Attention, readers: I’m posting updates to this post below.
When I learned late last night that Osama bin Laden had been killed, one of my first thoughts was of Paul Tibbets. It’s okay if you don’t recognize the name. He was the pilot of the bomber plane “Enola Gay” on August 6th, 1945. On that day he and his crew dropped “Little Boy,” an atomic bomb, on Hiroshima, Japan.
Behind every major news event there is a personal story. Early news reports indicate that bin Laden was killed by a bullet to the head. Who pulled that trigger? What were his emotions when he fired the shot? When did he first imagine the role he might play in history? Did he daydream in his high school algebra class, telling himself he didn’t need to learn how to solve for ‘x’ because someday he would kill the most notorious mass murderer of his day?
It was the stories of individuals that drew me to journalism. Most of my career I covered so-called “hard news,” policy decisions by Congress that had national, and at times international, impact. But behind every major news event was an individual — a Member of Congress, a Hill staffer, a lobbyist, an activist.
Three months from now Bob Woodward will likely have a book out titled something like “The Moment,” which will put us in the White House Situation Room on the day President Obama authorized the raid on bin Laden’s hideout. A military historian will write a book breaking down the military operation on that hideout.
But another writer will tell the story of the man who pulled that fateful trigger.
I will eagerly read it. My favorite book of the last year was Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, the story of an Olympic runner who survived an ocean plane crash and POW internment during World War II. The two books that most inspired me to pursue creative nonfiction were Dava Sobel’s Longitude, a profile of the man who invented a clock allowing explorers to safely navigate at sea, and Simon Winchester’s The Professor and the Madman, which told the story of the key man behind the Oxford English Dictionary and the murderer who contributed many of the book’s entries.
Everyone has a story. I knew that when I launched a cross-country U.S. trip to interview creatives. I love telling people’s stories. I love reading people’s stories.
I eagerly await the story of this brave soldier who accomplished something that led to spontaneous celebrations in front of the White House, a few short miles from my home. He has a story to tell.
UPDATE (5/2/11, 6:25 pm ET): One of my favorite tweeps, Alexis Grant, directed me to this GalleyCat post of an upcoming memoir by a former member of the Navy SEAL team that conducted the raid on bin Laden’s compound. The author is no longer on the team but presumably can write about some of its members. Also check out Alexis’ take on various newspaper headlines from today featuring the big news, based on her drop-by at D.C.’s Newseum.
UPDATE (5/3/11, 7:52 am ET): The Washington Post speculates that unlike Paul Tibbets (yes, they cited that example) we may never know who the shooter is, following Navy SEAL protocol.
UPDATE (5/5/11, 5:40 am ET): Today the Washington Post has a front-page story on Vice Admiral William H. McRaven, a former Navy SEAL who selected and supervised the team that conducted the raid.
UPDATE (5/5/11 3:30 pm ET): Just saw a post by Write it Forward’s Bob Mayer, whose bio states “is a West Point graduate, served in the Infantry and Special Forces (Green Beret) commanding an A-Team and as a Special Forces operations officer; and was an instructor at Fort Brag.” He walks the reader through the planning and execution of a mission like this, and says: “To all the second-guessers out there, I say: Shut up.”