As B-29 gunner, Forest City man saw devastation


BY JOSH McAULIFFE, Times-Shamrock Writer

Most people only have an archival photograph’s perspective of the man-made horrors unleashed upon the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Not Michael T. Goskowski. He had a first-hand aerial view of the devastation.

The Forest City resident was serving as a turret gunner aboard a B-29 bomber assigned to the Eighth Air Force during the closing stages of the war in the Pacific. He and the other members of his crew were stationed on the island of Tinian, the launching site for the planes carrying the A-bombs “Little Boy” and “Fat Man,” which obliterated their targets, killed over 150,000 people and led to the Japanese’s unconditional surrender on Aug. 15, 1945.

World War II veteran Michal T. Goskowski sits in his Forest City home with his daughter, Karen Goskowski Polednak, right. A turret gunner aboard a B-29 bomber, Goskowski’s plane flew reconnaissance missions over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the days after they were destroyed by the atomic bombs “Little Boy” and “Fat Man.” TIMES-SHAMROCK PHOTO/MICHAEL J. MULLEN

Goskowski’s plane flew over both cities in the days following the bombings, and his recollections of that period can be found in his recently published memoir, “Pick Up the Pennies in Every Season of Life” (Tate Publishing). The book details his journey from child of Polish immigrants to successful businessman and pillar of the Upvalley community.

Now 88, Goskowski suffered a stroke six years ago, which makes verbal communication extremely difficult. But, his family was able to take his many written recollections and turn them into a compelling, cohesive narrative. What Goskowski can no longer express about his wartime service, “Pick Up The Pennies” conveys in eloquent, plainspoken prose.

Joined reserves

The book’s war passages begin around October 1942, when the then-20-year-old Goskowski was living in New Jersey and working for Wonder Bread, with hopes of eventually earning enough money to go to college. One day, a friend told him about some courses he was taking in New York City through the Army Signal Corps Reserve program.

Goskowski was so excited by what he heard that he took the next day off to go to the Signal Corps’ recruiting station in Newark.

“The sergeant was surprised that I would volunteer for that particular branch since they were the first in combat to advance in order to keep lines of communication open,” Goskowski recalls in the book. “He told me that the life of a Signal Corpsman could be five minutes in combat. I took the gamble anyway because I felt confident that this decision would send me to school.”

Indeed, the Reserves provided him the opportunity to take courses in electronic engineering through Rutgers University. Not long after receiving his associate certificate, Goskowski was told to report to Fort Monmouth, N.J., where he took the test to enter the Air Corps, which was in need of recruits.

From there, he was sent to Fort Dix, N.J., for basic training, then Greensboro, N.C., for air force cadet training. There, he spent his 21st birthday doing kitchen duty.

Following a stint in Pittsburgh, Goskowski was made a cadet captain and began taking pilot lessons. However, right after doing his first solo flight, he was transferred to aerial gunnery school. The move was a disappointment, but he accepted it.

“I wanted to be a pilot, but they wouldn’t let me,” Goskowski said on a recent afternoon at his home, surrounded by his wife of 61 years, Josie, and their two daughters, Karen and Trish.

At Tyndall Field in Panama City, Fla., he was assigned to the B-29 unit. Several more training stops followed.

Training a blur

“As time went by, my military life became a series of dates of occurrences,” writes Goskowski, whose brothers, Walter and Raymond, also served in the war. “I felt controlled continuously and never knew what the next day would bring. … All of my training was quick; there was no time to work on levels of accomplishment. It was a very stressful and mentally challenging experience.”

At the end of 1944, he finally completed his classes, and learned he had qualified for combat crew training. He was then assigned to the 507th Bomb Squad of the 333rd Bomb Group, and met the other members of his B-29’s 10-man crew.

“My assignment as a left turret (blister) gunner meant that not only would I sit in the blister with my gun sights, but also I would train to be a backup for the engineer of the plane,” he writes. “I would fill in, in case of an emergency.”

All that training finally culminated in the summer of 1945, when Goskowski’s plane touched down on the Japanese island of Okinawa. Less than six hours after arriving, Goskowski experienced his first enemy air raid.

As Goskowski and his crew headed for their plane, one of the Japanese planes made it through the anti-aircraft fire and landed on the base’s air strip.

“Much to our surprise, the doors opened up from all sides of the plane, and the Japanese soldiers with grenades and bombs wrapped around their bodies proceeded to run up to the revetments, where our planes were, and literally tried to throw themselves at our planes to create a suicide explosion,” Goskowski writes.

Scared out of his wits, Goskowski took out his .45-caliber revolver and began firing in the direction of the bonzaiing Japanese soldiers. He and his fellow crew members finally hit one, and the man blew himself up just before reaching their plane.

The next morning, the higher-ups decided it was unsafe to stay on Okinawa, and Goskowski’s entire squadron was re-assigned to the Northern Mariana island of Tinian, where they were folded into the Eighth Air Force.

New assignment

Not long after arriving on Tinian, the Japanese propaganda radio broadcaster Tokyo Rose announced that the Americans were planning to use a secret weapon called the atomic bomb. “We listened to her program because she played very good American songs, but did not take the bomb comment seriously,” Goskowski writes.

Alas, on Aug. 6, the B-29 bomber Enola Gay dropped the first atomic bomb, “Little Boy,” on Hiroshima. Three days, later, the second bomb, “Fat Man,” was dropped on Nagasaki by the B-29 Bockscar. Both planes flew out of Tinian.

In the days afterward, Goskowski’s crew flew several 14-hour reconnaissance missions to Japan.

“Our point of no return was over Iwo Jima, where our fighter protection, P-38 and black widow fighter planes, would join us as we flew toward our target,” Goskowski writes. “Our crew had a song, ‘Little Gray Home in the West,’ which we would sing as we entered the point of no return and the cone of silence. When we finished the song, there would be no further unnecessary conversation. We would be on full alert scanning the skies for enemy fire and enemy planes.”

These missions took them over both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. From overhead, they saw little more than “charred black circles of destruction.”

“They were incredibly devastating sights to take in; all of our crew members, including myself, had very little to say,” he writes. “This was something no military training can prepare a man to see.”

“Pick Up the Pennies in Every Season of Life,” is available in paperback for $12.99 at

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