With memories of the Pearl Harbor attack still vivid in his mind, Bob Border said the atomic bomb that the United States dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, 65 years ago today was a welcomed decision that achieved the goal of ending World War II.
"We thought it was one of the grandest ideas to come down the pike in a long time," the 92-year-old retired Navy captain said last week about the use of nuclear bombs to quell the Japanese military effort.
"They estimated at least a million American lives would have been lost from the invasion of Japan."
In an interview Tuesday at a Las Vegas seniors home, where he was packing to move to Northern California, Border recalled how the Japanese industrial complex was in full swing for an extended war and Japan's military was heavily armored and braced for a U.S. invasion.
"They had millions of more troops, planes and equipment all ready for us," he said.
"That would have been a murderous mayhem. We had no interest whatsoever of killing civilians. But by destroying those cities, if it brought the war to an end, we thought it was the way to go."
About 80,000 people died after the B-29 bomber Bockscar dropped the "Fat Man" atomic bomb on Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945, three days after 140,000 were killed or died later at Hiroshima, Japan, as a result of the "Little Boy" A-bomb, delivered by the B-29 Superfortress bomber Enola Gay.
Japan surrendered on Aug. 15, 1945, ending World War II.
A picture of Adm. Chester Nimitiz, backed by Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Adm. William Halsey, at the formal signing of the surrender on Sept. 2, 1945, aboard the USS Missouri, graces a gallery of photos in the hallway at the Grand Court seniors home on West Flamingo Road.
Among the photos is a black-and-white of the Enola Gay signed in blue ink by its pilot, the late Paul Tibbets.
Nearby is a photo of Border, his father, Capt. Lee S. Border, and his brother, Ensign Karl F. Border, standing in a courtyard at the U.S. Naval Academy on graduation day 1939.
There's another of his wife, Mary Joleen "Joey" Border, pinning his gold aviator's wings on his dress white uniform in 1942.
The photos and the stories behind them were the inspiration for a manuscript, "From Pearl Harbor with Love," by local military historian Bill McWilliams.
"Bob Border's role in World War II's Pacific theater is another magnificent example of the millions of quiet heroes who unflinchingly served this nation during the most devastating war in human history," McWilliams said.
What started with the Pearl Harbor attack on Dec. 7, 1941, led to Border making his Navy career as a dive-bomber pilot. He would spend the next three years training and flying attacks against Japanese targets in the South Pacific.
When the war ended, he was back at Annapolis, Md., pursuing a postgraduate engineering degree at the Naval Academy, which he would continue at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Although he was removed from the war zone, those flames that had shot skyward four years prior at Pearl Harbor and the devastation from Japanese bombs and torpedoes still burned in his mind.
"If the Japanese had given us an hour's notice, we would have been out to sea," he said. "And, I think we all would have been sunk. They had a very effective torpedo attack, and we didn't have much to fight with in the way of automatic weapons against aircraft."
Assigned to the USS Tennessee, Border and his wife were sound asleep at their apartment on Waikiki.
"I got a call about 8 o'clock from my boss. He said, 'Get back to the ship immediately. We've been attacked by the Japanese.' "
He looked out across Battleship Row "and saw that horrible sight, which we have seen in movies and pictures many, many times. The Arizona was sitting on the bottom, flames towering up into the air from the burning oil."
From the wharf, he hitched a ride to the USS Tennessee from a boat that was shuttling sailors to their battle stations. With the crew using fire hoses and the ship's propellers to push the Arizona's oil away, Border observed the damage to the Tennessee.
"We took two hits," he said, describing how bombs had struck the Tennessee's top gun turrets, killing Marines who were manning a machine gun near the forward turret.
Thinking the Tennessee was intact enough to make it out to sea, Border thought he would salvage some weapons from a disabled neighboring ship, the USS West Virginia.
"I went aboard the West Virginia and with some help got a bunch of machine guns and mounted them on various posts around the bow with the idea they would be effective against torpedo and dive bombers," he said.
But the Tennessee, wedged against the pier, never left the harbor, and the machine guns were taken down.
The attack had left him with mixed emotions.
"There was anger. There was horror while watching bodies of people float by. And, knowing that there were a lot of people killed was very depressing," he said.
"We had a very horrifying or frightening night or two because the islands were blacked out completely to not give any approaching Japanese visual sightings of anything with one exception: There were towering flames from burning oil of the Arizona illuminating us."
Border got his chance to fight back as a dive-bomber pilot in "Red's Raiders" VC-40 Squadron, a land-based strike unit composed of Dauntless dive bombers and Avenger torpedo bombers.
In a nine-month span during 1943 and 1944, they worked their way up the Solomon Islands, from Guadalcanal north to Bougainville, within 200 miles of Japan's major South Pacific base at Rabaul.
On April 6, 1944, Border flew in a decisive raid near Rabaul.
In all, the squadron under Lt. Cmdr. Red Pennoyer flew 1,084 sorties, destroying enemy aircraft, ships and anti-aircraft batteries, the National Naval Aviation Museum website says.
During his combat tour, Border's plane was only hit by enemy fire a couple times.
"We had one anti-aircraft shell that went through the canopy right over my head. (It) went back and slit the helmet on my rear-seat man," he recalled.
"We had cloth helmets then, and he didn't realize it until a shock of hair was waving around in front of him," he said. "It was very noisy on the flight home because of this hole through the canopy."
Contact reporter Keith Rogers at krogers@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0308.