The assignment was to return to Japan, where he had lived as a foreign correspondent, and write a magazine article for his paper on the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima.
The article detailed the horrors of that day in August 1945 and the horrors that lived with survivors every day since - the sense of separation from the rest of the world, the anguish of young women having to expose the scars on their faces as they walked in the street. Who would marry such as them? Would they dare to give birth to a child?And it spoke of what to that journalist was the greatest horror - the ineradicable knowledge of survivors that forever they would live with death already in them.
It gave many of them a bone weariness and made "hope" an obscenity when used in their presence.
But the article dealt also with the hope that nevertheless did exist in Hiroshima from survivors who would not surrender to the deadly languor and from hundreds of thousands of newcomers. They built the new Hiroshima, one of the most prosperous, bouncing cities in Japan. The music of Hiroshima was the bells of the cash register and high-pitched automobile motors - like living with a motorboat engine never turned off.
The piece was written 30 years ago, by me, for the 20th anniversary of the bombing. I use the third person above because so much time has passed.
I believed then that if President Truman had ordered an invasion of Japan and thousands of Americans had died, as surely they would, he could have been impeached once it was known that he had the weapon that would have saved their lives. I believe it now.
Something else was absent because I assumed my contemporaries would know it: the history of the imperial war started by Japan and carried on over two decades. It would have continued in all its unspeakable ferocity unless the empire was brought to surrender.
How many millions of Asians died in the war as Japan swept through Asia and the Pacific? Ten million is the rough estimate for China alone. Malaya? Burma? Indonesia? In the battle for the liberation of Manila 100,000 died, mostly Philippine civilians - almost as many people as died that day in Hiroshima.
When I lived in Japan, I was troubled by the second bomb, on Nagasaki. Why was it dropped only three days after Hiroshima instead of waiting for the full Japanese reaction? Years later in Washington, I came to understand that the reason was simply that it was programmed that way; a terrible thought.
But now Hiroshima nuclear revisionism floods us, charging American guilt. Historic revisionism becomes historic distortion when it leaves out or glides by reality - like the death of millions because of Japanese imperialism.
Hiroshima revisionists seem to have a way of accepting only theories that help strengthen their case. So Truman's conviction that hundreds of thousands of Americans would die in an invasion is dismissed while the low end of the estimates, maybe 10,000, is embraced.
We also are told that Japan would have surrendered quickly without the dropping of the bomb. But there is plenty of evidence that the Japanese military would have tried to carry on until their people were destroyed - taking as many Americans as they could with them.
Only President Truman has been proved accurate. He thought the nuclear bomb would end the war and save American lives, and it did.