American Airman Who Saved A-Bomb Horror Movie Is Finally Honored | Nuclear weapons
The photograph shows the devastation in Nagasaki after the atomic bomb: a scorched desert where there once was a city. In its center stands a lone man with a camera.
It was September 9, 1945, and US Army Air Force cameraman Lt Daniel McGovern was documenting Ground Zero, the point just below the bomb detonation four weeks earlier. Few would recognize McGovern, but the vision of the apocalypse is familiar from documentary footage of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II.
The footage will be released again this week and next for the 77th anniversary of the atomic bombings that wiped out Japanese cities and showed the reality of nuclear war: devastated landscapes, burned skeletons, radiation sickness.
But these haunting images might not exist without McGovern. As part of the US Strategic Bombing Inquiry – which studied the impact of the bombings – McGovern supervised Japanese and American film crews in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Back in the United States, he saved the footage from deletion by making secret copies.
Only now, decades later, has her full story emerged. Joe McCabe, a journalist from McGovern’s native county, Monaghan in Ireland, has pieced together his remarkable life in a biography, Rebels at the reelspublished earlier this month after 20 years of research, including interviews with McGovern before his death in 2005.
McGovern’s loved ones visited Monaghan last week for a plaque unveiling. “I am overwhelmed. It’s such a surprise to see my Uncle Dan and his family recognized,” said Michael McGovern, a nephew.
The research revealed that McGovern witnessed not only the dawn of the atomic age, but also the Irish Revolution, Franklin Roosevelt’s White House, wartime Hollywood and the so-called Incident of Roswell who entered the UFO lore.
His presence at key moments in the 20th century has drawn comparisons to Forrest Gump, the fictional character who stumbles through historical events. “Dan was the most interesting person I’ve ever met,” McCabe said.
McGovern was born in the town of Monaghan in 1905, the son of a policeman. During the Irish War of Independence from 1919 to 1921, still a boy, he hitchhiked with the Black and Tans, a British military force.
The family moved to the United States and McGovern, nicknamed Big Mack for his 6-foot-5 frame, joined the Air Force, ending up in its arts wing, the First Motion Picture Unit. He was a photographer for President Roosevelt before establishing an Air Force camera training school in Hollywood, where he met Ronald Reagan, Clark Gable and other stars.
McGovern flew bombing missions over Germany – surviving two crashes – and filmed footage used in a 1944 documentary, The Memphis Belle: The Story of a Flying Fortress.
His defining work came to Japan a year later, where he took still photographs and filmed with 35mm black-and-white and Technicolor.
The fields around Nagasaki were whitewashed and the city looked like it had been flattened by a “massive anvil”, he later told McCabe. In a ruined school, he filmed the bodies of children amid piles of skulls. “Hundreds of children were sucked out of the windows. We were still finding bones.
He filmed harrowing scenes in overwhelmed hospitals, including the agony of a 16-year-old boy named Sumiteru Taniguchi. “His whole back felt like a bowl of bubbling tomatoes.”
Other patients had skin rashes, hair loss and bleeding from the nose and mouth – a mysterious illness later identified as radiation sickness.
McGovern also captured the phenomenon of people who had been atomized but left behind shadows caused by radiant heat. It is estimated that the two atomic bombs killed more than 200,000 people.
McGovern’s teams amassed 100,000 feet of color footage and enlisted the help of a Japanese news service, Nippon Eigasha, which had 26,000 feet of black-and-white footage, many shot before arrival. Americans. The Irishman helped edit the Japanese footage into a documentary titled Effects of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasakiand planned to transform the color sequence into another.
Authorities in Washington, however, classified the material as secret in 1946. “They didn’t want the American public to see the horrors,” McGovern said. He discreetly made copies of it at the Pentagon. He stored one set at an Air Force film depot in Dayton, Ohio, and kept another himself.
Years passed – McGovern witnessed rocket tests and debunked alien theories at Roswell as “a load of bullshit” – then in 1967 a US Congressional committee that included Robert Kennedy demanded to see the footage of the atomic bomb. The material had been declassified but no one could find the originals. McGovern, now a lieutenant colonel, directed authorities to his copies.
In 1970 the general public got their first glimpse of some of the images. It had been incorporated into a film called Hiroshima Nagasaki – August 1945 which premiered at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
The auditorium was packed. At the end, no one made a sound.