Before he could go to work on a new type aircraft nicknamed "God's Will," Bill Robinson of Easley had to pass a background check by the FBI.
Back then, the B-29 bomber was a secret weapon. It was the type plane that would drop the atomic bombs on Japan that ultimately ended World War II.
Robinson, who at 89 still shows up for work every day at his law office in downtown Easley, is like all veterans of the biggest war in history.
He didn't do anything special, he says. He just did what had to be done.
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But over the past couple of weeks, he's been hailed as a hero on an Honor Flight with other WWII veterans to Washington, D.C., and given a chance to take to the skies in 1940's vintage aircraft at the Greenville Downtown Airport as part of a Wings of Freedom tour.
"I guess looking back, it's gratifying," he said of the trip to the nation's capital, in which he and his comrades were given VIP treatment everywhere they went.
"It's a great benefit to be recognized for what you did, although I didn't do anything," he said.
Not much, except keep the most advanced U.S. bombers flying as an aircraft mechanic and crew chief with the Ninth Bomber Group.
Not much but make a bombing run over mainland Japan and work at an air base on a tiny island that was still occupied by Japanese.
And earn three Battle Stars.
The Honor Flight, which is offered free of charge to veterans, was a whirlwind trip that started early in the morning Oct. 28 and returned late in the evening.
Before they departed from Greenville-Spartanburg Airport, the group of about 100 veterans from the two Carolinas were treated to coffee and donuts and patriotic music by student orchestra, cheered by children and their every move recorded by photographers and reporters.
"A woman came up and kissed me," Robinson said. "It makes you feel good."
In Washington, they stopped first at the World War II memorial, which opened in 2004, nearly 60 years after the end of the war.
Then they visited the U.S. Marines Iwo Jima Memorial and went on to the Korean and Vietnam war memorials, Robinson said.
They rode buses through the city with police escorts and made their way to Arlington National Cemetery to observe the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
They watched as a new wreath representing their Honor Flight group was put in place nearby.
"It reminds you you're an American," Robinson said.
Then it was on to the Air Force Memorial and a ride-by at the Pentagon at about dusk.
The welcome home at GSP was even more stirring than the send-off.
"There must have been 1,000 people there waving flags," Robinson said. "I was touched."
Then humility kicks back in.
"They say, 'thank you for your service,' and I appreciate that," he said. "But I did what everyone else did."
Not everyone volunteered for the Army as soon as they turned 18 like he did, but it seemed to him like the only thing to do at the time.
"You weren't a real American if you didn't go into the service," he said.
That was in 1943, and the war was a long way from over.
After learning to be an aircraft mechanic at several bases stateside, he was sent to the Pacific, to the tiny island of Tinian, in 1944. From that isolated airstrip, Robinson helped the U.S. send 800 B-29 bombers over Tokyo during the final 18 months of the war.
It was there that he first saw the Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, forcing the Japanese to surrender.
It was the same type plane he spent his days working on but not one he turned a wrench on.
"We went by it every day," he said. "We didn't know what it was, but we figured it was special."
His duty wasn't all done on the ground. He flew a combat mission from Iwo Jima to Japan, as the U.S. tried to force the Japanese to surrender without resorting to using the atomic bomb.
Robinson is convinced they never would have given up had America not dropped the A-bombs. And the cost in American lives would have been staggering, he says.
He had a friend serving in a Sherman tank in Okinawa who had been assigned to the U.S. invasion force, prepared for action if necessary.
"He wrote his family and told them goodbye," Robinson said. "He knew he couldn't survive an invasion of Japan."
Robinson was at Iwo Jima when the bombs were dropped and the surrender finally came.
The B-29's Robinson worked on were a big step up from the type plane he flew at the Wings of Freedom event in Greenville, the B-24. They were nicknamed "Bucket of Bolts" because of how often they broke down.
"You never heard such a racket in all your life," he said of his flight over Greenville, up to the mountains and back down along the Blue Ridge escarpment.
"I was enthralled to go up in an old airplane like that," he said. "It was at least 70 years old."
"It still runs, but not as good as it used to – kind of like me," he said.
Robinson, the son of a World War I veteran and lifelong resident of Easley, returned home from the war and went to Clemson on the GI bill before earning his law degree at the University of South Carolina.
He's been in practice ever since.
"Retire? When you love doing something, why retire?" he says.
As to who the real heroes are, it's not the guys on the Honor Flight, he says.
When asked about it, he looks down at the clock on his desk, one he removed from a B-29 on a small island called Tinian so many years ago. It still runs.
He pauses, for a long time, before answering.
"You're a hero if you're up there in Arlington or Iwo Jima, or Flanders Field," he says. "Those are the real heroes."