Grandpa and Grandma Geisinger had two sons, Uncle Tom and Dad. Uncle Tom was a glider pilot, ferrying troops over to France starting with the D-Day invasion of Normandy. Tom had an uncanny knack for survival, when the Alleys were always writing him off for deceased, with every trip of another glider full of troops into the French mainland. One time, Uncle Tom hopped into a foxhole with a life German, during a little skirmish that was not really any of his business. It was either kill or be killed, and Uncle Tom managed to survive. I’m told Uncle Tom developed an alcohol habit that took his life prematurely, as a result of that incident.
Uncle Tom just could not settle the idea of having to take a human life, hand to hand.
I’m told Dad was attached to a hospital unit in the South Pacific, and that he was involved in treating casualties in the wide spread conflict that was going on there. The only story my father ever told me about WWII was that one time he was driving a Jeep through a field where there were a lot of Japanese prisoners of war doing some kind of road work, or farming. They were involved in using rakes and shovels. There was a handful of US Marines guarding the Prisoners of War, with M-1’s, but the only protection Dad had on him was a 45 sidearm, which wouldn’t have been much help if those Japanese had decided to get ugly. As history would have it, Dad got through the labor force without incident.
It was the only story Dad ever told me about his involvement in WWII.
Dad did take the time to make the observation that those Alley-ed generals involved in WWII didn’t give a damn what happened to any individual foot soldier. They handled the war in a cold-blooded fashion, rejecting all human comfort and individuality. Dad made the comment that he felt fortunate that he was not a combat soldier, that his duties were quite a bit different than the common foot soldier in the South Pacific in WWII.
Imagine my astonishment when my father finally told me, when I was about 30, that grandpa’s greatest life work was with the Manhattan Project during WWII! For those of you who may not know it, the Manhattan Project was the major, top secret research project, conducted throughout the Second World War, involving the development, as well as the delivery, of the Atomic Bomb. The problem Grandpa considered more directly was how the United States was going to deliver the Bomb to mainland Japan, and make it back safely, with precious American lives on board?
More specifically, grandpa’s work, as a professional civil engineer, was to learn how to refine crude oil more efficiently that it had ever been done before in the history of the world. Grandpa worked alone, without any assistance whatsoever, for security purposes. Specifically, what he was doing was experimenting with formulas to refine crude oil more effectively, to make it more compact, more light weight, and more efficient than any other airplane fuel in the world, prior to the end of the Second World War. It was just as important to the project, that the B-29 had the striking distance to reach Japan, as was any facet of the project, from beginning to end.
It was a story that Grandpa, himself, had never mentioned to any of his grandchildren.
Grandpa was successful in his research, and they designed the B-29 bomber, to burn the special fuel Grandpa engineered. It was needed to reach the Japanese mainland from the island of Tinian, which was as close as the US could get to mainland Japan, in the way of having a suitable airstrip for the over-sized B-29. The Enola Gay is the B-29 bomber that attacked Hiroshima with the first of only two Atomic Bombs to ever be used against any live target in a military conflict in the history of the known world. It’s pilot’s name was Colonel Paul W. Tibbets, Jr, who named the plane after his own mother, Enola Gay Tibbets.
(I am not related to the pilot or his family. That much and more is found in the history books about the air attack on Japan, which ended World War II with the Japanese, as listed on Wikipedia, as well as in several other places).
What the history books don’t tell you is who engineered the airplane fuel which made the B-29 bomber so singularly applicable for the war in the South Pacific at the time. The research was a top secret project, like the Bomb it was made to deliver. FDR had always wanted to be capable of bombing mainland Japan, with impunity, just as the Japanese had succeeded in doing with the US Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, in 1941, which had propelled the US headlong into the conflict of WWII, and had mobilized the entire nation into fighting the Japanese and the Germans, like no one had ever fought anyone or anything before.
The assault on Pearl Harbor, 7 December, 1941, had phenomenal ramifications with the US population of the times, in 1941. It took every man, woman and child in America, and put them all into a state of total military mobilization against the Japanese and the Germans at the end of 1941. Children collected tin and other recyclables to be used for the war effort, while they were coming and going from school. The women worked in the factories, making the machinery for the war. The US set out to develop such projects as the Manhattan Project, which was the development of a secret weapon, in order to attack the enemy more proficiently than any other military force the world had ever known.
The accomplishment of the task took such minds as Oppenheimer, Einstein, and Grandpa, some of the finest minds in the world of the day. Oppenheimer and Einstein were nuclear physicists. Grandpa was a civil engineer. The nuclear physicists were developing a secret weapon that few knew anything about at the time. They were developing the Atomic Bomb. Finally, they succeeded in making the project do-able, after the demise of FDR, toward the close of WWII. Grandpa was a civil engineer, who studied to understand the technology of airplane fuel, the process of refining crude oil.
His accomplishment was the precursor to modern jet fuel and modern rocket fuel, which we take for granted today. In our day, it is common place for people to gripe about how much fuel costs at the pump, and how inefficient the mixtures of oil really are. In Grandpa’s time, there were a whole host of discoveries to be made about how to cut off the excess waste of petroleum, in the development of bomber fuel.
