Oral history

Mar 16, 2006

I mentioned in an earlier post that I’m slowly making my way through John Hersey’s classic narrative journalism about the bombing of Hiroshima. This week, I got a more personal connection to that historic, though horrific, event in history.

On my way to work Wednesdy morning, I stopped at the Shangri-La that is the Cedars of Chapel Hill retirement community at Meadowmont Village, where I met Thomas Karnes. He’s a sage and wise man, a former history department chairman at Arizona State University, and a perfect individual for a pilot run of my StoryBlogging efforts.

When I’d asked him he’d ever written about his time as an Air Force officer during World War II, Professor Karnes said he’d written plenty, and then offered an example: In 1996, soon after the Smithsonian Institution put on its controversial Enola Gay exhibit, Karnes wrote a letter to the Journal of American History to share his recollection of Paul Tibbets, who Karnes served as an adjutant—it was Karnes job as personnel director of an Air Force base to gather some 1800 servicemen to support the bombing mission. In early 1945, Karnes told me Wednesday, Tibbets and the others didn’t know if the first atomic bombs were to be dropped on Germany or Japan. (Soon Germany would surrender, and the bombs were sent to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.)

As a historian who had been part of the history, Karnes had an interesting perspective: younger historians (and me, I admit), he said, feel that dropping the bomb was wrong, and yet veterans of the war want credit for ending that horrible conflict.

I was awed to be talking with Karnes. He’s agreed to meet me again and share more of his history and the history he lived. My challenge is to craft his recollections into storyblogging worth reading. Stay tuned.

Anton Zuiker

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