Tuesday, August 13, 2013

"My God, What Have We Done?"

*Look for a new posting most Tuesdays and Fridays*

Sixty-eight years ago this past Tuesday, the crew of the Enola Gay watched in awe as their payload detonated over the city of Hiroshima. "As the bomb exploded, we saw the entire city disappear," said Commander Robert Lewis. "I wrote in my log, 'My God, what have we done?'"

While I believe James Neville LeDuke felt similar angst about his small role as a Tech 4 Sargent stationed in Los Alomas, New Mexico in 1945, I never really engaged him in any discussions about that period of his life.  The end product of the Manhattan Project was generally looked at by most people as a necessary means to the end of WWII.  While I would not hesitate to take part in a friendly debate with any of my peers, I am not going to use this posting today to express my views, pro or con, on the subject of the Atomic Bomb.

Rather, I will continue to ramble on in my usual light-hearted manner to tell a little about what I have learned while sneaking around in Catherine LeDuke's house and confiscating her books, papers, and personal writings.  

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Hiroshima -- The Connection

*Look for a new Posting most Tuesdays and Fridays*

 [This is a companion post to one from earlier today. Some of you have been waiting all day to learn the mystery of how Emily Dickinson is related to the bombing of Hiroshima.  If you're just joining us, check out Part I here.]

One of the greatest disappointments in my life is knowing how little I got to really know my father, James Neville LeDuke.  I have no one to blame but myself and perhaps a careless surgeon who misjudged how long to keep a  62-year-old man in the OR.  I sometimes find it hard to realize that I was only 34 when Daddy left us in August of 1977.

I graduated from High School in 1961, spent the next 5 years struggling to earn a college degree at Knoxville, and then accepted an invitation by my draft board to spend the next two years saving our country from the hands of Communism.  Thank you, thank you, we have all been spared the perils of Socialism today due to my assistance.  (...Or have we?? Nevermind...)

Upon returning to the "land of the free," I dove head-first into the task that all of us of our generation were encouraged to do; leave home, start a family, begin a career, and amass great wealth.  My only success would be that I did at least help get two beautiful daughters launched into the world.  

My biggest failure, I now realize, was how poorly I kept in touch with my parents.  Had I not had a wife during this period who was as good a letter writer as James Neville was, I would know even less about my father.

The point of this bit of auto-biographic rambling is to express how much I regret not having had meaningful conversations with by Dad about a wide variety of topics.  Granted, the list of subjects I would discuss with him has grown by leaps and bounds as a result of my snooping into his private files and letters.  But my imagination runs wild with the possibility that I could somehow spend all day tomorrow with him just talking, drinking coffee, and even offering him a cigarette or two.

Emily Dickinson and Hiroshima: What could they possibly have in common???

*Look for a new posting most Tuesdays and Fridays*

A good part of the fun that I have in rummaging through Catherine LeDuke's stuff is getting to share with family and friends some of the treasure hunting stories related to the more "interesting" discoveries I make.

Two facts are important to keep in mind as you read on to discover the meaning of the title of this posting: Emily Dickinson was one of mother's favorite poets and James Neville personally built the A-bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima.  Only the first is actual fact; the latter is just LeDuke family lore.

Catherine LeDuke and James Neville had a great love for English Literature; especially poets and essayists of the nineteenth and early twentieth century.  The book shelves at 114 LeDuke Street are filled with classics; Emerson, Hawthorne, Irving, Hemingway, Whitman, Thoreau, and Catherine's ever-favorite Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Emily Dickinson.  None of the books in our possession are "First Editions" unfortunately, and all are so well-read that they are falling apart.

In the past several years while Amanda and I have been reading the daily letters written between James Neville and Catherine both before their 1936 marriage and during their WWII experience, we have come to appreciate even more how much these two fine teachers had in common.  Rarely a whole week ever went by without one of them mentioning a list of books being read.  And we came to look forward to mother's regular inclusions of a few lines of poetry and often whole sonnets as the mood often struck her.

In November of 1945 James Neville purchased a book of poetry by Emily Dickinson which was intended to be an anniversary present for Catherine.  James Neville had requested a two-week furlough for the middle of December and he would present this gift in person on December 23rd.  The book was entitled Bolts of Melody: previously unpublished poems by Emily Dickinson.