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Giles helps to find piece of WWII history

Tuesday, 08 November 2011

University of Maine at Presque Isle Professor Anderson Giles has helped to locate an important piece of World War II history – the hardstand which the B-29 bomber ENOLA GAY returned to after the Hiroshima mission.

Through a Faculty Development grant, Giles was able to lead an expedition this summer to the island of Tinian in the South Pacific to locate the hardstand – the very large, crushed coral pad on which a huge, 4-engine B-29 was serviced and prepped for its missions and parked after its missions. Over the years, this hardstand had become covered in jungle growth and lost to historians.

For decades, Giles has documented the personnel, sites and visual materials connected to the World War II events on Tinian Island, which led to the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Giles has written, produced and directed two feature length films, Thunder from Tinian and Echoes from the Apocalypse. He regularly leads tours to sites he has discovered connected to the events associated with the top secret assembly facilities and deployment of the B-29's ENOLA GAY and BOCKSCAR, which dropped the "Little Boy" on Hiroshima and the "Fatman" on Nagasaki.

As part of his film Echoes from the Apocalypse, Giles located the ENOLA GAY's permanent hardstand, which since has been cleared of jungle and is now open to the public. This hardstand was the B-29's permanent home on Tinian, but was not the site it returned to after the Hiroshima mission – the spot where all of the now-famous archival footage and photographs were taken. After the atomic strike mission, the ENOLA GAY was directed to a temporary hardstand so it could be checked for radiation contamination.

Upon reexamination of archival footage, Giles realized he might be able to find this hardstand. However, there were approximately 275 hardstands created on North Field, which, during WWII was the largest and busiest air field in the world, making Giles' search something very much like finding a needle in a haystack.

Undeterred, Giles arrived on Tinian on June 23 and met with the Director of Historic Preservation, Carmen Sanchez, to discuss his findings. Convinced that Giles was correct, a small expedition team headed into the overgrown area of North Field and attempted to locate the famous hardstand.

"After chopping through the jungle growth – in 95 degree heat and 98 percent humidity, we did in fact locate the hardstand," Giles said. "By locating this historic site, it will be possible to erect a historical marker at some future date to mark the site for future generations. Visitors will be able to connect the archival historic visual images with the site they are standing on."

Giles documented the search on video and with digital images, which will be used in future projects. In conducting this research, Giles has helped to add to the historical record another important and verifiable site connected with WWII, widely regarded as the top news story of the 20th century.