TAPS--Gen Paul Tibbets Jr, Enola Gay Pilot
November 2, 2007
Paul W. Tibbets Jr., 92, who piloted the Enola Gay, the plane that
dropped the first atomic bomb in combat -- on Hiroshima, Japan -- a mission that helped end World War II, died Nov. 1 at his
home in Columbus, Ohio. He reportedly had had strokes in recent years.
Gen. Tibbets became a national hero with the
Aug. 6, 1945, atomic bombing of Hiroshima, a historical turning point of the last century. He said he had no regrets over
the more than 100,000 Japanese killed and wounded at Hiroshima, and made a point of saying he slept easily at night.
a public television documentary, "The Men Who Brought the Dawn," that aired on the 50th anniversary of the bombings, Gen.
Tibbets said the bomb "saved more lives than we took" because an alternative would have been an invasion of mainland Japan.
would have been morally wrong if we'd have had that weapon and not used it and let a million more people die," he said.
late 1944, then-Col. Tibbets was selected for the top-secret bombing mission over Japan -- the culmination of the Manhattan
Project -- because of the piloting skill he showed early in the war during bombing runs over Europe and North Africa.
Enola Gay, a B-29 Superfortress he named after his mother, took off from Tinian Island, near the Pacific island of Guam, in
the pre-dawn hours of Aug. 6, 1945. The crew carried an atomic bomb nicknamed "Little Boy" that devastated Hiroshima, a city
chosen because it was a military center and had no prisoner-of-war camps.
Before the bombing, Gen. Tibbets had meetings
with J. Robert Oppenheimer and other scientists and military leaders working on the Manhattan project. But he said he had
no clear idea of the bomb's potential besides the description that it would explode with the force of 20,000 tons of dynamite,
a concept he could only vaguely grasp.
He later said of the blast: "If Dante had been with us on the plane, he would
have been terrified. The city we had seen so clearly in the sunlight a few minutes before was now an ugly smudge. It had completely
disappeared under this awful blanket of smoke and fire."
After the Enola Gay flight, the Japanese did not surrender.
Three days later, another U.S. crew made a run over Japan in a B-29 Superfortress named Bockscar, after its pilot, Frederick
C. Bock. The primary target, Kokura, was fogged in, so they went for Nagasaki, an alternative target, and dropped a bomb nicknamed
"Fat Man." The Japanese formally surrendered Sept. 2, 1945.
Paul Warfield Tibbets Jr. was born Feb. 23, 1915, in Quincy,
Ill. He grew up mostly in Miami, where his father opened a confectionary that set in motion his son's aviation career.
promote Baby Ruth candy bars, Paul Tibbets Jr., then 12, went aloft over the beaches and racetracks of Miami in an open-cockpit
biplane. He attached tiny parachutes to pieces of candy and tossed them overboard to people below. He was hooked on flight.
enrolled at the University of Cincinnati with the intention of studying medicine, mostly at his father's behest. A stint administering
shots at venereal disease clinics led him to quit college and, in 1937, join the Army Air Corps.
In 2002, he told oral
historian Studs Terkel: "When I told them I was going to leave college and go fly planes in the Army Air Corps, my dad said,
'Well, I've sent you through school, bought you automobiles, given you money to run around with the girls, but from here on,
you're on your own. If you want to go kill yourself, go ahead, I don't give a damn.'
"Then Mom just quietly said, 'Paul,
if you want to go fly airplanes, you're going to be all right.' And that was that."
After the United States entered
World War II, he flew B-17 sorties over North Africa, led daylight B-17 raids over Europe and was an early B-29 test pilot.
In fall 1944, he was selected for the atomic bombing runs and oversaw operations at Wendover Field, in the Utah salt flats.
Aug. 6, 1945, Gen. Tibbets and his crew spent six hours aloft with the bomb before reaching Hiroshima about 8:15 a.m. The
five-ton bomb fell several thousand feet, exploded at about 1,900 feet over the city and sent a mushroom cloud skyward.
of the bomb's force, Gen. Tibbets was told he could not fly straight ahead after it exploded but would have to turn at an
angle of 159 degrees to the expanding shockwave and leave the area fast. He said he practiced at great altitudes -- with the
plane's tail shaking wildly -- and eventually was able to turn the large aircraft in about 40 seconds.
was depicted by Hollywood leading man Robert Taylor in "Above and Beyond," a 1952 fictional account of the airman's life leading
to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
After the war, Gen. Tibbets was a technical adviser to postwar Bikini atoll bomb
tests in 1946, held assignments with the Strategic Air Command and helped establish the National Military Command Center in
the Pentagon. In 1966, he retired from the Air Force as a brigadier general.
His decorations included the Distinguished
Service Cross, the Legion of Merit and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
After his military retirement, he became president
of a Columbus-based air taxi company. Yet his role at Hiroshima continued to attract controversy, as when he participated
in a miniature reenactment of the bombing at a 1976 air show in Texas.
The general said the show "was not intended
to insult anybody," but the U.S. government issued a formal apology after the Japanese foreign minister said, "A bomb and
a mushroom-shaped cloud is a real nightmare for the Japanese."
Gen. Tibbets was angered by the planned 50th anniversary
exhibit of the Enola Gay at the Smithsonian Institution, which included a long explanation of the suffering caused by the
atomic attacks. He and veterans groups said there was not enough about Japanese villainy during the war. The Smithsonian exhibit,
at the National Air and Space Museum, went ahead without commentary or analysis.
In his interview with Terkel, Gen.
Tibbets said that he met with President Harry S. Truman in 1948 in the Oval Office and that the president asked the airman
if he had regrets. As he would for the rest of his life, Gen. Tibbets replied that he had none and had done his duty to protect
He told Terkel that he would not hesitate to use nuclear weapons against America's current enemies.
wipe 'em out," he said. "You're gonna kill innocent people at the same time, but we've never fought a damn war anywhere in
the world where they didn't kill innocent people. If the newspapers would just cut out the [expletive]: 'You've killed so
many civilians.' That's their tough luck for being there."
His marriage to Lucy Wingate Tibbets ended in divorce.
include his second wife, Andrea Quattrehomme Tibbets, whom he married in 1956, of Columbus; two sons from his first marriage,
Paul Tibbets III of North Carolina and Gene Tibbets of Alabama; a son from his second marriage, James Tibbets of Columbus;
and six grandchildren.
In interviews, Gen. Tibbets said he did not want a funeral or headstone because he did not want
to attract protesters to his burial site.