I was playing outside that August morning. It was a Saturday.
As expected, my father appeared at the end of the road. But today he was more excited than usual. In his hands he held a copy of the Daily Mirror, one of New York City’s tabloids.
He raised it above his head and shouted to me. I still remember the nearly full-page photo, but I did not realize then that the paper showed the detonation of an atomic bomb.
My father had good reason to be excited. He was a sergeant in the U.S. Army who recently had returned from India where he helped train Gurkha units to kill Japanese quickly and silently in the deep jungle. Not that they needed a lot of training in this regard.
He was stationed on Staten Island, an easy train ride to our Jersey shore beach community.
My father, Thomas, was 34 then. He was a poor kid who was lucky enough to become a professional soldier in the 1930s and had been recalled by Uncle Sam when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941.
He and his fellow soldiers were pretty sure that they would make up the invasion force for the Japanese islands.
They were not looking forward to that.
The newspaper appeared to carry the first photos of the climactic development in the war.
An uncle, a Normandy survivor, was part of the occupation force in Germany. Neighbors also had family in the services, and plenty had gold stars in the windows around our summer beach retreat.
News of the atomic bomb had been released several days earlier. The Aug. 7 newspapers, at least in the New York area, did not appear to have photos.
So the historic nature of the event was lost for a few days on a child not even 3.
The bombing on Hiroshima was exactly 70 years ago today. The crew of the Enola Gay, the aircraft that dropped the bomb, received hero welcomes in New York when they arrived. By then the war was over. Japan had capitulated after a second bomb was dropped, and Aug. 15 was considered then to be V-J day. Today the title is reserved for Sept. 2 when the surrender documents were signed on the Battleship Missouri.
The reception for the Enola Gay crew would be chillier today. The tragedy of Hiroshima is seen as the beginning of the nuclear age and the possibility of complete human destruction. Academics and authors question the decision by then-president Harry Truman to use the bomb.
Others argue that more would have died as the result of a land invasion and that incendiary bombs had as much impact on Japan as the atomic bombs.
There was no argument in August 1945, and my father always was thankful that Truman decided to use the bomb.
Academics and the military later would discover that the person who gave the most complete report on the Hiroshima bombings to the country’s top officials was none other than the head of Japan’s own atomic bomb program. A leadership that let pilots take one-way trips for suicide attacks on enemy ships would have had no qualms about using nuclear bombs.