I joined the Marines in '61 and attained the lofty rank of E-3 and out in '63. I have to tell you a story about a Marine who was at Tarawa. About 7 years ago, in the winter, I went to get a haircut. I have an old field jacket that is as warm as toast that I wear in the winter. My wife cringes every time I put it on. Like me, it's not pretty but it's functional. The jacket has the EG&A on the left pocket. There was an old guy, Norb Feidler, (late 70's) that would come in occasionally and give hair cuts in the third chair. I was told he'd show up if his wife was banging on his ears or he just wanted to get out of the house.
Anyway, I walked in one morning wearing the jacket. Norb was giving a haircut and he looked over and asked what division I was in. I said the 2nd and asked him what division he was in. He said 2nd and I asked him if he was at Tarawa. He said, “Yup, with the 10th Marines.” We talked about it. (I'll keep this short) Norb said that in '45 they were being refitted for the invasion of Japan and he “knew” he was not going to live through that landing. He said, “Believe it or not I wasn't afraid, I just knew I was going to die, because I used everything up on Tarawa.” Then he said, “When they dropped the bombs on Japan and the war ended; it was like I was reborn. I always wanted to thank those guys that dropped the bombs but never did. I regret that I didn't write them.”
John (mid 40's) cutting my hair said, “My uncle was a pilot on one of the planes that dropped the bombs.” Norb asked him for his uncle's address so he could drop him a note. John said, “He lives about three blocks from here, I'll give him a call and see if he's home.” John hung up the phone and said, “He'll be here in about ten minutes.” Sure enough Fred Olivi, co-pilot on “Bock's Car,” walked through the door about ten minutes later.
It was great being there when the Marine thanked Fred, from the bottom of his heart, for giving him and his buddies new life. Fred said he and the crew just happened to be at the right spot at the right time to be selected for the mission. He said he had absolutely no regrets, because he said dropping the bomb shortened the war and saved lives on both sides. Norb said, “If you would have dropped another one on 'em, we would have had no problem with it at all.” The war leaves one with a different perspective when you fight it at sea level with an M-1, versus a B-29 at 30,000 feet.
I ran into Fred a number of times after that. If you live in the same neighborhood you can't help it. He wrote an interesting paperback book in 1999 on the mission called “Decision at Nagasaki.” It's an interesting 286-page paperback look at the mission. I would, on occasion, run into Norb at the barber shop and we, if he wasn't cutting hair, would talk about the Corps. Norb is gone and Fred died April 8th of this year. I really feel lucky to have had the chance to meet and BS with these two (unassuming) guys, before they left us.