Sylvester, a native of Ville Platte who now lives in Eunice, left his engineering studies at Southwestern Louisiana Institute to enlist in the Air Force.
Poor eyesight kept Sylvester from becoming a pilot, but he was eventually trained as a Central Fire Control Gunner and assigned to a Boeing B-29 “Super Fortress”.
The B-29 was roomy for its time, measuring 97 feet long, with a 141 wingspan. It was manned by an 11-member crew and powered by 4 3,300 horsepower engines.
The B-29 could fly at a maximum speed of 375 miles per hour, at 25,000 feet, making it ideal for long-range bombing missions.
With the revolutionary Central Fire Control System (CFCS), four gunners were able, using analog computers, control four remote controlled turrets, each armed with two .50 caliber M2/AN machine guns.
Most of the B-29s, like Sylvester’s, were used to conduct bombing and incendiary raids on mainland Japan near the end of the war.
Sylvester and his crew arrived in the Marianas Islands, a major air force base, on July 1, and conducted several bombing missions on Japan before two other B-29s, the Enola Gay and the Bockscar, dropped the atomic bombs “Fat Man and “Little Boy” on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ending the war on August 15.
“Thankfully that happened, because things could have gotten a lot worse,” Sylvester said.
Many historians feel that the death count would have been much higher on both sides if the Allied forces had mounted an invasion of Japan.
During the bombing missions, the most dangerous time was 30 minutes before and 30 minutes after a bombing run, Sylvester said.
Due to the long-range capabilities of the B-29, it flew in with no fighter support, and had to protect itself from defending Japanese fighters and antiaircraft artillery, which would try and shoot the bomber down before it carried out its mission or on its flight back.
In addition, Sylvester said his bomber ran supply runs to POW camps, flying as low as 100 feet to drop food and supplies at camps where prisoners of war were being held.
“The locals threw bricks and shovels at us as we passed,” Sylvester recalled.
Asked by Rotarians if the dangerous long-range missions in cramped quarters made for a stressful job, Sylvester noted that he was only 20 years old at the time, saying, “At my age, I didn’t know what stress was.”
After the war ended, Sylvester’s bomber carried observers to fly over the remnants of Hiroshima after the atomic blast and take pictures of the devastation.
“There was nothing left,” Sylvester recalled. “It was all completely flattened except for four administration buildings.”