We love a great war story and we love a great love story, and good Lord did Jaimee Rose of the Arizona Republic deliver both with “Question of a Lifetime,” our latest Notable Narrative.
Rose is a Republic features writer who also covered former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ shooting and recovery, and was a member of the reporting team named a Pulitzer breaking-news finalist for that coverage. When she’s not immersed in a long-form narrative or ferreting out a news feature, she writes a style/food/travel blog, where she’s likely to quote Mrs. Dalloway when reporting on the ripeness of her father’s garden tomatoes.
In “Question of a Lifetime,” she turned her talents to a deeply personal tale, about her grandfather, a World War II pilot who has always wondered about the full details of a top-secret mission he carried out as a young newlywed. In agreeing to pursue an answer to his question, Rose discovered something that her dying grandmother asked that she never reveal.
When my grandfather was just a kid, he almost died while riding a horse. He fell out of his saddle, got caught in the stirrup and was dragged across the family farm.
When my grandfather was a teenager, he had scarlet fever that turned into pneumonia. At his high-school graduation ceremony, the principal announced that he wasn’t expected to survive the night.
When my grandfather was a young man, he was nearly killed in a accident outside Flagstaff. He hit a deer, was thrown from his rolling truck and spent hours bleeding on the snowy asphalt. The truck had landed on his hands.
When my grandfather was in the Army Air Corps, he was one of 239 men in Squadron 44C. When they completed training in the spring of 1944, 236 of those men were sent overseas. My grandfather and two others were kept back as flight instructors, and my grandfather felt cast aside.
He wrote to his mother: “Take my blue star down, out of the window.” He didn’t feel he was a real soldier. He was teaching kids to land planes in haystacks instead of fighting for his country.
Rose spent years wrestling with this one − how how to tell it, whether to tell it − and wound up with a story that is beautiful, elegant, suspenseful, enlightening and deeply humane. We don’t mind saying that we wept during the story and (twice!) during our long conversation with Rose, which you’ll find here tomorrow.
Editor’s note: On July 29, the Arizona Republic ran the following correction: “During Philip Richey’s research of his World War II service, he found a document he believed was the secret military order discussed in the story. The order was for a flight that happened after the atomic bomb was dropped, but the document could not be verified. The story reached the same conclusion: He was not part of the atomic bomb mission. But his discovery should have been included in the published article.”