With the Pacific war in its third year, William Parsons wanted—indeed expected—to be commanding ships at sea at this point in his career. But fate, and his own special capabilities, prevented that. Now, in the pre-dawn darkness of an August morning, he was instead rather unceremoniously lugging two metal cans—together weighing just under 138 pounds—across a runway. Even before the sun had risen, the late-summer heat was evident as beads of sweat formed on the Navy captain's balding pate.
"Deke," as he was known to his friends, wrestled the two cans into an aircraft and squeezed into the sweltering compartment already occupied by his "Little Boy," which—at nearly 11 feet long and weighing 9,700 pounds—took up much of the available space. Eleven other men manned their stations in the aircraft, and soon they were airborne and headed northeast. Parsons was technically a mere passenger in this Army Air Forces, bomber named after the pilot's mother, but with his two cans of uranium 235, he was an important one.