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Accidental witness: historian to recount McGlohon’s A-bomb experience in Asheboro library talk

John McGlohon speaks to a crowd at the Asheboro Public Library about his experience photographing the atomic bombing of Hiroshima during WWII. Aug 11th 2016. [Scott Pelkey/Acme News – Archive Photo]

ASHEBORO N.C. – Next month, the Randolph County Public Library will be hosting historian Ken Samuelson who will share the story of how McGlohon accidentally captured images of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and the fight after the war to vindicate his accounts.

Former Asheboro Fire Chief John McGlohon served as an aerial reconnaissance photographer in World War II where he snapped images of the atomic bomb blast at Hiroshima.

The B-29 bombers assigned to photograph and study the Hiroshima mission were given orders to stay at least fifty miles away from the city, but miscommunication led to McGlohon’s aircraft, not involved in the mission, not getting those orders.

After seeing a bright flash and explosion, McGlohon captured the closest images of the aftermath of the first atomic bomb ever dropped in anger, at the time he had no idea what he had just photographed.

Photo provided by Randolph County Public Library

Those photos were seized by the Air Force upon landing and remained Top Secret until 1995, leading many to doubt McGlohon’s accounts.

After the war, McGlohon returned home and operated a photography business. In 1955, he joined the Asheboro Fire Department, and served as Chief from 1961 to 1985. After retirement, he served on the city council from 1987 to 2005 as mayor pro-tem.

McGlohon died in 2020, at the age of 96. Now, McGlohon’s friend and oral historian Ken Samuelson will share McGlohon’s unique story, and detail his own efforts, through archives, museums and service members’ memories, to substantiate it, in a talk at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, August 10th, at the Asheboro Public Library.

According to a press release from the library, Samuelson, from Moline, Illinois, graduated from George Washington University and served in the U.S. Navy as a supply officer.

He has a long and deep interest in World War II, and has conducted oral histories with veterans for the North Carolina Museum of History, The National World War II Museum and the University of Florida Oral History Collection. He has published numerous articles on veterans he has interviewed. His oral history work led him to McGlohon.