Diligence leads to discovery, donation
By Amy Rollins, Skywrighter Staff
/ Published October 11, 2016
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio. -- A commander’s dogged persistence has acquainted her unit with both its lineage and two World War II veterans and resulted in a donation of historically significant photos and artifacts to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.
The 14th Intelligence Squadron, a Reserve unit commanded by Lt. Col. Dianne Hickey at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, was activated about two years ago to conduct intelligence analysis and assessments for Air Force Materiel Command. The squadron works in collaboration with the National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) and reports to the 655th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group. Its personnel were told its history dates back to the Army Air Corps 9th Photographic Technical Squadron, but could not find out anything about the unit through Air Force archives or even a Google search.
Hickey’s intense research led to the discovery of 93-year-old John “Jerry” Johnson of Mercer, Penn., and Milton Dienes, 92, from King of Prussia, Penn., both members of the 9 PTS which among other things, was responsible for processing before and after photos of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to provide battle damage assessments.
The two veterans and their caregivers visited Wright-Patterson AFB from Sept. 22 to 25, with every member of the 14 IS, from Airman to master sergeant to captain, eager to host them, Hickey said.
Johnson and Dienes took part in a “meet and greet” at NASIC; toured the Air Force museum; spoke at the 655th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group commander’s call; attended a Group picnic; and participated in an oral history interview with Senior Airman Jeremy Tkach, the 14 IS’s historian. The interview will be sent to the Library of Congress and the Veterans’ Voices Project at Wright State University.
A highlight of the visit was Johnson’s donation of 71-year-old items from his unit. A ceremony was held the afternoon of Sept. 23 at the museum in front of the Boeing B-29 Superfortress “Bockscar”, which dropped the Fat Man atomic bomb on Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945. Photos and artifacts from the 9 PTS complemented the aircraft that had taken the images.
“This is another example of a veteran donating prized possessions,” said Jeff Duford, a curator in the research division at the museum. “For him to give these materials to the museum … is truly extraordinary. They are so valuable here where we can make them available to researchers and authors and potentially the public. The donations from photo units or photo processing units are wonderful because they are typically first-generation prints being made directly from the negatives.”
Seeing the donated materials will help “launch forward the military mindset of the Reservists in the 14th Intelligence Squadron,” Hickey said. “They are now seeing history before them. It’s going to give them stronger bonds to the 14 IS. We have a World War II streamer on our guidon and that didn’t mean as much before. Now every time they see it, they’re going to remember these two veterans, who earned that streamer with the missions they did. It is going to make us a tighter-knit group with a deeper understanding of the Air Force.”
Johnson had called the Smithsonian about making a donation but his call was not returned.
“I can’t think of any entity better to have these items than the United States Air Force,” he said. “I can’t believe the Photo Technical Squadron is still in existence.”
Johnson was in the unit from the day it activated to the day it deactivated, shortly after the end of WWII. He recalled there were 200 members of the 9 PTS but did not know Dienes.
“I’m so pleased to meet him; there are hardly any of us left,” he said.
Johnson’s caregiver Tom Smigel noted that the items belong to the American people.
“We hope everybody comes to see them,” he said.
Robert Young, NASIC historian, noted, “This is very much a part of intelligence history. The images these guys processed went on to teach us about the potential and threat of nuclear warfare. What is amazing about these pictures is their negatives were on this airplane,” he said, pointing to the Bockscar. “Bockscar brought them back to these men, and then they turned them from negatives into these legendary photos. That’s what neat about the important role they fulfilled. Those pictures wouldn’t have existed; they’re something now the whole world can look at. Seventy-one years later, we’re combining the airplane, the photos and the men.”
Earlier in the day, NASIC personnel had welcomed Dienes and Johnson with an outpouring of interest in everything the veterans had to tell them, Young said.
“We don’t see many 92- and 93-year-old veterans going through our halls. It was just wonderful. It was like getting into a time machine and learning things you don’t normally learn in a day,” he said.
Tkach, the 14 IS historian, said he was thankful for Hickey’s tenacity in discovering the two veterans and the 14 IS’ lineage.
“She never gave up on it. It’s amazing Lt. Col. Hickey was able to find this and them. We have uncovered an enormous amount of our history now, and every 14 IS member is tied to it.
“These photographs and artifacts haven’t seen much of the light of day since 1945. That’s what’s really cool about this,” he said.
Dienes has provided the squadron with copies of aerial and ground shots of Nagasaki. Large prints of the most significant photos will be made to hang on the walls of the building where the 14 IS is located.
During the donation ceremony Hickey was presented with a coin from Col. John McKaye, 655 ISRG commander, for her efforts.
“I’m truly delighted we have folks in uniform looking back to the people who performed the mission as part of their heritage … and blazed the trail, showing them respect and honor,” Duford said.