Memorabilia Given to Museum
The N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh recently acquired a collection of military documents and objects related to the military service of Col. Thomas W. Ferebee (1918-2000). Ferebee, who grew up on a farm near Mocksville, was the bombardier of the B-29 bomber Enola Gay, which dropped the first atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945.
The museum acquired this outstanding collection through the collaborative efforts of Elizabeth F. Buford, who retired March 1 as director of the N.C. Museum of History and Division of State History Museums, and George E. Hicks, a friend of Ferebee and his wife, Mary Ann. Hicks met the couple in 1994 while working as historian and coordinating producer of the documentary "Enola Gay: The First Atomic Mission" for a 1995 exhibit at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. Before his recent retirement, Hicks' 30-year museum career included serving as CEO of the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Penn.
"I am most grateful that Mr. Hicks was instrumental in helping the museum acquire this collection," said Buford. "It is important that these items remain together in one collection, and we are pleased Mary Ann Ferebee has donated them."
"Tom was very loyal to his home county of Davie and to North Carolina," said Mrs. Ferebee, who resides in Florida. "He always had a strong interest in education and made himself available to teachers and students, so he would be pleased these artifacts will be available to the people of North Carolina."
Ferebee's military documents range from his service in the European and Pacific theaters of operation during World War II to his retirement as an Air Force colonel in 1970. The personal items from Ferebee's post-World War II career include a dress uniform, desk nameplate, and reunion pins and mugs. The artifacts will be exhibited at a future date.
"I have been tremendously impressed with the professionalism of the N.C. Museum of History, Director Buford and the curatorial expertise at the N.C. Museum of History," said Hicks. "These are the primary reasons I recommended to Mrs. Ferebee that she donate the items to the museum."
Ferebee's Military Career
Ferebee's military career began when he enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1941. The following year, he was assigned as a bombardier on a B-17 bomber that was stationed in England. Piloted by Capt. Paul Tibbets, that crew flew on the first American daylight bombing mission and the first American 100-plane daylight mission on Nazi-occupied France.
Later, Ferebee flew on the first American bombing mission in the North African campaign. By 1944 at the age of 26, the then-Major Ferebee had flown more than 60 missions, an unusually high number for a combat air crewman during World War II.
In September 1944 Tibbets, now a colonel, recruited Ferebee to join the 509th Composite Group, formed for training to drop the atomic bomb. Col. Tibbets called Ferebee "the best bombardier who ever looked through the eyepiece of a Norden bombsight" and selected him as a crew member on the secret project.
At 8:15 a.m. on Aug. 6, 1945, Ferebee pushed a lever in the Enola Gay that dropped the world's first nuclear weapon. The 9,000-pound bomb took 43 seconds to fall.
After World War II, Ferebee served as deputy wing commander for maintenance of several B-47 Stratojet bomber wings. He flew B-47s during the Cold War and B-52s during the Vietnam War. His decorations include the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, two Distinguished Flying Crosses and the Bronze Star. Having served in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, Ferebee retired from the Air Force and became a Realtor. He died on March 16, 2000.
"The Ferebee collection not only has local, state and national historical importance, but it is of international significance," said Tom Belton, curator of military history at the N.C. Museum of History. "These newly acquired items associated with Tom Ferebee are now one of the 'crowns' in our historical holdings."
For more information about the museum, call 919-807-7900 or visit ncmuseum-ofhistory.org. Parking is available in the lot across Wilmington Street.
More like this story