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'Duty: A Father, His Son, and the Man Who Won the War'
By Bob Greene
(CNN) -- Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Greene Bob went home to Columbus, Ohio, to be with his dying father. During his stay, he pursued an interview with Paul Tibbets, the combat pilot who dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
Greene's father, an infantry soldier during World War II, would point out Tibbets as "the man who won the war." While the elder Greene never got acquainted with Tibbets, his son eventually did. And through his conversations with Tibbets, Bob Greene Jr. forged a greater connection to his own father and his father's generation of soldiers.
The morning after the last meal I ever ate with my father, I finally met the man who won the war.
It was from my father that I had first heard about the man. The event -- the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima I of course knew about; like all children of the post-World War II generation, my classmates and I had learned about it in elementary school.
But the fact that the man who dropped the bomb -- the pilot who flew the Enola Gay to Japan, who carried out the single most violent act in the history of mankind and thus brought World War II to an end -- the fact that he lived quietly in the same town where I had grown up ... that piece of knowledge came from my father.
It was never stated in an especially dramatic way. My dad would come home from work -- from downtown Columbus, in central Ohio -- and say: "I was buying some shirts today, and Paul Tibbets was in the next aisle, buying ties."
They never met; my father never said a word to him. I sensed that my father might have been a little reluctant, maybe even a touch embarrassed; he had been a soldier with an infantry division, Tibbets had been a combat pilot, all these years had passed since the war and now here they both were, two all-but-anonymous businessmen in a sedate, landlocked town in a country at peace ... what was my dad supposed to say? How was he supposed to begin the conversation?
Yet there was always a certain sound in his voice at the dinner table. "Paul Tibbets was in the next aisle buying ties. ..." The sound in my dad's voice told me -- as if I needed reminding -- that the story of his life had reached its most indelible and meaningful moments in the years of the war, the years before I was born.
Those dinner-table conversations were long ago, though; they were in the years when my dad was still vital, in good health, in the prime of his adult years, not yet ready to leave the world. I had all but forgotten the conversations -- at least the specifics of them, other than the occasional mentions of Tibbets.
Now my dad was dying. We had dinner in his bedroom -- he would not, it would turn out, again be able to sit in a chair and eat after this night -- and the next morning I told him that I had somewhere to go and that I would be back in a few hours, and I went to find Paul Tibbets. Something told me that it was important.
(c) 2000 William Morrow & Co.
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