HARTSVILLE, S.C. – Ronald J. “Rocky” Gannon, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel who served in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, spoke recently to the Hartsville Rotary Club. He said this was his 105 th time to speak on the subject of World War II and the alternatives to the atomic bomb.
A native of New Jersey, Gannon enlisted in the Air Force at the age of 17 and immediately entered pilot training. He started out flying the B-17 Flying Fortress and moved on to the B-29 Super Fortress.
He was a combat pilot in World War II. He flew 6,000 hours in more than 30 different types of aircraft from bombers to transports and gliders to fighters.
At the beginning of the war, he said, pilots were flying B-29s out of India and China and bombing Japan.
He spoke about the difficulties they faced in the war. He talked about Iwo Jima and the casualties suffered there.
He said that on March 8, his birthday in the United States (March 9 in Japan), they bombed Tokyo. He said in one night, in one firebombing, 130,000 lives were lost.
He said firebombing would have continued if the United States had not dropped the atomic bomb. More people would have been killed than were killed by the atomic bomb, he said.
Had the United States not dropped the bomb, the remainder of the war would have been much worse on America and Japan, Gannon said.
After World War II, Gannon served three years in the occupation of Iwo Jima and Japan.
He also flew as a combat pilot in Korea and in the Belgian Congo and 387 combat missions in Vietnam.
In 1975, he became the U.S. Air Force’s first master air traffic controller.
After retiring from the Air Force in 1980, he became executive director of the Florence Regional Air Port, from which he retired in 1993.
Gannon received 50 military awards and decorations, including the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Bronze Star. He also was named South Carolina Aviator of the Year and inducted into the South Carolina Aviation Hall of Fame.