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KAREN BLEIER / AFP / Getty Images

The Enola Gay on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

Hard to believe the first, and next-to-last, combat use of the atomic bomb happened 67 years ago today.

Battleland has always been fascinated and appalled, for all the predictable reasons, concerning its use.

The “Little Boy” bomb killed 80,000 people instantly, and radiation poisoning may have doubled that toll eventually. Went to see the restored Enola Gay – the B-29 Superfortress that dropped the bomb – over the weekend at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum out by Dulles airport.

Strange to see it elevated there on massive jackstands, its silverness reflecting the nonstop flashes igniting from tourist cameras below and, from an elevated walkway, above.

Battleland first wrote about the Enola Gay – named in honor (is that the right word?) of pilot Army Air Forces Col. Paul Tibbets’ mother the day before it made history – nearly a quarter century ago. Back then, the plane was in pieces strewn about a large warehouse in Suitland, Md.:

Numerous Japanese tourists come to the workshop specifically to see the plane, [Richard] Horigan [then-foreman of the workshop at the National Air and Space Museum’s Paul E. Garber restoration facility] said. “They are very respectful – they see it as part of their history, and that’s why they want to see it,” he said. “There are tears from some of the Japanese visitors.”

But some Americans have a markedly different view of the aircraft. “We get hurrahs from some Americans who say if it wasn’t for that airplane they would have been killed” in the planned Allied invasion of the Japanese home islands, Horigan said. “Our job is to save history – good, bad or indifferent,” he said. “We can’t change history. All we can do is save it.”

It was fitting finally to see the re-assembled Enola Gay, all bright and shiny. Here’s hoping that its memory helps keep nuclear nightmares at bay for at least another 67 years.