March 2003 | Volume 54, Issue 1
In 1945 I was a 14-year-old boy living on the south edge of Fort Wayne, Indiana. Like many of that age and time, I was very provincial. In my mind Fort Wayne was the center of the universe, and I was concerned because the United States had just dropped atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and I figured any retaliation would be aimed right at us. So when a plane came roaring low over my house, I thought it might be the first Japanese bomber.
Worse still, packages were being dumped from the airplane: incendiaries! They turned out to be small broadsides announcing that Japan had surrendered and that more details were available on the local radio station WGL.
My friends and I spent the rest of the day picking up these advertisements, far more interested in the fact that we were holding something that came from an airplane than in the message they contained.
Two questions occurred to me that day, and they stuck with me all my life. Who was flying that airplane, and why was this unusual method of communication used?
I found the solution to these mysteries more than 50 years later in Tom Brokaw’s book The Greatest Generation . In a chapter about Margaret Ray Ringenberg, a racing pilot who joined the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots (WASP), I learned that Fort Wayne’s newspaper was on strike that August. When word of Japan’s surrender came, an enterprising person at the radio station had an idea, and WGL hired Margaret Ray to spread the news.