Ronald Fredlund is one of a vanishing breed from the Greatest Generation, a World War II veteran who was just doing his job like so many others but ultimately played a role in altering the course of history.
With another Veterans Day approaching Sunday, Fredlund, 98, remembers his time in the war vividly.
The longtime Los Altos resident recalled his days as a tech sergeant in the 390th Air Service Group, part of the 509th Composite Group and the 393rd Bomb Squadron. In May 1945, all of these groups were sent to Tinian Island, a tropical island in the South Pacific.
He said his group had 15 B-29s that flew conventional bombing missions over Japan – it was also the group chosen to drop the atomic bombs on Japan in August 1945. The combined personnel of all of these groups numbered more than 1,500 enlisted men, 200 officers and many scientists and engineers who were used to help assemble and test the two bombs, nicknamed “Little Boy” and “Fat Man.” The controversial decision to drop the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki resulted in tens of thousands of innocent lives lost but forced Japan’s surrender and ended the war.
Fredlund said he had “little idea” about the top-secret efforts on Tinian Island as scientists and engineers assembled the atomic bombs.
“I knew it must be something big,” he said.
Then came the inevitable question – did the U.S. do the right thing by dropping the bombs?
“I think we did the right thing,” he said. “The war had come to an end in Europe and the war in Japan was growing fiercer every day with huge casualties.”
He knew “something amazing and dreadful was about to happen.”
Fredlund served 3 1 /2 years in the service.
“I did not fight in any battles of the war but was sent to Tinian Island to support the Armed Forces,” he said. “I was glad to have volunteered for the 509th Group, whose goal was to end the war in Japan.”
Fredlund has lived at The Terraces at Los Altos retirement community since 1993, when it was known as Pilgrim Haven. He was born in 1919 and raised in Mount Vernon, Wash. After high school, he attended the University of Washington in Seattle and majored in business.
After college, in May 1942, he was drafted into the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II.
This is an edited version of an original article about Fredlund that first appeared in The Terraces’ own newspaper, The Terrific Times.