An American hero dies - General Paul Tibbets dead at 92
By Jack L. Key
The AP reported in a bland article last week Brig. General Paul Warfield Tibbets, who as a young colonel in the AAF dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima Japan, died. He was 92.
He piloted the B-29 Superfortress "Enola Gay" from Tinian Island in the Pacific to Hiroshima and dropped a single atomic weapon on August 6, 1945 called" Little Boy". The single bomb produced over 80,000 casualties to the enemy in WW II.
The event almost single handedly ended the war in the Pacific. Germany had surrendered earlier the same year. An invasion of Japan almost certainly would have cost more than a million casualties to America.
Tibbets did not know exactly the power of the bomb, or how it would react, if or when, it might explode. Paul Tibbets was criticized severely most of his life by the Japanese and ultraliberal Americans who mistakenly blamed him for the war, the bomb, and the killing of so many of the enemy. But he always maintained he did his duty as he was ordered, and since we were at war, did not regret killing the enemy at that time. He always slept well at night, he often said to critics. A second bomb was dropped days later on Nagasaki, but Tibbets did not participate.
I remember the Hiroshima event well. As a young paper carrier at age 9 I was one of the first to see the headlines and picture of the mushroom cloud that appeared in local papers that summer. President Truman came on the radio and spoke of the mission, Tibbets and his crew and the "Enola Gay". Everyone thought this event would end the killing and the war, because the Japanese had resisted all attempts by the U.S. for peace. Even when advised the allies had a powerful new weapon and would use it to end the war, Japan refused to enter peace talks.
I was saddened by Paul Tibbets death. I was outraged when I read that he had asked for no funeral or a headstone, since he feared his detractors in America would use it as a symbol of hate. Instead his ashes will be spread over the English Channel where he loved to fly. An American hero of WWII feared to be buried in his own country? It is hard to believe. So this is what we have become? Will we deny every other soldier, flier and sailor who has killed the enemy in war his right to be honored and buried in the USA?
Paul Tibbets was a good man, a fine officer and a patriotic American who sacrificed his life for his country that day in summer, 1945. Just as surely as if he had been shot through the heart, a part of him died that day. But how many mothers, wives and sweethearts did he save from the heartbreak of receiving that final telegram telling of a loved one's death in some bloody battle with the Japanese?
While one can understand the agony the Japanese must have felt then, both countries now should remember that Japan began the war in the Pacific by a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor that killed over 2,500 American servicemen. In a bit of irony, the U.S. Navy ship, the cruiser Indianapolis, that had brought the bomb across the Pacific was torpedoed and sunk by a Japanese submarine after delivering the weapon on her return trip home. Hundreds of American sailors were lost or eaten by sharks while in the water for days after the sinking.
Where did we find such men as these? Paul Tibbets was then 30 years old and a colonel in the Army Air Forces. His crew on the Enola Gay was made up of 18 to 21 year olds. They flew their missions deep into enemy territory, did their job and endured the losses of their friends. It was freezing cold, the air was thin and missions lasted for hours. And they did it for years on end, not just weeks or months. Over 16 million Americans served in WWII. My father, 3 uncles and two cousins included.
Where did we get such men?
I met Paul Tibbets once at an airshow and I liked him. As the AP article reported, the media had accused him and ridiculed him for years. They made him out to be a drunk, mentally ill, or a killer. He was none of those things. Now he won't be buried or honored in death by the country he helped save. But I will honor him, and I am sad to see him, and so many others like him, go home.
Rest in peace, General Tibbets. Hand Salute.
Thank God you were with us in our time of great need.