The Boeing B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay is one of the National Air and Space Museum’s most heralded artifacts, but a new addition to the National Air and Space Museum Archives Division’s collections provides a glimpse into the lives of the crew before they became worldwide names. In May, the Archives accepted an accession of three State of Utah individual liquor permits for 1944 to 1945 (Acc. No. 2012-0027). Two of these permits were issued to future members of the crew of the Enola Gay—Colonel Paul Tibbets, commanding officer of the 509th Composite Group, and Major Thomas Ferebee, the bombardier on the flight to Hiroshima.
Before shipping out to Tinian, the island in the Marianas from which the Enola Gay launched its flight to Japan, Tibbets and the 509th Composite Group were stationed at Wendover Army Air Field on the western edge of Utah. The population of the town of Wendover was just over 100 people. Surrounded by miles of salt flats, there so little to do in Wendover, Bob Hope reportedly called it “Leftover” Field. This isolation was ideal for Tibbets, since he was especially concerned with operational security for his top secret B-29 program. Tibbets hoped to keep his men out of the bars, where they could potentially talk about their lives and jobs.
Just because they were isolated in Utah, famous for its strict liquor laws even before wartime rationing, didn’t mean that alcohol was unavailable to the men of the 509th. During their stay at Wendover, Tibbets and Ferebee were issued new 1944 to 1945 individual liquor permits. According to the Salt Lake Telegram, the new 1944 to 1945 liquor permits were supposed to be a new “foolproof” design to curb rampant counterfeiting. Before, purchasing liquor in Utah required a liquor permit and a ration card, which were both easily forged. The new design was enclosed in cellophane and included a year’s supply of liquor. In order to receive a permit, an applicant needed to produce a ration book and at least three other forms of identification, including a service identification card if a member of the military.
From rations notices posted in the Telegram, we can roughly determine how much liquor was purchased by the two crew members between July 1944 and July 1945. The first set of numbers 1 through 12 could be used to purchase one-fifth or a pint, if the store was out of fifths, of liquor per month. The set of numbers 13 through 18 represented bonus rations, allotted throughout the year. The letters along the bottom represented two fifths or one-half gallon of wine in monthly installments, plus bonus rations. Though he was constantly shuttling between Utah; Los Alamos, New Mexico; Washington, DC; and, later, Tinian from July 1944 through July 1945, Tibbets usually used his rations, often taking advantage of the bonus rations. Ferebee was not transferred to Wendover until September 1944 and may not have obtained his card immediately, since he did not begin using the card to buy liquor until February 1945. While these liquor permits don’t provide new, groundbreaking insight into the crew of the Enola Gay, they do provide a quick look at a small aspect of their life in Utah.
Elizabeth C. Borja is a reference services archivist in the National Air and Space Museum’s Archives Division.
This post was originally published on the Smithsonian Collections Blog in October 2012.