Author admits he was duped by a source while researching book on the Hiroshima bombing

By Steven Levingston

Author Charles Pellegrino confirmed Monday that he was duped by a source while researching his book on the bombing of Hiroshima and will remove the impostor entirely from the pages of future editions.

"The Last Train From Hiroshima," published last month by Henry Holt to favorable reviews, contained reminiscences of Joseph Fuoco, who claimed to have been a last minute substitute aboard Necessary Evil, one of the photography planes that escorted the Enola Gay, which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

Fuoco, who died in 2008, presented evidence to Pellegrino that he replaced Flight Engineer James R. Corliss aboard the plane. "My concern now is to correct this, to have James Corliss in his rightful place in history," Pellegrino said in an interview Monday.

Pellegrino said he trusted Fuoco, who was referred to him by a friend, partly because Fuoco was a firefighter who had served in World War II. Pellegrino, whose family lost a cousin when the World Trade Center was attacked in 2001, had worked with firefighters on research projects in the aftermath. "I let a lot of my skepticism drop down a couple notches," he said, adding he couldn't believe a firefighter could provide a false story.

The veterans who carried out the mission over Hiroshima in August 1945 had raised concerns about "The Last Train From Hiroshima." In a virulent press release, the 509th Composite Group said it was "incensed" about parts of the book, calling it "rife with errors."

Russell E. Gackenbach, who flew with Corliss aboard Necessary Evil, said in the release that he was astounded that "some imposter has put himself on the plane or that Pellegrino would not have bothered to easily check to see if it was true." Navigator Gackenbach said he could have attested to the presence of Corliss on the plane.

Theodore J. Van Kirk, navigator on the Enola Gay, added: "I am outraged. I have never heard of Joseph Fuoco."

Fuoco delivered a range of views on the bomb and fraudulent first-hand accounts of the mission. He moves in and out of the book's narrative, describing his career, his views on atomic bombs, his role in the Hiroshima bombing. After the blast, Fuoco claimed that his goggles developed a scratch inside the plastic above the bridge of the nose. Pellegrino said Fuoco may have picked up a pair of goggles bearing an atomic scar from one of the many test sites as a souvenir.

The 509 Composite Group also was livid over the book's characterization of the Enola Gay's pilot, Col. Paul W. Tibbets. In a section heavy with references to Fuoco, Pellegrino writes: "In his private moments, friends reported that Tibbets was occasionally horrified by what he had seen over Hiroshima, and Joe Fuoco often wondered if Tibbets's tendency to glorify his mission ... was perhaps an equal and opposite reaction to what the bomb had done."

The veterans called on Enola Gay navigator Van Kirk, who was a lifelong friend of Tibbets, to counter the claim. Van Kirk deemed the assertion "despicable." He said: "Paul Tibbets never expressed regret over what was done during both atomic missions and was never horrified over what he had seen over Hiroshima. He always stated that both atomic missions were absolutely necessary and he would have done anything to defeat Japan." Tibbets died in 2007.

Fuoco's false recollections are spread over at least 30 pages of the book but Pellegrino said they add up to only about five pages of text. He said the impostor will be wiped from all future editions of the book in hardcover, paperback and electronic. He will also write an author's note explaining the errors.

In what in hindsight sounds ironic, Pellegrino wrote that Fuoco barely felt a thing after the detonation: "Joseph Fuoco would recall later that he felt nothing - not even the rough equivalent of a bee sting or a pinprick - but of course, with all else that was happening around him, he supposed he just might not have noticed."

Pellegrino declines to call Fuoco a con man. Fuoco may have been compiling his evidence over many years and his beliefs may have become his reality, the author said. "Somewhere along the line," Pellegrino said, "he made this catastrophic mistake."

By Steven E. Levingston |  February 22, 2010; 6:55 PM ET Steven Levingston
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