By Tom Morrow
The late Clarence Baer of Oceanside was a young Army Air Corps officer during World War II with a mission difficult to explain. When asked what he did, his reply was: “I served in the United States Army Chair Corps.”
Although he never heard a shot fired in anger, Baer had a key role in ending the war, even though at the time he didn’t know he was doing it.
Baer grew up in Spartansburg, S.C., receiving a mechanical engineering degree from Clemson. After graduation, Baer took a job with the Federal Power Commission in Washington, D.C. After a year or so, Baer was transferred to an FPC regional office in Denver.
In 1938, Baer met an Army Air Corps colonel from Wright Army Air Field in Dayton, Ohio.
“He told me he had a job for me at Wright Field as a weights and balance officer,” Baer recalled. “With war clouds looming in Europe I figured it was a good opportunity to get in on the ground floor, so to speak, so I told him I’d go.”
When he arrived at Wright Field, Baer was assigned to the Weight Branch. While Baer’s work in the Army Air Corps didn’t seem that exciting, it had its moments. Basically, it was his job to calculate and design heavy loads for planes, especially bombers, so they could get off the ground safely and fly properly.
One day in mid-1945, Captain Baer was told to report to a Wright Field hangar where two B-29 Superfortress bombers awaited. He knew these weren’t just any bombers, but no one was saying why they were special.
“All I was told was that ‘there are two aircraft and each had to be modified to carry a ‘very heavy object,'” Baer recalled. “I was told what I was working on was ‘more than top-secret.’ It was the most important job I would ever have.”
The two B-29 bombers took their turn on the huge scales in the hangar. Baer’s job was to tell other engineers where in the fuselage to place the bomb rack. The first bomber would have to be fitted for a 10,000-pound “object;” the second one, a 9,000-pound payload.
Baer said no B-29, which was the biggest bomber during the war, had ever carried a bomb load of that much weight.
“It didn’t take very long for me to do the work, maybe a few weeks, he said. “We didn’t have computers back then. I had to work out everything on a mechanical calculator and a slide ruler.”
And then one night the two B-29s disappeared.
It wouldn’t be until some three months after the war ended that Baer figured out he had designed the bomb loads for the Enola Gay and Bock’s Car, the two planes that carried the atomic bombs dropped on Japan. The Enola Gay carried “Little Boy,” the 9,000-pounder; Bock’s Car (named for its pilot, Fredrick C. Bock) carried “Fat Man,” a 10,000-pound device.
Army Air Corps Col. Paul Tibbett, the pilot of the Enola Gay (named for his mother), said the following about the 9,000-pound weight of “Little Boy” as it was dropped over Hiroshima:
“We were carrying such weight that when the bomb was released, the Enola Gay shot up so fast that my pilot’s seat hit my ass with such tremendous force, I thought I was going to be thrown through the top of the plane.”
When asked if he had any guilt for his part in the two atomic blasts, Baer shook his head and replied, “No. I actually feel good about it because I helped save a lot of lives — including Japanese lives. Those bombs brought a quick end to the war,” he concluded.