- Associated Press - Thursday, September 11, 2014

ST. GEORGE, Utah (AP) - Sarkis Arslanian didn’t know quite how to process the news that arrived so abruptly from the mouth of an excited friend. He did, however, agree to see one particular airplane because his buddy so breathlessly reported, “It just sunk the island of Japan.”

Arslanian was a lieutenant in the Army’s Transportation Corps, the majority of his time spent ferrying airplane parts on an inter-island freighter in the Pacific. This was early August 1945 and he was on Tinian, one of the islands in the Marianas chain. The war in the Pacific raged on with no end in sight.

Arslanian might have been a bit skeptical, but he arrived with his friend aboard a Willys Jeep and walked toward the parked plane, camera in hand. As he approached the aircraft, a member of the Military Police stopped him.

“Sir,” the MP said. “Go get in it and get yourself a good picture.”

So Arslanian climbed the ladder, stuck his head out of the cockpit and posed. The name of the plane can be seen clearly on the photo.

Enola Gay.

That photograph, which he displays prominently in his St. George home, carries much significance to him all these years later. At that moment, however, Arslanian didn’t think much of it. He had seen countless B-29s take off and return, and this was just another one.

But if his friend’s proclamations could be believed, perhaps the end of the war was near.

Sark Arslanian is known around St. George for his many years coaching football, including stints as head coach of Dixie College, Weber State and Colorado State. In 1963, he led Dixie to its lone undefeated season. Two years later at Weber, the Wildcats won a conference championship.

At 90, he walks without the aid of a cane, his voice is strong and he still possesses the persuasive quality that would make you believe he could still motivate a college team minutes before taking the field.

He was the one motivated, however, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Two months shy of 18, he couldn’t wait to get into the service.

“I wanted to be a fighter pilot in the worst way,” he said.

He entered the Naval Air Corps in 1942 and appeared on track to become an aviator.

But a funny thing happened.

The Allies started winning the war. That meant fewer American pilots were getting shot down.

And so fewer were needed.

While at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, California, one of his many training stops, he and a number of other cadets were informed that 50 percent of them were going to stay with the program. The other half would have to go elsewhere.

Arslanian found himself on the cutting block, but took advantage of an opportunity to become an officer and was assigned to the 20th Air Force.

“Smaller ships like ours would pick up supplies and deliver it,” said Arslanian, whose ship, the interisland freighter FS 411, would see plenty of excitement even after hostilities with Japan officially ended. “We would go to Tinian, Saipan or Eniwetok. We weren’t told where we were going until we left port. They didn’t want us broadcasting it.”

While Arslanian was in the Pacific, a very different type of mission was being planned.

Headed by Lt. Col. Paul Tibbets of the 509th Composite Group - in Arslanian’s home state at Wendover Army Airfield - these airmen were being trained to employ a new type of weapon, one that would forever change the world: Atomic bombs.

On Aug. 6, 1945, the Enola Gay, loaded with an atomic bomb nicknamed Little Boy, soared over Hiroshima, Japan. At 8:15 a.m., it dropped an atomic bomb that exploded about 2,000 feet above the city, instantly incinerating thousands of people and buildings.

When the aircraft returned to Tinian, word began to spread about what had transpired, which prompted Arslanian to head over. After the photo was snapped of him aboard the Enola Gay, Arslanian strolled over toward another B-29, this one covered with tarpaulin.

He was stopped by the same MP.

“The MP said, ‘sir, you can’t have that picture,’” Arslanian recalled. “I said, ‘What is it?’ He said, ‘I don’t know, and if I did you know I wouldn’t tell you.’

“Well, I believe that’s the plane that carried the bomb they dropped on Nagasaki.”

The second atomic bomb was dropped Aug. 9, 1945. Less than a week later, Japan announced it was done fighting. Official signing of the surrender documents took place Sept. 2, 1945, aboard the USS Missouri.

The war was over. There would be no costly invasion of mainland Japan.

Arslanian returned from the war and eventually stumbled upon Dixie College while searching for a place to play collegiate football. Seven years later he returned to become the school’s head football coach.

Yet before all this, a man who would, in the 1980s, return to Japan to coach football, had an experience that helped him put matters into perspective.

“When I was in Okinawa, I decided I wanted to go to Japan, so I told my captain,” Arslanian recalled. “While I was in Japan I found that they were the nicest people in the world. I’d never been treated so well. Everything was first class in the hotel.

Arslanian kept a journal. He recalled an entry he made.

“Here I am sitting in Japan,” he remembered writing. “When I was out there (while the war was going on), I wanted to kill all the Japs. They aren’t Japs any more; they are Japanese.”

___

Information from: The Spectrum, https://www.thespectrum.com

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