Thomas Fabian told his sisters not to make a fuss.
He had picked up his new B29 in Kearney, Neb., and was to fly it to Sacramento, Calif., before heading overseas. On his way, he said, he’d take a little detour.
Fabian would fly over his hometown of Superior, Wyo., to say goodbye. “Don’t be broadcasting this all over,” he had told his sisters. He’d be there about 9:30, 10 a.m.
The B29 Superfortress was “the Cadillac of airplanes in those days,” with a 141-foot wingspan, 16-foot four-bladed propellers and four 2,200-horsepower engines. It was built for the war on Japan and held a crew of 11. Next to B17s and B24s, there was no comparison.
It has been said B29 pilots were the best. Fabian doesn’t believe it; it’s just one of those nice things people say.
For Fabian’s fly-by, his co-pilot, gunners and bombardiers were along for the ride.
He was supposed to keep the plane at 20,000 feet the whole trip, but just outside of Rock Springs, he pulled the plane down low.
Because of the plane’s size, it took Fabian about a mile to turn his plane around for a second pass.
He pulled the plane down even lower.
“In fact,” he said, “I had to pull it up a little bit to get over the school.”
Sure enough, his sisters had told everyone. Practically the whole town was there. Men skipped work. Women waved with handkerchiefs.
Fabian maneuvered his plane to fly directly over his mother’s house. She had gone outside to see her son, and the biscuits baking in the oven burned, Fabian remembers hearing later.
Fabian made the newspaper, and the sisters who had blabbed about his fly-by mailed him the clipping.
“I gave them one real good pass,” Fabian said. “To this day I have people come up to me and tell me that they remember that day, that that was a great day for Superior.
“I say, ‘Well, it was a big thrill for me, too.’ Little, ol’ coal miner guy getting to be a big shot in a B29, the best airplane in the world … You know, kind of put a feather in my cap. I was pretty proud of it.”
Before preflight school, Fabian knew nothing about airplanes. Occasionally he would see them fly over Superior, but he'd never been close to one.
All together, preflight, primary, basic, advanced and combat training school took almost two years, and Fabian was sent across the country: Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Texas, Arizona.
In Texas, he flew AT11s, a trainer for bombardiers, dropping 100-pound bombs on targets that could be spotted from the air. He met his crew in Tucson, Ariz., and they practiced bombing, navigating and flying over the ocean in a B29.
Within three days of arriving in Saipan, Fabian and his crew were sent on missions.
Their assignments took 14 to 15 hours, sometimes only a half hour of which was spent over Japan. They dropped fire bombs at night and demolition bombs during the day.
His first trip was over Toyama, and 99.5 percent of the city was destroyed.
“It wasn’t fun -- it was terrible,” Fabian said. “I didn’t realize it until the war (was over). Those people over there really suffered. … We didn’t have any sympathy for them, none whatsoever.
“We were killers.”
In daylight, the B29s flew in formation at 30,000 feet.
At night, planes flew over a target one by one, moving closer to the ground. Searchlights scanned the skies. Fabian’s plane was spotted once.
Once a searchlight finds a plane, the rest of the lights swivel over, making it bright as day in the sky around that one plane. Then comes an attack from the ground, peppering with machine gun fire.
It was difficult to fly through the smoke. Some men said they could smell it.
“Flying was great until you found out that somebody down on the ground was trying to kill you. Then it wasn’t so much fun anymore.”
On Tinian Island, five miles from where Fabian was based on Saipan, there was a special training base off limits to most men. Fabian and the others had no idea what was going on there, why those men were special enough to skip out on the missions everyone else had to do.
On Aug. 6, 1945, Fabian and a slew of planes were sent 150 miles south of Hiroshima.
On their way back to base, they turned on the radio and found out what those men on Tinian had been training to do.
The atomic bomb had been dropped.
Looking back now, Fabian thinks his mission that day was likely a decoy so the Enola Gay could make it through without error.
“War is a hell of a terrible thing. You can’t have war without people getting hurt,” Fabian said. “There’s people talking now saying we were … killers. Sure, we were killers. We ended the damn war.”
There was a huge celebration on base that night. The men jumped for joy. They’d had enough of war.
But before Fabian could go home, he had one more thing to do.
Months after flying over Superior, Fabian was sent on fly-bys of a different kind.
He flew over POW camps, dropping 50-gallon barrels of relief supplies to the men who needed them.
“God, that was a good feeling,” Fabian said. “That was the most wonderful thing. Those were good missions.”
They Served With Honor
Some have said that 1,000 World War II veterans die each day in United States. History dies with each one.
"They Served With Honor" is a special project by the Star-Tribune to collect stories from Wyoming World War II veterans. We will feature one story each week, from Veterans Day to Veterans Day.