Gary Brown: Niece’s letter helped shed some light on an old war pal
Julius Erdos of Plain Township met Frank Duffy of Valparaiso, Ind., when both were training to be part of ground crews for bombers in World War II.
“He and I were with B-24s before we both got transferred to B-29s, which was a new bomber,” recalled Erdos, who said Duffy was sent on to be part of the ground crew for a B-29 named “Sitting Pretty.” Duffy was one of several men left behind.
“They needed more training, at least that’s what they told us,” remembered Erdos. “What it was, they were selected for the Enola Gay.”
The Enola Gay was the B-29 used to bomb Hiroshima in August 1945.
The mission was secret, of course, and even though both were stationed on the island of Tinian, Erdos never heard from Duffy during the months that led up to the historic bombing. After the atomic bomb dropped from the Enola Gay destroyed Hiroshima, Duffy and Erdos briefly were reunited — were pictured together in front of the Enola Gay — but again were separated.
“They (the crew of the Enola Gay) went home about three or four weeks after they dropped the bomb,” said Erdos. “I got a letter from him apologizing for that, because we were here first, but they went home first. That’s how nice a guy he was.”
Lives were resumed after the war, and Erdos never tried to contact Duffy, nor did his wartime friend seek Erdos out. It was not until early in the 1990s that Erdos sent letters to an address he believed was Duffy’s home.
Only after Duffy’s niece found the letters — following Duffy’s death in 1991 and his wife’s passing in 1993 — did Erdos receive a reply.
“Neither of them had been able to answer your letters,” the niece, Judy Tollis of Valparaiso, Ind., wrote to Erdos in a letter dated March 16, 1993, “but if you will allow me, I will try to fill in the years for you.”
Childless, Frank and Vivian Duffy spent their lives together traveling, growing gardens in their yard, and working for their church, Tollis said. Her uncle was a sheet metal worker all of his life.
“He would never speak of his stint in the service,” she wrote. “If anyone ever brought it up, he would tell them not to talk about it. Consequently, his suppressing it led to many emotional problems.”
Tollis said Duffy was admitted to Veterans Administration hospitals for months at a time. “At one point, he was house-ridden for almost six years — never leaving his bedroom except to eat,” she wrote. A doctor diagnosed he had a chemical imbalance — too much nitrogen — and medication seemed to make her uncle “the old Frank again.”
But what might have brought back the old Frank Duffy the most was a meeting with his past.
“About two years before he died, he was honored at a Hoosier Air Show,” explained Tollis in her letter. “They had a B-24 there. They let Frank sit in the cockpit and they then had him come forward before about 30,000 people. They told everyone about him and what he did. The newspapers interviewed him. He told his story while shedding many tears.
“It was a real healing time for Frank and after that he was a different person. It’s as though a burden had been lifted off of his shoulders. Everyone kept telling him how proud they were of him and ‘if you hadn’t done that we probably would not be here today.’ ”
A life regained
The war ended that day for Frank Duffy — a man his niece described as a “wonderful person” who had “a heart of gold.”
“He was a nice guy,” explained Erdos, who has kept the letter for nearly two decades to remind him of his friend. “It bothered him that he was on the ground crew of that plane.”
Contact Gary Brown at email@example.com.