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Nov. 1st, 2007

The pilot who flew the Enola Gay when the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hirosima has died. He was ninety-something, 93 I think.

He has requested no funeral and no headstone because he doesn't want to give people a place to protest.

When I think that he's had to live with that for the past sixty years, I wonder what his life must have been like.


By JULIE CARR SMYTH, Associated Press Writer

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Paul Tibbets, who piloted the B-29 bomber Enola Gay that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, died Thursday. He was 92 and insisted almost to his dying day that he had no regrets about the mission and slept just fine at night.

Tibbets died at his Columbus home, said Gerry Newhouse, a longtime friend. He suffered from a variety of health problems and had been in decline for two months.

Tibbets had requested no funeral and no headstone, fearing it would provide his detractors with a place to protest, Newhouse said.

Tibbets' historic mission in the plane named for his mother marked the beginning of the end of World War II and eliminated the need for what military planners feared would have been an extraordinarily bloody invasion of Japan. It was the first use of a nuclear weapon in wartime.

The plane and its crew of 14 dropped the five-ton "Little Boy" bomb on the morning of Aug. 6, 1945. The blast killed 70,000 to 100,000 people and injured countless others.

Three days later, the United States dropped a second nuclear bomb on Nagasaki, Japan, killing an estimated 40,000 people. Tibbets did not fly in that mission. The Japanese surrendered a few days later, ending the war.

"I knew when I got the assignment it was going to be an emotional thing," Tibbets told The Columbus Dispatch for a story published on the 60th anniversary of the bombing. "We had feelings, but we had to put them in the background. We knew it was going to kill people right and left. But my one driving interest was to do the best job I could so that we could end the killing as quickly as possible."

Tibbets, then a 30-year-old colonel, never expressed regret over his role. He said it was his patriotic duty and the right thing to do.

"I'm not proud that I killed 80,000 people, but I'm proud that I was able to start with nothing, plan it and have it work as perfectly as it did," he said in a 1975 interview.

"You've got to take stock and assess the situation at that time. We were at war. ... You use anything at your disposal."

He added: "I sleep clearly every night."

Paul Warfield Tibbets Jr. was born Feb. 23, 1915, in Quincy, Ill., and spent most of his boyhood in Miami.

He was a student at the University of Cincinnati's medical school when he decided to withdraw in 1937 to enlist in the Army Air Corps.

After the war, Tibbets said in 2005, he was dogged by rumors claiming he was in prison or had committed suicide.

"They said I was crazy, said I was a drunkard, in and out of institutions," he said. "At the time, I was running the National Crisis Center at the Pentagon."

Tibbets retired from the Air Force as a brigadier general in 1966. He later moved to Columbus, where he ran an air taxi service until he retired in 1985.

But his role in the bombing brought him fame — and infamy — throughout his life.

In 1976, he was criticized for re-enacting the bombing during an appearance at a Harlingen, Texas, air show. As he flew a B-29 Superfortress over the show, a bomb set off on the runway below created a mushroom cloud.

He said the display "was not intended to insult anybody," but the Japanese were outraged. The U.S. government later issued a formal apology.

Tibbets again defended the bombing in 1995, when an outcry erupted over a planned 50th anniversary exhibit of the Enola Gay at the Smithsonian Institution.

The museum had planned to mount an exhibit that would have examined the context of the bombing, including the discussion within the Truman administration of whether to use the bomb, the rejection of a demonstration bombing and the selection of the target.

Veterans groups objected, saying the proposed display paid too much attention to Japan's suffering and too little to Japan's brutality during and before World War II, and that it underestimated the number of Americans who would have perished in an invasion.

They said the bombing of Japan was an unmitigated blessing for the United States and the exhibit should say so.

Tibbets denounced it as "a damn big insult."

The museum changed its plan and agreed to display the fuselage of the Enola Gay without commentary, context or analysis.

He told the Dispatch in 2005 that he wanted his ashes scattered over the English Channel, where he loved to fly during the war.

Newhouse, Tibbets' longtime friend, confirmed that Tibbets wanted to be cremated, but he said relatives had not yet determined how he would be laid to rest.

Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
molasses
Nov. 1st, 2007 04:11 pm (UTC)
yes. yikes.
avindair
Nov. 1st, 2007 06:25 pm (UTC)
He did his duty. He knew it was ugly, he knew it was terrible, but he also believed -- as did many -- that it would actually save lives in the end.

My opinion has always been this: As horrible as the attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was, it saved lives by averting a land invasion.

Gods, WW2 was awful.
foreignhotel
Nov. 2nd, 2007 05:07 am (UTC)
I have mixed feelings about this. I guess...it's hard to say when and if the Japanese would have surrendered. Some seem to believe that surrender was imminent, others that the dropping of the bomb was necessary to end to war. I guess I see it all as folly, and a tragic waste of life. War is always ugly. =(
foreignhotel
Nov. 1st, 2007 07:32 pm (UTC)
Paul Tibbets, incidentally, was born in my hometown of Quincy, Il.
g33kgoddess
Nov. 2nd, 2007 06:24 pm (UTC)
War is ugly. And no one is more intimate with that fact than the men and women of the U.S. military who willingly put thier lives on the line.

There's no such thing as a good war, but the best kind of war is one that is finished quickly and decisively -and there are times when that calls for extreme measures. The Empire of Japan (and I'm not talking in any way about post-war Japan) had become both desperate and cruel in the way they waged war - from its Kamikaze fighters to its prison camps. Both Tony and I personally know two survivors of the Bataan Death March. No nation can treat prisoners of war in that way and not expect fearsome retaliation. Hearing examples like that clearly demonstrates one of the reasons why the risks of a land invasion would have been a bad choice.

Yes, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were nightmarishly horrifying by any standard, but Japan started the war and were using any means possible to keep it going - even after it was apparent that there was no way to win. Between the war in Europe and the war in the Pacific, the United States was left with very few options and none of them good.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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