The Federal Government employed only one solitary man, who worked alone throughout the war, learning how to refine crude oil more effectively, for a specially designed bomber to reach mainland Japan, with it’s very unique payload. Throughout WWII, the US Navy and the US Marine Corps worked at a project called “island hopping,” which gave the United States a series of ever-closer land-based airfields, and succeeded in achieving air supremacy over Japan, in the South Pacific, prior to the end of the war.
Island hopping was a bloody, life consuming business of conquering island after island, taking the islands away from the Japanese troops by force. The Japanese were well fortified in the caves of some of the islands, and it was a deadly business to take the islands into alley-ed hands. Many a US Marine lost his life in the process. The objective was to gain air supremacy with enough island based airfields, to make it possible for the United States to bomb the mainland of Japan with impunity.
Then there was my friend, Bill, who was a Hellcat pilot at the Battle of Midway, who noticed a little piece of military intelligence, while he was in the air over the Midway birdcage, that made a big difference for the US during the air battle between the forces of the two countries, which turned the tide of the war in the South Pacific at the time. The US was involved in a battle for air supremacy with Japan, who had more aircraft carriers in their fleet than the US had. My friend, Bill, noticed that the Japanese were not very good housekeepers, and had airplane fuel soaking all the wooden decks of their aircraft carriers.
During his debriefing, Bill observed that it would be strategically advisable for the US to attack the decks of the Japanese carriers themselves, causing the Japanese to have less landing space for their Mitsubishi Zero’s to land, refuel, and rearm their fighter/bombers during the battle, by setting the decks on fire by strafing and dive bombing the decks of the Japanese carriers, themselves. His military intelligence proved to be accurate, and the process of targeting the decks of the enemy carriers was so effective, it turned the tide of the war with Japan, by shifting the air supremacy to the US.
Bill was shot down over the South Pacific at Midway, taking a hot Japanese machine gun round in his thigh during the battle. Since the Hellcat required both hands and both feet to fly the plane, Bill was put in the position to have to ditch his aircraft in the water, rather than trying to land it when he was too hurt to have enough control of the plane to execute a safe landing. The US had several amphibious aircraft on site, which were used to pick up downed pilots during the conflict. The US was involved in keeping their Hellcats manned and in the air over Midway.
Then, there was my friend, Sam. Sam was a student of navigation in the South Pacific during the war. He, like many other teenage boys at the time, had illegally signed up with the US Military, in order to see some of the action of the war in the South Pacific. He was only fifteen years old when he had told the recruiter that he was eighteen years old. They found out about Sam’s lie, and Harry Truman began to understand, after the death of FDR, that they didn’t have the technology to identify enough of the underage American boys who had illegally signed up for the US Military, in order to save their lives from combat, by taking enough of them out of the conflict.
This was the issue that Harry Truman considered very seriously when the Japanese Emperor threatened to fight the US to the last man, after the Germans surrendered in Europe. The lives that Truman wanted to save from being lost in the conflict just happened to be the many underage teenage boys that Truman knew to exist in the ranks of the US Military of the times. The US spent a lot of American lives to achieve control of an island close enough to mainland Japan to make the project of bombing it feasible.
The problem with bombing mainland Japan during World War II, was the greatness of the distances between the islands in the hostile South Pacific at the time. Also, flying the great South Pacific in the daytime, with so few identifying landmarks to refer to, proved to be a navigator’s nightmare. It could be done, but it took a lot of training for the navigators to accomplish the feat. Earlier on in the war, the planes were all carrier based, and had less of a striking distance than the innovative B-29.
My friend, Sam, who was based in the South Pacific during the war, told me he remembers being ordered to drain the full tanks of the inferior fuel, which they had just filled, to drain the tanks of the B-29’s out onto the runway, to make room for the special fuel to be pumped into the B-29’s on the airfield. The B-29 could only take off and land on an island airfield, but with Grandpa’s special fuel, the project became manageable, because of the unique striking distance of the B-29. It cost Japan the war, at a time when the Japanese Emperor was threatening to fight the US to the last man.
Harry Truman just got up enough technology and enough pluck to prove to the Japanese Emperor that the US was plenty willing and plenty capable of taking the Emperor of Japan up on his offer, without endangering anymore American lives on the project. Truman made it plain that the US could wipe the entire island of mainland Japan essentially off the map. After the two bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the enormity of the power of the Atomic Bombs became a stark reality on the lives of Japanese citizens, the Emperor of Japan gave his complete and unconditional surrender to the United States. He was no longer willing to sacrifice Japanese lives in the conflict.
It was the final accomplishment of the many brave men, as well as the many brilliant, American research scientists, which finally brought the Japanese people and their government to their knees in 1945. The war had lasted for four years, ever since late, 1941. The bomber was flown off an island air strip in the South Pacific, by the name of Tinian, where it was launched on its air assault against the Japanese mainland, and returned safely to the Tinian airstrip thereafter. I cannot find any reference to Grandpa’s work in any of the history books listed on the internet.
My grandfather was too modest a man to ever mention his work to me directly. It was my father who finally told me the story of what Grandpa had accomplished, long after Grandpa was dead and gone. I happened to visit my father once at his home in Florida, in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s, when I was a grown man. My father told me the story of Grandpa and his engineering feat, which had won the war, and brought it to conclusion, for the Alley’s in the most spectacular fashion.
I have always had a special awe and respect for my grandfather. I never wondered why.