DUTY, A Father, His Son, and the Man Who Won the War
A review by Leard R. Daughety
October 18, 2003
In DUTY, A Father, His Son, and the Man Who Won the War, former Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Greene, writes a reflective story about his dying father and Paul Tibbets, the pilot who dropped the first atomic bomb. Bob Greene first heard about Paul Tibbets from his father, in a very ordinary and casual way because they both lived in Columbus, Ohio. Sometimes while shopping, the elder Bob Greene would see Tibbets in the same department store. Although they never met one another, the respect and sense of gratitude that Bob Sr. had for Tibbets was evident in his discussions with his son. As a result of one of his columns, Greene was contacted by Tibbets and the result was a series of conversations between the two that provided much of the material for DUTY. DUTY is part biographical and part commentary by two very different men who both served their country during World War II. Despite the many contrasts between them, the two men also shared a great deal in their character and outlook on life due to the changes gained from military service. The time and space that they occupy in DUTY somewhat parallels their roles in the war; by 1945 Paul Tibbets was a brigadier general in the Army Air Corps, had flown historic missions in both the European and Pacific theatres, his uniform bore several ribbons with the Distinguished Service Cross at the apex; Bob Greene Sr. had started the war as an Army infantry private, rose to the rank of major, served in the "forgotten" Italy campaign and had received the Bronze Star for his efforts. After the war ended in Europe, Bob Sr.'s unit received orders for the Pacific. Paul Tibbets' successful mission very possibly saved Greene's life and ultimately allowed for the birth of the son.
Through his encounters with Tibbets, Greene learns of the basic core values and sense of duty both men held. The junior Greene is somewhat surprised at the respect that Tibbets articulates for men like Greene's father who served in comparable anonymity while being the backbone of his country's victory. The standards that were required of these men during the war did not fade away with its end. Being given a job to do and doing it without knowing all of the reasons behind it became a part of life. Failure to do so in war often meant death. Failure afterwards resulted in frustration, bewilderment, and disdain.
Responding to questions posed by the author, Tibbets, 84 at the time, offers some unique and revealing comments on his mission, war, and society. When asked if he thinks people still remember his name, Tibbets answers that it is more important that someone knows the name of his plane. Tibbets still keeps in touch with the bombardier and the navigator of the Enola Gay who flew with him on several missions before Hiroshima. They describe him as "one of the most loyal men in the world". Tibbets has no regrets over the loss of life at Hiroshima due to the large number of Japanese and American lives that were saved by not invading Japan. He harbors no resentment against the Japanese and ironically drives a car made by Toyota. His feelings are perhaps best summed up when he says that "There is no morality in warfare. You kill children. You kill women. You kill old men. You don't seek them out, but they die. That's what happens in war." Tibbets also feels that the United States would be a better country if there were mandatory military service for all men because the military imposes unquestioned authority on its members. Young men leave the armed services with a much greater sense of self discipline which improves society as a whole. Tibbets and the senior Greene shared sharp contrasts in their personal relationships with their families. Mr. Greene remained married to the same woman until his death and was close to his children. Tibbets, on the other hand, admits his failures as a husband and father but has succeeded in his relationship to his grandson, Paul IV, who flies the B-2 bomber for the Air Force.
Paul Tibbets and Bob Greene also shared a common respect for a particular group of men who performed one of the most celebrated missions during the war. On April 18, 1942, Lt. Colonel Jimmy Doolittle led a group of 80 men in 16 Army bombers that were launched from the aircraft carrier Hornet on a mission to bomb Japan. One of the members of the Doolittle Raiders was Thomas Griffin, the father of a close friend of Bob Jr. On Friday, November 7, at , Mr. Griffin will speak at the Laurens County Library in honor of Veterans Day. The public is invited to attend.
DUTY is one of the few books that I have read more than twice. Tibbets and Greene provide a refreshing and direct retrospective of their war experiences. Its only weakness is that it does not have a table of contents or an index to assist the reader for later reference. The word DUTY is never clearly defined in the book but Tibbets probably speaks for himself and others when he says "If you could fix me up so that I could do the same things in an airplane now that I could do in 1945? If you could do that, and this country was in trouble, I would jump in there to beat hell."