and he stated that he flew this type of aircraft on his honeymoon.It was a honor to talk to this gentleman.

  14. Christopher Hill

    I am doing research on a neighborhood in Quincy, Massachusetts called “Montclair.” I am told that BG Sweeney lived in Montclair for most of his childhood (and attended North Quincy High School). I was wondering if anyone knows how long he lived in Quincy and which street? Thanks for any help you can provide!!
    my email: clamchowdah@gmail.com
    ~Lieutenant Commander Chris Hill, USN (also a native of the Montclair neighborhood).

  15. Lisa Harrison

    My father was Lt. Col. Kermit K. Beahan the bombardier on the Bockscar that dropped the second atomic bomb. Growing up hearing the story, I was alway amazed that history books gave it 2 or 3 lines at best. Their mission unlike the Hiroshima mission faced every conceivable problem but the crew pushed on almost costing them their lives several times. Part of this is due to the fact that Sweeney did not want to let down Col. Tibbets. Tibbets choice of Sweeney was not well received by all. Although he knew the B-29 extremely well he had no combat experience which at the time of planning didn’t seem like that big of a deal, but the experience you get by thinking quickly in the air proved necessary. Luckily he had a extremely seasoned crew. My father had over 40 missions in every theatre of the war. Their story is one of extreme bravery they shocked even the big brass back on Tinian when word was received that they had completed the mission because most had thought they were ditched or shot down in the ocean. I remember Chuck calling my dad a couple of times a year drunker then cooter brown asking for Whale Tail Beahan as a kid I thought the whole thing very strange. When these men got together the bond they shared was so strong it was like they saw each other yesterday

  16. john thiede

    hello I am an actor and I portrayed Major Charles Sweeny on the Weather Channel show “When Weather Changed History” The episode was filmed in 2009 and was titled “Nagasaki”. I was honored to have been chosen to play this great American Aviator.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *