“An Awesometalk With” ROGER NORTON, Webmaster of the ‘Abraham Lincoln Research Site’

Welcome to another edition of “An Awesometalk With”. It’s my pleasure to introduce you to Mr. Roger Norton, the creator and Webmaster of the Abraham Lincoln Research Site website. Mr. Norton contacted me in early December, 2008 in reference to an interview I did with Dr. Thomas Schwartz (see “An Awesometalk With” DR. THOMAS SCHWARTZ, Illinois State Historian). It turns out that Dr. Schwartz was a former student of Mr. Norton’s. It’s a small world.


I can tell you that I genuinely felt honored by his email as I am a fan of Mr. Norton’s website. I believe it is one of the best sites on Abraham Lincoln online today.

As you will read, Mr. Norton considers his site ideal for students, teachers, families and the general public. It contains accurate and easy to understand information, and he genuinely enjoys sharing it with anyone interested in President Lincoln, his family and their times.

I hope you enjoy our chat.




NOTE: This interview was constructed from several written correspondence between Mr. Norton and myself over the course of several weeks.


December 30, 2008

BC: Welcome Mr. Norton. It’s nice to be able to share your thoughts with my readers today. I’d like to begin by asking how your website got started.

RN: I taught American history at Herrick Middle School in Downers Grove, Illinois, from 1966 – 1994. When I retired from teaching, I looked for a way of staying in education without being in a classroom. In 1996 I created a website on the Lincoln assassination. Within a short period of time, the site was enlarged with stories about Lincoln’s life. Then I added a site on Mary Todd Lincoln. The entire website was named the Abraham Lincoln Research Site, and I invited people to e-mail me with their questions concerning the 16th president, his assassination, and his family.

BC: It really is a wonderful research site. And being that it just celebrated its 12th birthday on December 29, 2008; I imagine that it is still going strong and is as popular as ever?

RN: After a few years, search engines began listing my Lincoln pages near the top, and the number of visitors rose dramatically. The site, which is currently composed of 87 different Lincoln-related topics, is averaging about 1.4 million visitors a year.

BC: Wow. I had no idea that you were generating those kinds of site visit numbers. That’s awesome!

RN: It will celebrate its 12 millionth visitor (since 1996) early in 2009. February is always the busiest month. The web pages have a counter at the bottom which is a link to the site’s statistics.

It’s my estimation that I have replied to over 40,000 Lincoln-related e-mails since 1996. About half of these e-mails come from students, and about 10 percent come from overseas. Lincoln is especially popular in Europe and India.

BC: I understand that you had to change you web address earlier this fall. Did you lose readership because of this? And what caused the problem?

RN: Barry, right now my visitors are WAY down from a year ago because one of my web servers quit the business on October 31, and I had to switch about 2/3 of my site to my other server (and thus have new URL’s). I have currently lost many of my good placements in Google, Yahoo, etc. Right now I am averaging about 1,564 visitors a day; a year ago in December it was about 3,100 a day. Over the next few weeks [the 2008 holiday season], the number will grow considerably lower because schools are not in session. Then it will pick up again in January.

BC: What a shame about your loss of search engine placement. I know that it takes a long time to build up that kind of placement and get into the upper listings with the major search engines.  

RN: I am hoping that I will regain my Google placements within the next several months, but I know it may be a year or more before my number of visitors returns to the levels it used to be before the URL changes. All my stats are at http://www.sitemeter.com/?a=stats&s=mrsosa66.

BC: Mr. Norton, can you tell us a little bit about your personal history and how you first got interested in Lincoln?

RN: I was born September 19, 1943, in Oak Park, Illinois, and graduated from Oak Park and River Forest High School. I attended Denison University in Granville, Ohio, and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in History. I then attended Indiana University where I received a Master of Science in Education degree.

As a youngster growing up in Illinois my early interest in Abraham Lincoln came from the stories told by my grade school teachers. In the 1960’s I became particularly interested in Lincoln’s assassination with the publication of a book entitled “Twenty Days” by Dorothy Meserve Kunhardt and Philip B. Kunhardt, Jr.

My interest in the assassination led to my mock trial unit in the classroom.

BC: To clarify, as a teacher, you would have your own students perform the mock trial of the Lincoln conspirators as part of their curriculum?

RN: [Yes.] Each year in December I explained to my classes that we were going to reenact the trial following Lincoln’s assassination. I picked prosecution and defense attorneys before the winter vacation. Each attorney was given a copy of “The Day Lincoln Was Shot” by Jim Bishop. Additionally, the lawyers were given a list of their witnesses and told to prepare testimony for them. The lawyers were advised that the local library had a copy of Benn Pitman’s transcription of the original trial. The lawyers had the entire two-week vacation to prepare their case.

After vacation each class elected a judge, and I picked the witnesses and defendants through volunteers. The jury was thus composed of the shy students who preferred not to take part in the oral simulation. We tried only six defendants [rather than eight]; Michael O’Laughlen and Samuel Arnold were dropped as some eighth graders had problems getting a grasp on those characters. As my classes averaged about 33 students, many of the original witnesses were not used, and in some cases students were required to play more than one role.

After a few preparation days for the witnesses to learn the lines written by the attorneys, we started the trial. In contrast to the actual 1865 trial, the defendants were allowed to take the witness stand. I allowed the trial to go for around ten class periods. Then, after final statements, the jury was excused to vote on the six defendants. Oftentimes the verdicts were different from 1865, particularly in the cases of Mary Surratt and Samuel Mudd. However, the only times Lewis Powell was ever found innocent was when William Bell (William Seward’s butler) did a poor job of testifying.

BC: That is a fascinating school project Mr. Norton. I can’t imagine how beneficial it was for the students. Was this something that you developed yourself, and for how many years did you run this mock trial?

RN: No, when I started teaching another teacher on the staff was doing a mock trial unit, so the idea didn’t originate with me.  For several years I experimented with different trial simulations including the one that followed the Boston Massacre.  Eventually I decided the Lincoln conspiracy trial was my favorite, and over the last 24 years of my teaching career that’s the one that was done in my classroom.

BC:  You also mentioned that some of the outcomes were different from the actual trial. I am particularly interested in knowing what the outcome was for Dr. Mudd. Would you elaborate on that for us?


RN: The majority of time Dr. Mudd was found innocent.  But in those days books such as Dr. Edward Steers’ “His Name is Still Mudd” had not been published.  Most Mudd biographies were either neutral or sympathetic towards the doctor.  When my student lawyers researched the case they had trouble finding reasons he might be guilty.  Steers’ book opened a lot of eyes with its persuasive arguments about the doctor’s complicity with Booth.  I would recommend both Steers’ book and Michael Kauffman’s “American Brutus.”  Kauffman takes a different view than Steers, and readers can decide for themselves what they think of Mudd’s guilt or innocence.  Both authors present convincing arguments.  I exchange e-mails with both authors (both of whom have helped me with my website), so I will keep my personal opinion private.

BC: Returning to your current Abraham Lincoln Research Site, where do you produce and maintain it?

RN: I operate on a computer in our den which contains several bookcases holding about 350 books on Lincoln and family. In essence I am a “research librarian” who only deals with one topic. Questions from students are mainly related to research and help for homework. Questions from adults cover a myriad of topics ranging from clergymen seeking a Lincoln quote for a Sunday sermon to travelers wondering why there is a statue of Lincoln in Parliament Square.

BC: I like your site a lot, Mr. Norton, as I can see many people do. Is there a simple formula as to why that is?

RN: I believe the site’s appeal is due to the fact that it is written mainly for students, teachers, families and the general public. Lincoln scholars would find little new by reading my research; my goal has been to bring Lincoln and his legacy to students and the average American.

BC: In case my readers are unfamiliar with your website, I wanted to let them know that all your information is free. This is not a pay-per-view site.

RN: The Abraham Lincoln Research Site is a not-for-profit website. I operate it simply because I enjoy the subject matter and the ego satisfaction of helping people. It has been a truly wonderful retirement experience.

BC: It certainly has been beneficial to untold numbers of students and other researchers. You must be proud?

RN: Lincoln‘s life story is an inspiration for all Americans as his accomplishments and perseverance to succeed in life were phenomenal. The purpose of my website is to share his experiences and character with as many people as possible. I think this is especially important nowadays in a country that is deeply in need of positive role models.

BC: I couldn’t agree with you more Mr. Norton. I want to thank you for sharing your thoughts with my readers and look forward to speaking with you again in the future to see how you and your website are doing.

Thank you.


If you would like to visit Mr. Norton’s website please click on either of these attached link.

Abraham Lincoln Research Site    http://rogerjnorton.com/Lincoln2.html 









Other posted interviews to date:


“An Awesometalk With” Harold Holzer, Lincoln Scholar

(posted on November 10, 2008) 


 “An Awesometalk With” Dr. Thomas Schwartz, Illinois State Historian 

(posted on December 08, 2008) 


“An Awesometalk With” Robert Krauss, 509th Composite Group Historian 

(posted on December 16, 2008) 




December 19, 2008: Barry Cauchon


The Roosevelt dime was first issued in 1946, the year after FDR's death in 1945.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the 32nd President of the United States who was elected to four consecutive terms in the White House. He became President in 1933 and served until the beginning of his 4th term when he died in office on April 12, 1945. During his entire presidency, Roosevelt was paralyzed from the waist down due to polio. What many people do not know is that he contracted the disease in August, 1921 (a full 12 years before he became President). Roosevelt, his family and staff did an amazing job to conceal his paralysis from the public and many citizens never even knew that he suffered from the affliction. However, this did not stop him from looking for a cure.


A rare picture of Roosevelt in a wheelchair. Very few were taken of him this way.

After he became President, Roosevelt  regularly spoke on behalf of finding a cure for polio and encouraged people to go out and collect on its behalf. He believed that if every person in the country donated just one dime, a cure could be found for the disease. He founded the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (which would later be called the March of Dimes due to his ‘dime collection’  program).

Roosevelt was conscious of the financial stress that the country had been under due to the Great Depression, so he encouraged the people of the United States to donate just one dime to the cause. He reasoned that if everyone in the country donated just one dime, it would help to find the cure. And his efforts paid off. The funds from the March of Dimes program were used for research that eventually lead to vaccines which completely wiped out polio throughout most of the world.

Alas, Roosevelt did not live to see the success of his campaign as the cure was not be found until 10 years after his death. Interestingly, on April 12, 1955, on the 10th anniversary of FDR’s death, Jonas Salk announced to the world that a cure for polio had been found and they would shortly begin inoculations using the new vaccines. By 1957, inoculations had begun and the fight to eradicate polio was on.

So why is President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s image on the face of the US dime (10 cent piece)?
After Roosevelt’s death, the US Mint and US Government decided to commemorate his life on a coin. The reason the dime was chosen was two fold. First, the country wanted to honor the late President by remembering that he had served his country for 12 years and successfully brought them through the Great Depression and World War II. The second reason was to celebrate his efforts to find a cure for polio through the March of Dimes campaign.

Another writer put it this way. 

And that is the reason Franklin is on the dime. He’s not on the twenty-dollar bill, or something fancy. He’s on the dime. He’d love that, because a dime is something everybody can have in their pocket. It’s not a thousand-dollar bill, it’s the dime. And it connects him to polio and to the March of Dimes, which is still doing all this amazing work for spinal cord injury today all over the world. Franklin created the March of Dimes. And so his legacy is just huge”.





December 16, 2008: Barry Cauchon


Today I have the pleasure of presenting “An Awesometalk With” Mr. Robert Krauss, Historian and Photo Archivist for the 509th Composite Group.



Robert and Amelia Krauss

The 509th Composite Group was created to plan and execute the deployment of the first atomic bombs against Germany and Japan. Upon completing their missions, many feel their efforts brought a quick end to World War II.


Mr. Krauss has spent quite a few years in the company of many of these airmen and their families and has one of the largest, if not the largest, collection of photographs relating to the 509th.


Mr. Krauss has been the acting Chairman of the 509th Reunion Committee since 2001. He publishes a bi-monthly newsletter and manages his website “The 509th Composite Group” at www.enolagay509th.com. And he has written a book, “The 509th Remembered” which is a wonderful testament, containing over 350 pages of information and photographs on the men, the planes and the circumstances that made up the 509th.


It was an honor speaking with Mr. Krauss and I hope you really enjoy our chat.






BC: Welcome Mr. Krauss to A Little Touch of History.


RK: Thank you. It’s nice to be here.


BC: How long have you been involved with the 509th?


RK: Well I first got heavily involved in 1990 when we went to one of their reunions. And I say we, because my wife and son, who was 10 years old at the time, all went to Wendover. At the time it was the largest reunion that they had had. There were well over 300 people there. There was one more in 1995 in Albuquerque that also had that many. And that was probably the two peak reunions of the 509th. After that the numbers just kind of went downhill. And now of course it’s very slim because of their ages. I spoke to one within the last hour that’s 92. They range from as young as 84 to 92-93.


BC: Are you a veteran yourself?


RK: No. I was never in the service.


BC: Are you a historian by trade?


RK: No. I guess it’s hard to define. I guess years ago when people had an interest in this sort of stuff they would refer to themselves as amateur historians. But you know, I’ve never really seen a class for historians. So, I guess at some point, if you do it long enough, you become a historian and people start gravitating towards you. So I just call myself a historian now.


BC: I was at a conference this past weekend and they listed me as a historian just because I write a blog on history. And well…I’m still struggling with that one. But maybe in a few years from now I’ll accept that.


RK: Well, I think that’s what happens. It comes with age. And my age, by the way is 65. So I am probably a tad older than what the 509th children would be, the ones that we see coming to reunions.


BC: In 1990, was it just something that you wanted to go to just out of interest?


RK: No, I guess I probably should have finished that statement. I first started somewhere in the late 1980s. I worked as a buyer over the years, a purchasing agent. And it’s always been a high pressure job. And so looking for relief, I’d go to the library during lunch hour. I had an interest in World War II and picked up a book on the “Enola Gay” one day and started reading about it. I was fascinated to learn that there were more than just the “Enola Gay” and the “Bockscar” and I just wanted to learn more about it.

So through correspondence with one of the “Bockscar” veterans in Chicago I got the idea that I could go to their reunion. I mean they wouldn’t kick me out if I went (laughing)…that sort of thing! So I wrote to the reunion organizer, who at the time was George Marquardt, an airplane commander. In fact, he was the photo airplane commander on the first mission and then he was the Kokura weather plane commander on the second mission. But at any rate, George said “Fine, come on out”! But I went as a visitor, not as an attendee. I found out I could have registered, but I didn’t. We just went as visitors. I became an official attendee in 1992 at the next reunion. But in 1990, I met a lot of the guys and started learning a lot about the planes and crews. And so what I started doing was collecting images of the crews and the planes and as I was doing this, I realized, nobody else was! So this just continued on until my collection became quite large.


BC: I understand, if I read your bio correctly, that in 2001 you chaired or had starting chairing the reunion?


RK: Right. That’s correct! I think it was in 2000, that there was a reunion in Kansas City. The fellow who ran the reunion, his name was Gerry Feldman. And Gerry was a Bomb Wing veteran. About March or April, 1946, the 509th Composite Group disbanded and became the 509th Bomb Wing. These guys were the ones that did the experimental bombing at Bikini. They also did the operation called Crossroads, Test Able and Test Baker. One was above ground, one was below the water, targeting captured and surplus ships and measuring the effects of radiation to animals on board the ships.


BC: Okay.


RK: At any rate, Feldman was a veteran of Operation Crossroads. So that made him a little bit younger. Well, at the business meeting, when the time came for having another reunion, nobody was volunteering to be the chairman. And I had remembered that I really enjoyed Wendover when I went there in 1990. So I just said to my wife “Do you mind if we do a reunion”? And she looked at me and said, “Yes, I do mind”! And I said “Well, I’m going to do it anyway”!

BC & RK: (Laughing)


RK: Let me give you a little background on that. The President of the Wendover Historic Airfield happened to come to this reunion and he spent a lot of time with me because I set up a memorabilia display. And so we were talking on the side saying that if something were to happen he’d be happy to co-host the reunion. So I knew that I would have help being that we kind of had an inside there. I mean it wasn’t all out of the clear blue sky type of thing. We had never run a reunion before. But we did it and they attendees enjoyed it so much that they kept asking us to do it over again. And so we have done every reunion since. Except for 2007 in which we had to take care of some health problems. Another group ran that reunion but we did it again in 2008 and we were elected to do it again in 2009.


BC: Terrific. And you’re glad to be doing it?


RK: Yeah, it’s a labor of love. All these veterans now over the years have gotten to know my wife and son. And I want to say that we look at them as family and I think they look at us the same way.


BC: That’s terrific. It was funny that you were a buyer in the 80’s. I was also a buyer in the 80’s. There must be something about history and buying (chuckle). What were you buying?


RK: Well, I started out in 1970 just out of pure luck. A fellow who ran a foundry, a General Manager, hired me as a foundry buyer. So I was buying commodities for making castings…cast iron castings. In ’73 I quit that job and went to work for a valve manufacturer. And that’s what I was doing. I was a casting buyer. In 1974-75, those were days where you had to plan because castings were on allocation. Lead times were 35 weeks.


BC: Wow.


RK: And then around ’78, all of a sudden the curtain came down about these 35 week lead time. People were canceling orders left and right, almost like what you are seeing now with the economy.


BC: You’re out of that business now? You’re retired?


RK: Yes, (laughing). Well not voluntarily did I retire. I hit the retirement age fortunately, but the last company I worked for, like most of the manufacturing companies I worked for, closed. I was a Buyer and Stockroom Supervisor for a Division of SPX Corporation who was a major supplier to Ford Motor Company. And our particular plant was making magnesium die castings which went in the steering column of the Ford Taurus. At any rate, Ford decided to go to China with their castings and that did us in. So they just closed the plant. And I was within a year of retirement. 


BC: I understand that you wrote a book called “The 509th Remembered”. Is it a commemorative book that you wrote for one of those reunions?




RK: That’s how it started out. We thought that the reunion at Wendover in 2001 was going to be the last one. And so what we did was … I came up with this idea of doing this commemorative book of Wendover stories. We gathered all the information and all the stories we could find that had been printed about Wendover from what the fellows had written to me. Plus letters they had written. I also used pictures from my collection. So we came up with about a 75 page to 100 page booklet. And it was 8” x 10” and it was nicely illustrated and so on. That basically was the foundation for our book. And so when we did the reunion in the following year we solicited more stories. I never really thought that it would ever end up as a hard cover book. I never planned on being an editor.


BC: (laughing)


RK: It was a joint thing. My wife typed every word in the book. There’s probably 380 pages. Something like that.


BC: I was just going to comment on how large it had grown.


RK: Yeah, it’s that big!


BC: Currently, is this the last version or are you still getting material coming in?


RK: Well (laughing) we do a newsletter in which we try to put out every two months. And there are still some people sending letters. And some of them are worthy of putting them in the book. But at this stage of the game, I’ve got a good inventory of books out in my pole barn and I don’t know that I want to add more to the book.


BC: I guess would that mean scrapping those to reprint?


RK: No. I would wait until they were all sold. But the trouble is right now with the economy as such, that sales of the book are just very negligible. I mean it’s very down.


BC: I’d like to put on my blog that people can buy your book right from your website.


RK: The Enola Gay 509th.


BC: Yeah.


RK: That’s the site. And there is a section there where you can order autographed photos or models or books. And the book is featured there.


BC: Perfect.


RK: We had had a military book publisher contact us but we would have had to give up the rights to the book. So we decided not to do that. The only way we market the book is through the website and appearances. I occasionally will put some on eBay.

But typically, what we try to do is get one of the veterans to go to a show with us. We do military collector shows, appearances at schools, gun shows, patriotic air shows, that sort of thing. You know, the places where we’ll find people who are interested in World War II history.


BC: How many of those do you do a year?


RK: We average about eight. Eight shows a year I think is what we are doing.


BC: Veteran wise, as you said earlier, they are getting on in age and some of your friends have probably passed already…


RK: A lot of them.


BC: How many are still able to travel?


RK: Now are you talking about people we take to sign books?


BC: Yes.


RK: Right now, we’re down to the “Enola Gay” navigator, and we take a veteran of the “USS Indianapolis”. And those are the two fellows that we’re working with.

And with regards to the “Indianapolis”, if you are involved in any kind of research on the atomic bomb, you’re going to come across the Indianapolis. You know, it’s such an amazing story what those guys did and what they went through.


BC: Did you write about that in your book?


RK: No. We didn’t write about the story of the Indianapolis.

There were two fellows in the Manhattan Project, Dr. James Nolan and Robert Furman who rode on the “Indianapolis” with the bomb parts for the first bomb. The division of the 509th called Project Alberta, made up of 54 scientists, were kind of the brains behind both bombs. And these guys were stationed on Tinian. Nolan was a medical doctor and his concern was radiation and he was attached to Project Alberta.  


Bob Krauss, Bob Furman, Amelia Krauss, Mary Ann Ferebee (widow of Tom Ferebee) and Dutch Van Kirk

RK: Bob Furman just died. Nolan died a long time ago. Furman never was really clear about what he did. It sounded like after he got on Tinian, after the “Indianapolis” docked, he basically just stayed there until the second bomb was dropped and Japan surrendered. And then he became a leader of one of three teams that went into Japan. They were looking for the Japanese atomic scientists. So that’s the only thing I address. I have Nolan’s story and a little story from Bob Furman, as well as a picture of the Indianapolis, but I don’t go into what happened.


BC: I forget the name of the famous book on the “Indianapolis”.


RK: Oh probably, if it’s an older book, it’s probably “Abandon Ship” or “All the Drowned Sailors”? Or if it was more recent it would have been “In Harm’s Way” by Doug Stanton.


BC: “In Harm’s Way”! Yes, that’s the one! When you say recent, did that come out in the last 10-15 years?


RK: Oh yes. Stanton’s book came out about 2002, I think. Matter of fact, Stanton contacted me and there is a photo in there that I’m credited with. It’s the picture of Chuck Quinn’s crew, the guys who flew in the Lockheed Ventura that discovered the men in the water.


BC: And the gentleman you take around, Mike …


RK: Kuryla.


BC: Kuryla. That’s how it’s said. I wasn’t quite sure how to pronounce it.


RK: It’s synonymous with gorilla!


BC: Oh, okay (laughing) that helps!

And ‘Dutch’ Van Kirk, is that the other gentleman you tour with?


RK: Yes. 


Lorain and Mike Kuryla, 'Dutch' Van Kirk, Amelia & Bob Krauss

BC: Where do they live now?

RK: Well Van Kirk lives in Georgia and Kuryla lives in Chicago.


BC: Do they tend to just travel in the Northeastern part of the States?


RK: Yes, pretty much. Right now we’re going to be doing an appearance with Mike on the weekend of December 13th. We are going to be out at the New England Air Museum. And then we’re doing a gun show on the same weekend. New England Air Museum being on the Friday and the gun show, being about 50 miles away, is going to be Saturday and Sunday. We’re following a routine that we did with ‘Dutch’ Van Kirk a year ago. So we kind of tested the waters with ‘Dutch’ (chuckling) and now we’re taking Mike.


So basically we’ve gone up and down the east coast. We’ve gone from Massachusetts all the way down to Ft. Myers, Florida. It’s about as far south as we’ve gone.


BC: I would think, from a personal point of view, that there is a tremendous interest in these gentlemen and that history. Are you finding that it’s still there? My audience tends to be more high school & college students and teachers. So I’m getting a real crossover. It’s funny that the “Bockscar” story that I wrote, out of 60 stories, is still #3 on the list.


RK: Really! Let’s see. How to answer that question! What I’m finding is the greatest interest is from people in my age bracket, the sons of the veterans.
And if they bring their children, or grand children …you know, they’re trying to teach them. When we do an appearance, the actual WW II veterans really want to relate their experiences to the veteran that we bring.


But from a marketing standpoint, it’s people in my age bracket. We find that when they go and talk at a high school, these kids are not being taught this history in school. ‘Dutch’ has said this to me, and so has Mike, and I’ve been with them to witness this. And so what happens is they have to put some of this material into perspective for them. They almost have to start explaining WW II and ‘Dutch’ does a very good job on that. We show a 15 minute video and in that video it talks about how WW II was an effort from everybody. Men, women and children were all pitching in during WW II. The generations that are growing up now, they don’t see that.


BC: I imagine that is the uphill climb. I’m finding the exact same thing. I was talking to quite a few teachers from the Western Southern Tier, New York, and they all say the same thing. It’s a real battle because the kids are bored. They’re a little out of touch with history. Everything’s current and fast paced and history for them is what they ate last week.


RK: Right. Times are different today. You know, when I was a kid, I collected stamps. And if you look back at the stamps from 1960 and earlier, and I’m going to use this as an example, there was a lot of history on stamps. And that’s how I learned history. I loved history. I was very good at it in school. I mean I didn’t really have to study it, I enjoyed it. I was not a WW II historian at the time. I read American history, mostly Civil War.

When I was growing up, the WW II veterans wanted to get the war over with. Lots of those guys didn’t want to talk about it. A lot of them gave their medals away, their patches, their uniforms and all that sort of stuff. I think only in the mid- 1980s or so, people started realizing this stuff was valuable. And collectors came onto the market. Now all this material is very highly collectible and valuable.


You know what I like to point out is when I started trying to find these veterans it was very difficult because during the Viet Nam War process, there were a lot of anti-nuclear movements going on. And most of the fellows, specifically from the “Enola Gay”, and some from the “Bockscar”, had unlisted phone numbers. Their addresses were very difficult to obtain. And what would happen was if you could find one of them and you gained their confidence, they would pass you along to another guy. So what I found, when I was trying to locate these fellows in the 1980s, was that it was extremely difficult. Not like it was later in the middle 1990s when it became very easy to locate them.


The first fellow I found, I can’t remember how I located him, was George Caron who was the tail gunner on the “Enola Gay”. And a lot of these fellows hadn’t gotten together in all these years. But George knew where Ray Gallagher was. Ray was the Assistant Flight Engineer on “Bockscar” and so I met Ray in 1990 at Wendover. And he looked like he was kind of a grumpy guy but he and I turned out to be fast friends. He worked for AT & T. I don’t know what his background was schooling-wise, but he really was a common man. He didn’t have a great mastery of the English language. But he really put it into perspective for me back then. He said “In order to understand the use of the atomic bombs, you had to live those times”. Basically he echoed what I’ve heard from every other fellow. They all wanted the war to be over with. And Ray felt that they saved many lives by dropping those bombs.


BC: I do want to hear more about that, but how long had these gentlemen been in the war? Had they been there from the start, maybe four years or five years or so?


RK: How do I answer this one? Okay. The 393rd was training in Nebraska. And Tibbets had been picked in 1944 to head up the 509th. So Tibbets went to the 504th Bomb Group and chose the 393rd. He took the 393rd Bomb Squadron out of the 504th, took them to Wendover, and then at that point, they started adding more men to it. They became a composite group which was totally a unique group. They had their own transport planes. They had their own doctors, their own veterinarians. They needed nothing, absolutely nothing! If they had to go off base to get something it was entirely secret.


BC: And this group was together, from start to finish, a little over a year?


RK: That was it, yeah! Really from September ‘44 to about December ’45 is when they came back. They were brought back to Roswell, New Mexico. And that’s where they were discharged from. Most of them were discharged between December ’45 and March of ’46.


BC: How many were in the group in its entirety?


RK: I’d hate to have you quote me on this but it’s 1700. About 1770 or something like that.


BC: So let’s get back to your original story about Ray Gallagher, before I interrupted you. I was pretty fascinated with that.


RK: Well, you had asked about the experience that these fellas had. It’s hard to say how the men were picked. I don’t know who picked them and I don’t know if they had some sort of committee or how all these guys came to Wendover. Ray was probably one of maybe about 25 men. To understand better, we have to go back here a little bit…. 


Paul Tibbets in the Enola Gay

Paul Tibbets flew a B-17 over North Africa. And he had 40-some odd missions. This is where I’d need to go to the reference books. But he had a lot of missions over North Africa. And his navigator was ‘Dutch’ Van Kirk, his bombardier was Tom Ferebee. And so what happened was that Paul was brought back to the United States after he flew all these missions to become part of the training program for the B-29…the training and development. He was stationed down at Eglin Field. And while he was down at Eglin Field that’s where he met guys like George Caron, Ray Gallagher, Don Albury, Chuck Sweeney and Jim Van Pelt. The list goes on. Tibbets put out the word that he wanted these guys brought in and so that’s how Ray Gallagher got into the 509th, which is kind of unique too, because Ray wore eyeglasses. He was put on the crew of “The Great Artiste”, which was the original crew plane, with Don Albury. Ray was given dispensation because of the fact that he wore glasses.

Does this all make sense to you, I hope? (chuckling)


BC: Yes, (laughing)


RK: But at any rate, Fred Bock for example, was flying an airplane on December 7, 1941 when Pearl Harbor was attacked. And he was flying B-17s from the US over to India in early ’42. So here was a guy in the war for 5 years with all that experience. But then there were new guys in the 393rd that had just come into Fairmont, Nebraska when the 509th was put together…when the 393rd was pulled out of Fairmont to go to Wendover.


BC: When the final decision was made, for the series of planned bomb droppings, I understand that the first two were not the only ones planned?


RK: No, there were four cities originally. Nagata was one that’s never really been talked about. The first target was Hiroshima, second one was supposed to be Kokura, third Nagasaki and fourth was Nagata. I think that was the order. There had also been some conversation about Tokyo.

BC: So on the second bombing mission they were supposed to hit Kokura? But instead they went to Nagasaki because it was…?


RK: Obscured by cloud cover and smoke.


BC: Nagasaki would have been the third target anyway?


RK: Correct.


BC: Did they run into any opposition during those first two missions?


RK: You know there’s a book by Norman Polmar, which he wrote on the 50th anniversary, I think, of the “Enola Gay” … when the “Enola Gay” came out at the Smithsonian. I think it’s just called “Enola Gay”. This fellow Polmar is a historian that they seem to use on the History Channel for all sorts of things. And in his book he states that Jacob Beser said that Japanese fighters came up, and they banked and departed. According to Van Kirk, that’s totally untrue…totally untrue! So that never happened! The planes were specially built and could fly higher and faster than the Japanese could.


BC: The Pacific conflict has always intrigued me, and getting to know more about the 509th is a real treat. Thank you.


RK: It’s such an interesting piece of history. The more I read and the more I met these fellows it just became fascinating. But it took awhile for me to get these missions straighten out. For instance, who flew what plane? Because none of the planes flew with nose art on them, the only way to know what plane you were in was if you looked at the serial number on the tail.


BC: Oh really.


RK: Right! And the only guys really concerned with that would be the navigator and the flight engineer and the assistant flight engineer. And they switched planes quite a bit.


BC: How many planes flew on those runs?


RK: The 509th had 15 planes total. But there were over 80 special planes built. Two planes that I know of stayed at Wendover. As well there were two crews that stayed at Wendover and were assimilated into the 509th when the 509th came back to Roswell. They then moved these two crews from Wendover to Roswell.


BC: On the first Hiroshima run, how many planes actually flew in that mission?


RK: Seven.


BC: Oh wow, I never knew that.


The Enola Gay and pilot Colonel Paul Tibbets


RK: Well, to start, there were no escorts. So, an hour before the strike plane went out, they sent out three weather planes. And those planes…one went over Hiroshima, one went over Kokura, one went over Nagasaki. And they were to report the weather back. Then the “Enola Gay” took off and it was accompanied by “The Great Artiste” and “Necessary Evil”. “Necessary Evil” was the photo plane and “The Great Artiste” was the instrument plane. The “Enola Gay” got the word “No dense cloud cover. Okay to bomb primary”, so they headed straight to Hiroshima. And as those planes were coming back, the “Enola Gay” and the other two were heading out. Passing back and forth they didn’t see each other visually.

And then there was another plane that was on Iwo Jima. They had a bomb pit on Iwo Jima for emergencies and that was McKnight’s plane. I can’t remember which. I usually have to look at the book for this one because he flew two different planes. Neither one was his crew plane. His crew plane had an engine out.

And his crew plane was top secret. I think it was the “Big Stink” on the first mission. And that plane was sitting on Iwo Jima with the engines running, with two security men on board.


BC: And the purpose of that plane was to…?


RK: Well, if the “Enola Gay” failed for any reason they would land on Iwo Jima and transfer the bomb to that plane.


BC: Oh I see.


RK: But the “Enola Gay” crew would still carry the bomb.


BC: Okay. So the crew would literally just switch and take off again?


RK: Right. You were aware of the fact that the bomb was loaded from underneath?


BC: No actually.


RK: Well, what they did was they trailered the bomb from the bomb assembly hut. They put this trailer over the bomb pit and if you remember the service stations years ago, they had one big massive cylinder that would raise the car up and then down. Basically that’s what they did. They’d lowered this trailer down into the pit then they backed the plane over with a tractor, like a caterpillar tractor. Actually it was a Cletrac, was the name of it. Anyway they backed the plane over the pit and then they raised the bomb up. And that’s how they loaded it. There were two pits on Tinian and there was a pit at Wendover as well. But they didn’t load any bombs over there with fissionable material in it.


BC: Was there a reason they had two different, I’ll call it, type of bombs for the first two runs?


RK: Well yes. If you took all the Uranium that Oak Ridge could produce, it took two years to produce it. I’m not sure how you make Uranium but it took two years to produce all the Uranium for that first bomb. And they just couldn’t manufacture any more of it. So therefore they went to the Plutonium which was more readily available and easier to manufacture. Plutonium, I believe, came out of Hanford, Washington, that plant. But Oak Ridge took two years to come up with the Uranium.


BC: Did this also include the tests that they ran in the deserts?


RK: Yes, that’s correct?


BC: It makes you wonder if they would have been ready two years before if it didn’t take that long.


RK: No, they wouldn’t have. I’m better at the 509th history rather than the bomb and Einstein’s letter. But I think Einstein wrote to Roosevelt in what, 1939 or 1940 asking that they do something because the Germans were looking into it.


BC: Well, Mr. Krauss, this has been extremely interesting for me!

It’s been great. I know we barely touched upon so many possible aspects of this subject but I am so happy that we did get a chance to speak. As we have discussed, we’ll plan on doing a “Part II” to this interview in the near future. I really appreciate your time. It’s been a pleasure.

RK: Not a problem.


BC: And I look forward to talking to you again.


RK: Okay. Take care.


BC: Thank you. You too!




NOTE: Mr. Krauss and I will be doing a live follow up interview early into the New Year. I encourage you to send me your questions or observations so I can present them to him at that time.


And remember, the only place you can purchase Mr. Krauss’ book, The 509th Remembered” , other than at live appearnces, is on his website at www.enolagay509th.com. I have my copy and it’s a terrific reference book (my favorite kind!). If you are interested in the men of the 509th and want to learn about what it was like for them to be a part of this dedicated team, I encourage you to order one today. If you do order a book from Bob and Amelia, they would love to know if you found out about it from this article. Please be sure to let them know.





Other posted interviews to date:


“An Awesometalk With” Harold Holzer, Lincoln Scholar

(posted on November 10, 2008) 


  “An Awesometalk With” Dr. Thomas Schwartz, Illinois State Historian 

(posted on December 08, 2008) 









Thank you.



June 1, 2009:  Barry Cauchon
The original article carried here called “CLOSE UP IMAGES FROM THE LINCOLN CONSPIRATOR EXECUTION PHOTOS” has been deleted and replaced with a much more intensive study filled with far better detail and scope.
It was a 15-chapter series called “The Lincoln Conspirators Execution Photos – A Study in Detail”. In it, I had posted the ten known original photos taken of the executions by photographer Alexander Gardner and presented a study of the details found within each image. But I have recently removed the study as it is in preparation for becoming a book. I want to thank everyone who had a chance to read the study and comment on it. I’ll post instructions on where and how to obtain the book as soon as it is available.

“An Awesometalk With” DR. THOMAS SCHWARTZ, Illinois State Historian

December 08, 2008: Barry Cauchon


I am pleased to present another interview from my feature “An Awesometalk With”. For this talk, my guest is Illinois State Historian, Dr. Thomas Schwartz. 


Dr. Thomas Schwartz surrounded by the Lincoln family at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

Dr. Schwartz has been the Illinois State Historian since 1993 and lives and works in Springfield, Illinois. He was instrumental in helping to make the new Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum a reality.


With Illinois and the rest of the country celebrating both President-Elect Barack Obama’s election and the bi-centennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, there is much happening in Dr. Schwartz’ world right now. So due to his overwhelming schedule, Dr. Schwartz could not do a live interview with me but was kind enough to respond to my written questions.

So now, I present to you, Dr. Thomas Schwartz.




BC: Congratulations Dr. Schwartz on your 15 year anniversary as Illinois State Historian. I’d love to hear about your role as the State Historian and about some of your proudest accomplishments.


TS: The title Illinois State Historian was given to Paul M. Angle, the great Lincoln scholar of the 1930s and 1940s in lieu of a pay raise while he served as director of the Illinois State Historical Library, now the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. It went from overseeing the everyday operation of the library to a more protean role of administration of Lincoln projects and research as well as coordinating with fundraising efforts by the Foundation. I suspect the proud achievement was moving the library from the cramped quarters under the Old State Capitol to the multi-structure facilities that comprise the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. Transforming the Lincoln Legal Papers into the larger Papers of Abraham Lincoln was also an important milestone. Acquiring the Taper Lincoln Collection would have to be the most recent accomplishment that occurs once in a lifetime.


BC: As we have now completed the US Presidential elections and prepare for the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday in 2009, I’m interested in your perspective on what the mood is in Illinois.


TS: The mood in Illinois right now is cautious optimism. The election of another President from Illinois, Barack Obama, has been cause for great celebration. But the global economic recession had everyone being a bit apprehensive about the future. We are in a rather ironic situation in that we have wonderful events planned to celebrate the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln at the same time we are closing historic sites, some Lincoln-related, because of budget cuts.


BC: Are there special activities planned for 2009 that you would like to highlight?


TS: People can go to www.Lincoln200.net and see what is going on in Illinois throughout 2009. There are so many great things that I cannot begin to name them all.


BC: The bi-centennial of Lincoln’s birthday has prompted a publishing flurry of new books on Mr. Lincoln. Dr. Schwartz, are there any that you would recommend?


TS: There are a significant number of Lincoln titles that have been released and that are scheduled for the next year. Many are collections of essays that tend to be uneven, a number are monographs that provide an update on a topic that has already received treatment. So while you have many fine books being published, they all have a certain déjà vu about them. A number of fine illustrated books are in the queue: the Kunhardt’s, “LOOKING FOR LINCOLN” and the National Geographic Society, “LINCOLN’S EXTRAORDINARY ERA”.


BC: Your office is in Springfield, Illinois at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum and houses one the best overall collections of Lincoln related materials in the world. Can you tell us a little bit about that collection?


TS: The library was established in 1889 to collect the written history of Illinois.  Abraham Lincoln is an important subtopic in Illinois history. Being located in Mr. Lincoln’s hometown made it easier for family and friends who knew Lincoln and had original letters and artifacts to donate them to the library. Over the years, the collection grew in size and importance. Governor Henry Horner who served from 1933 to 1940 bequeathed his impressive collection of printed materials about Lincoln to the library. Some of the best Lincoln scholars of the 20th Century were employed by the library. They include Paul Angle, Jay Monaghan, Harry Pratt, and James T. Hickey. Benjamin Thomas was a trustee of the library along with Oliver Barrett, Lloyd Lewis, Ernest East, and Irving Dilliard. The Taper Collection is the most recent significant acquisition.


BC: In your opinion, what are some of the best Lincoln artifacts or documents in the collection? 


TS: The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum collection can show every important aspect in Lincoln’s life through a document.  We have the earliest known written document by Lincoln with his sum book page, one of five handwritten copies of the Gettysburg Address, a Leland-Boker signed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, one of thirteen signed commemorative copies of the 13th Amendment, a paragraph from Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address in his hand and a draft printing of his First Inaugural Address that was circulated to a few trusted associates for comments.  Of artifacts we have a stovepipe hat, wallet, presidential seal and portfolio, bloody gloves from Ford’s Theatre, clock from the law office, nameplate from the Lincoln Home, and the other cufflink from Ford’s Theatre.


BC: What sort of things will your office be focusing on in the next five years?


TS: We have a number of publications coming out for the bicentennial.  We have worked with the Lincoln-Douglas Debate communities to develop signage about the debates. The Looking for Lincoln program is an independent group that we have partnered with for over a decade to help develop historically accurate signage about Lincoln’s relationship with numerous communities throughout Central Illinois. More and more material will be placed online for searching and use. The Papers of Abraham Lincoln will be placing the images of Lincoln’s legal career online in the next month or so. And of course, the Civil War sesquicentennial will start in 2011 continuing through summer of 2015. There is no shortage of work here.


BC: I’m a proponent of good outreach programs. Would you highlight some of the outreach programs that Illinois engages in?


TS: The ALPLM received an NEH grant to create a series of educational learning stations that are traveling the country on Lincoln. This traveling exhibit also comes with a collection of essays on Lincoln’s life written by leading scholars. A mobile exhibit also has traveled throughout the country that is contained in a semi-truck and expands into 900 square feet of exhibit space highlighting the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum. We have a series of educational trunks and posters available through our Education Department as well as teach materials that can be downloaded from the Internet. THE JOURNAL OF ILLINOIS HISTORY is the journal of record for Illinois history and is published quarterly. There are numerous partnerships we have with the Looking for Lincoln program, the Abraham Lincoln Association, and numerous public colleges and universities.


BC: What historical figures or events personally interest you?


TS: I don’t have any particular favorites since the whole historical enterprise fascinates me. The one thing that becomes readily apparent to any serious student of history is that no matter what time period you study, there are extraordinary individuals and events that can be found. It is simply a matter of making the time to find them.


BC: In your role as Illinois State Historian, have you had an opportunity to meet any famous statesmen from modern history? If so, who did you meet and would you describe an instance that really stood out as a special moment for you.


TS: I have met Governors and Presidents as well as foreign dignitaries, Hollywood directors, actors and corporate leaders. But the people that have left the greatest impression are those who are not actively self-aware. These people do things that benefit their neighbors and community and yet they expect nothing in return.  They shun the limelight and go about helping as most of us breath. We don’t actively think about breathing, our bodies do it. These are the folks who really make a difference. 


BC: What do you like to do in your spare time? Do you have any hobbies or sports that you enjoy?


TS:  My job can be all consuming if you let it control you.  There is so much to do and so little time in which to do it.  But life requires balance.  I still have a teenage son who occasionally does not feel embarrassed to be seen in public with me.  Cathy, my wife, likes to go on trips with me. Reading fiction and non-US history is great fun.  Like all big kids, I like to play in the dirt and have helped on some archaeological digs exploring the Illinois frontier period.  I also enjoy music, mostly classical and jazz.


BC:  Dr. Schwartz, my last question relates to the education of history. What was your experience with history as a young student? Is there anything that you would like to say to students who are struggling with getting interested in history?


TS: People bemoan the fact the young people don’t seem interested in history. It is not something to worry about. History requires perspective and the perspective comes from life experience. It is difficult for children or teenagers to have a deep appreciation for history because most lack empathy that typically comes with life experience of success and failure. As people get older, they begin to see why history matters and often regret the fact that they didn’t pay more attention to the stories told by their grandparents or parents. I had the good fortune to grow up surrounded by family and extended family who like to get together, eat, drink and tell stories. History was easier for me because it was transmitted in the life stories of the people I loved. The breakup of the modern family has made it more difficult to encounter history in this way. But I really think history, like a fine wine, requires some age before it really matters.





I want to thank Dr. Schwartz for sharing his thoughts with my readers. It’s exactly what I had hoped it would be. 

It takes a lot of time (voluntary, I might add) to sit down and answer these questions. I appreciate it very much and hope my readers enjoyed the interview as much as I did.

All the best to you and your family Dr. Schwartz and have a Happy Holiday season.




Other posted interviews to date:


“An Awesometalk With” Harold Holzer, Lincoln Scholar

(posted on November 10, 2008) 


“An Awesometalk With” Robert Krauss, 509th Composite Group Historian

(posted on December 16, 2008) 













December 3, 2008: Barry Cauchon

I received a comment from a reader MICKEY MOUSE BIRTHDAY today. It was buried deep under one of my many postings. It sparked my interest enough to re-post it here.


But first, let me give you a little background on this subject. Mickey Mouse officially turned 80 years old on November 18, 2008. I believe the comment below was probably triggered by an article I wrote about Abraham Lincoln’s voice. He had a high pitched voice and it always made me laugh when I thought about how Disney had portrayed President Lincoln in their Hall of Presidents exhibit. He was featured with a deep and commanding Presidential voice rather than the high pitched voice he actually had. I compared him to Mickey Mouse. So I assume the comment below continued in that vein. Have fun with the subject and comment away.

MICKEY MOUSE BIRTHDAY– “So the Disney conglomerate says Mickey Mouse is 80 years old today. Big whoop. This probably is un-American and may bring me some angry e-mail, but I never liked Mickey Mouse. I never liked his squeaky voice!”

BARRY – “Hi NON-Mickey Mouse fan. On November 18, 2008, Disney did indeed celebrate Mickey Mouse’s 80th birthday. I’m glad you wrote because it is history. And sharing your opinion of your dislike of Mickey Mouse is honest and certainly non-offensive. Yes, you may get some opposing opinions on the subject, but that’s what makes life go around. It is always good to stir up a debate. For the record, I was never a Donald Duck fan because I could never understand his garbled speaking manner. If I had a preference for any cartoon fowl, Daffy was my guy”!

BARRY – “I want to say here that I will always thank Walt Disney for creating Mickey Mouse. One of the greatest gifts I ever gave my daughter (at the time she was 4) was to have her meet Mickey Mouse at Disney World. Mickey was her first celebrity crush and to actually meet him was a thrill for her that she talked about for some time afterwards. Thanks so much for that Walt”.          




Published in: on Wednesday, December 3, 2008 at '11:46 am'  Comments (15)  
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