Second Lieutenant Morris "Dick" Jeppson, who was a weapons specialist during World War II, died March 30, 2010, in Las Vegas according to his wife Molly. Jeppson was 87.
Jeppson completed arming the first atomic bomb mid-flight, which the Enola Gay B-29 Superfortress released on Hiroshima, Japan and has been credited with ending the war early. Jeppson was a retired scientist and businessman and died of complications related to old age at Summerlin Hospital Medical Center in Las Vegas.
In his first and last combat mission, Jeppson put the red-coded, salt shaker-like detonators on the bomb on August 6, 1945. The resultant mission claimed the lives of more than 80,000 people and leveled approximately two-thirds of the Japanese city. Jeppson never spoke about his role in the incident for 50 years.
"You had a job to do, you just did it," Jeppson said at a 50-year reunion of the military group involved.
Three days after Jeppson’s mission, another B-29 dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki, prompting the Japanese surrender. According to navigator Theodore "Dutch" Van Kirk, 89, the only surviving member of the 12-man Enola Gay crew, told a reporter that Jeppson was "quiet, efficient and businesslike" during the mission. "He wasn't the type of guy to blow his own horn."
Jeppson actually drew the mission on a coin toss as he was one of several men trained to arm the bomb. As a 23-year-old second lieutenant, he climbed aboard the Enola Gay to take a 12-hour plane flight and change the course of history.
As a weapons specialist, his job was to assist weaponeer Navy Capt. William "Deak" Parsons. Together they began arming the bomb with Jeppson handing over tools.
"They did that very early in the mission, in the first half hour," said Dick Daso, curator of Modern Military Aircraft at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. "After that, they had to come inside the cabin because the bomb bay wasn't pressurized."
A few hours later, Jeppson made a final visit to the bay to change out three green safety plugs - each "the size of a saltshaker," he later said - for the red plugs that armed the bomb.
He made his way to the cockpit and told the plane's pilot, Colonel Paul W. Tibbets Jr., that the bomb called "Little Boy" was set to go.
Morris Richard Jeppson was born June 23, 1922, in Logan, Utah, one of a trio of boys of Robert and Elsie Jeppson. While he was growing up in Carson City, Nevada, his father worked in agricultural education for Nevada.
After the war, Jeppson studied toward a doctorate in physics at University of California at Berkeley, working at its radiation laboratory and the Lawrence Livermore laboratory.
In addition to Molly, his wife of almost 50 years, Jeppson is survived by one brother, four daughters, two sons, 11 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.