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Memorial Planned

Memorial planned for Pratt's role during WWII

The Associated Press
October 21, 2002
Pratt — Before he flew the B-29 Superfortress that dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan in August 1945, pilot Paul Tibbets took a practice run in Pratt and nearly clipped the top of the old Roberts Hotel.

"We only learned this five months ago, but he was here testing whether the plane could handle that atomic bomb," Pratt resident Jack McCawley said Saturday during a parade honoring World War II veterans.

"They loaded his airplane full of fuel and armament and put the equivalent weight of the bomb on board," McCawley said. "He took off and barely gained altitude. He had about 75 feet of altitude over the old Roberts Hotel. When we talked to him, he said, 'I don't know how I missed it, but I barely did."'
Tibbets was to have been a featured guest at Saturday's parade and fly-in, part of two days of activities tied to efforts to raise funds for a B-29 All Veterans Memorial planned for the former Pratt Army Air Field, now Pratt Industrial Airport .
Health problems kept Tibbets, 87, at home in Columbus, Ohio. But he likely would have felt like it was the 1940s all over again Saturday on Pratt's Main Street, as flags snapped in the breeze and the sounds of such World War II-era favorites as Tommy Dorsey's "Opus One" and the Andrews Sisters' "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" echoed off storefronts. All that was missing was the roar of four-engine B-29 bombers thundering over downtown after taking off from Pratt Army Air Field.
"I was 12 years old when the base opened, and I remember plenty of times these big airplanes coming over very low," McCawley said. "I can remember them coming in so low I thought they'd hit the school."
Pratt was one of four Kansas communities that geared up to become training bases for the long-range, high-altitude Boeing B-29 Superfortresses that took the war to Japan. The others were at Walker, a town in northwest Kansas; Smoky Hill, near Junction City; and Great Bend, which already has its own B-29 memorial.
Neva Kumberg, 78, watched Saturday's parade decked out in a sparkling red, white and blue ball cap. She had been a filing clerk at Pratt Army Air Base, working inside the hangar where the B-29 bombers were serviced.
"It was a bad time, but it was also a wonderful time as well," she recalled. "It was one of the best times in my life."
Keeping that history alive is where Pratt's planned memorial would come in. Besides the monument itself, expected to be built and dedicated by late next May, organizers hope to save the last remaining B-29 hangar at the Pratt airport.
Originally published at: LJWorld.com