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One of the fringe benefits of hunting is that you get to see and hear some unforgettable stuff, and this particular scene was acted out some time in the mid-1980s in a restaurant in Gillette, Wyoming. I was hunting mule deer with Norm Nelson, who is a history buff of the first magnitude, and we were having lunch with a friend of his whose name I cannot now remember.

Somehow we got around to the subject of the atom bomb and whether we should have used it. What follows, all these years later, is pretty much word for word from Norm’s friend:

“I can tell you something about that. I started World War II as a private, and I lived through four landings. By August of ’45 I was a warrant officer, but I was so frightened I was useless as a soldier. I knew that if we had to invade Japan I was not going to live, and when they dropped the two bombs and Japan surrendered it was like I had been born again. Anyone who says we shouldn’t have used the bomb, you send them to see me.”

For some reason that has stuck in my mind for all these years. I heard the same kind of story from an old outdoor writer, a newspaper reporter who made the D-Day invasion as an infantryman and survived. On D-Day plus one the Army, in its inscrutable way, decided it needed a reporter, saw in his 201 file that he qualified, and literally plucked him out of the hedgerows of Normandy and shipped him back to England.

“The strangest thing about it,” he said, “was making the adjustment to knowing you’d be alive tomorrow. It took me a long time to get used to that.”

Little bits of history that are vanishing every day.

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