The protagonists of Hiroshima have no nostalgia. Even those people only remotely connected with the event have had difficult lives. All except one: Colonel Paul Tibbets, pilot of the Enola Gay, the plane that carried the atom bomb. On TV, serene under his white locks, he was unrepentant: ‘I did my duty; I would do it again.’ Tibbets is the only one to have passed these years without so much as a shiver. One of the pilots in the formation which flew over Hiroshima that day was unable to participate in the victory celebrations; he took his life three days before the official ceremony.
I knew another pilot full of problems; it wasn’t at all easy to arrange to meet him. Everyone said: ‘You’ll need patience. But if he gave you his word, you’ll hear from him sooner or later.’ For days I waited and no one came. Then the pilot called to apologize. There was fog at the airport: the plane couldn’t take off. Or: he had no money and the banks were closed. He would buy the ticket tomorrow. Tomorrow came and went; there was always a different story. Eventually I made a proposal: ‘Eatherly, in five days it will be Christmas. I want to be back home in Italy before then. So I’ll come to see you. It’s much warmer where you are than in New York, and I’ve never been to Texas. I’ll leave this afternoon.’
‘No, stay where you are,’ Eatherly interrupted. ‘It’s hard to talk here. Being in Texas blocks me; the people inhibit me. They know me too well, and there’s no love lost between us. I plan to spend the holidays in New Jersey with a friend – I’d go out of my mind staying in Waco for Christmas – so I’ll come and see you.’