Meeting his hero


Charles Reinhardt, a resident of Bayonne for about two years, always used to hear stories about World War II from his father and uncles, each of whom served in different combat theaters from Europe to the South Pacific. One uncle, Joseph, even landed on the beaches of Iwo Jima.

For years, these stories seeped into his head, teaching him what it meant to "pay the price of freedom."

Although his family members survived, many with whom Reinhardt's father and uncles fought did not, and in fact, Reinhardt believed some of his uncles might not have survived if World War II had taken the next logical step - a land attack on mainland Japan.

Estimates of the lives lost in such an attack vary, but most historians believe it would have resulted in thousands more American soldiers dying.

For this reason, Reinhardt always saw the crews of the planes that dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki as heroes, helping to shorten the war in two quick strokes instead of letting it linger for months.

So when Reinhardt, a retired police lieutenant from Union City, heard that General Paul Tibbets, the pilot of the first plane - the Enola Gay - would be appearing at the Mid-Atlantic Arms Collectors Show in Harrisburg, Pa., almost nothing was going to stop him from making the trip.

Being a firearms enthusiast, he might have made the trip anyway. Reinhardt frequently attends shows.

"But I wanted to meet the man who had saved so many lives," Reinhardt said during a recent interview.

Tibbets was the last remaining crew member from either flight, a valuable piece of living history whom Reinhardt needed to meet, if only to fill in the final pieces of an oral history his father and uncles had started relating when he was a small boy.

Tibbets was doing a tour of gun and military shows in order to promote his book, "The Return of the Enola Gay," and as expected sat and talked with people he met in Harrisburg as well as signed copies of the book.

Was 30 years old

At the age of 30, on Aug. 6, 1945, Paul Tibbets made history, flying a B-29 super fortress bomber over Hiroshima. He released a 9,000-pound bomb nicknamed Little Boy. This was the first of only two times in world history that atomic devices of that sort were used as a weapon of war.

Both that bomb and the one dropped a few days later on Nagasaki were the result of an intense effort by many people in Hudson County and elsewhere called the Manhattan Project, which brought about an early end to the war in the Pacific against Japan.

Reinhardt admitted he had looked forward to the gun show and meeting the man who piloted the Enola Gay. "All my life I had read about him," he said. "In my eyes he's a hero because he ended World War II. If it hadn't been for him, we would have lost many more lives invading Japan. Imperial Japan would not have been easier." However, the bomb instantly killed 70,000 Japanese people and leveled 60 percent of Hiroshima. Thousands more died in the weeks that followed, with many more scarred for life.

Any regrets?

When Reinhardt arrived at the show, he found the clear-eyed, clear-minded 89-year old Tibbets seated at one of the tables, more than willing to talk about the experience.

The conversation ranged from the bomb delivery that fateful day in August 1945 to the current war efforts. "He said people need to support the troops now the way they supported him when he served," Reinhardt said. Did the pilot have any regret about delivering the bomb?

"He told me no," Reinhardt said. "He said it was a mission that saved American lives."

However, Tibbets was apparently surprised at the level of destruction the single bomb caused. Reinhardt described the Tibbets as "a legend in his own time."

"He knows he has a place in history," Reinhardt said.

Coming of age as a cop in a tough town

Reinhardt is no stranger to tough times. As a police officer starting out in the roaring 1970s of Union City, he knows what it is like to face danger.

Born in New York, Reinhardt came to Union City and grew up there. He attended Union Hill High School - and proudly notes he attended school with Rep. Bob Menendez, who later read a resolution into the Congressional Record at Reinhardt's retirement. He also earned a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from Jersey City State College.

Reinhardt made his living in law enforcement, staring his 27-year career in 1974 as a police special. He became a regular police officer in Union City in March 1977, eventually rising to the rank of lieutenant. Union City was a tough town in the 1970s, a kind of Dodge City, and he was part of a force that helped reshape the central business district into one through which ordinary people could walk without fear.

Reinhardt said he retired to Bayonne because he liked and felt comfortable in the community





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