About Paul Warfield Tibbets, Jr.
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Paul Warfield Tibbets
Born February 23, 1915 Quincy, Illinois
Died November 1, 2007 (aged 92) Columbus, Ohio
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Army Air Forces Years of service 1937–1966
Rank US-O7 insignia.svg Brigadier General
Commands held 509th Composite Group 308th Bomb Wing
Battles/wars World War II (North African, European, and Pacific Theaters); atomic bombing of Hiroshima Awards
- Distinguished Service Cross
- Legion of Merit
- Distinguished Flying Cross (2)
- Purple Heart
- Air Medal (4)
Charter Pilot and President of Executive Jet Aviation
Paul Warfield Tibbets, Jr. (February 23, 1915 – November 1, 2007) was a brigadier general in the United States Air Force, best known for being the pilot of the Enola Gay, the first aircraft to drop an atomic bomb in the history of warfare. The bomb, code-named Little Boy, was dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima.
Tibbets was born in Quincy, Illinois, the son of Paul Warfield Tibbets, Sr., and the former Enola Gay Haggard. He was raised in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where his father was a confections wholesaler. The family was listed there in the 1920 U.S. Federal Population Census. The 1930 census indicates that his family had relocated and was living at the time in Des Moines. Thereafter, the family moved to Miami, Florida. Tibbets graduated from Western Military Academy in Alton, Illinois and later attended the University of Florida in Gainesville and was an initiated member of the Epsilon Zeta Chapter of Sigma Nu fraternity in 1934. After his undergraduate work, Tibbets had planned on becoming an abdominal surgeon. He attended the University of Cincinnati for a year and a half, before changing his mind, and enlisting in the Army Air Corps.
Early military career
On February 25, 1937, Tibbets enlisted as a flying cadet in the U.S. Army Air Corps at Fort Thomas, Kentucky. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1938 and received his commission and wings at Kelly Field, Texas.
Tibbets was named commanding officer of the 340th Bombardment Squadron, 97th Bomb Group of the U.S. Army Air Forces, flying B-17 Flying Fortresses in March 1942. Based at RAF Polebrook, he piloted the lead bomber for the first Eighth Air Force bombing mission in Europe on August 17, 1942, and later flew combat missions in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations. Upon completion of his combat tour, Tibbets was assigned as assistant for bomber operations to Col. Lauris Norstad, Assistant Chief of Staff of Operations (A-3) of the Twelfth Air Force, a position he held until returning to the U.S. to test fly B-29 Superfortresses. "By reputation", Tibbets was "the best flier in the Army Air Force". One of those who confirmed this reputation was then-General Dwight D. Eisenhower, for whom Tibbets served as a personal pilot at times during the war.
After a year of development testing of the B-29, Tibbets was assigned in March 1944 to the 17th Bombardment Operational Training Wing (Very Heavy), a B-29 training unit, as director of operations under Brig. Gen. Frank A. Armstrong at Grand Island Army Air Field, Nebraska. On April 27 he was selected by General Henry H. Arnold as the prime candidate to command the 509th Composite Group, although he was not informed of the selection until September 1.
Atomic bombing of Japan
On September 1, 1944, he was assigned to command the project at Wendover Army Air Field, Utah, that became the 509th CG, in connection with the Manhattan Project. Initially, Tibbets was unfamiliar with even the concept of an atomic bomb, and was quoted in a 1946 article in The New Yorker saying, "I will go only so far as to say that I knew what an atom was." Once they were in Wendover, Utah (the selected base for the 509th composite group), Tibbets brought his wife and family along with him.
To explain all the civilian engineers on base who were working on the Manhattan Project, he had to lie to her, by telling her that the engineers were "sanitary workers." Tibbets had to frequently fly to the Los Alamos Laboratories (in New Mexico) for briefings regarding the Manhattan Project. During one of these trips, Tibbet's wife called one of the "sanitary engineers" over to her house to un-stop a drain, for which his master's degree in physics and doctorate in applied mathematics did not necessarily qualify him. The engineer was Alan van Dyke. Van Dyke served as theoretical consultant to Oppenheimer and Szilard. Tibbets and the "sanitary engineer" laughed about it later.
After the end of the Manhattan project, Van Dyke gave his famous "Babies in a playpen" speech. "We have cracked the indestructible atom and unleashed hell to destroy a hellish enemy. We will soon master the rest of the atom, to what end only we will be culpable. However, gentlemen and ladies, we have not created, only converted. Until we create something, we will have done nothing. Until we create, we are as impotent as babies in a playpen and the power we have unleashed is beyond our ability to control it."
On August 5, 1945, Tibbets formally named B-29 serial number 44-86292 Enola Gay after his mother. On August 6, the Enola Gay departed Tinian Island in the Marianas with Tibbets at the controls at 2:45 a.m. for Hiroshima, Japan. The atomic bomb, codenamed Little Boy, was dropped over Hiroshima at 8:15 a.m. local time.
The U.S. government apologized to Japan in 1976 after Tibbets re-enacted the bombing in a restored B-29 at an air show in Texas, complete with mushroom cloud. Tibbets said that he had not meant for the reenactment to have been an insult to the Japanese.
In 1995, he called a planned 50th anniversary exhibition of the Enola Gay at the Smithsonian Institution, which attempted to present the bombing in context with the destruction it caused, a "damn big insult.."
The film Above and Beyond (1952) depicted the World War II events involving Tibbets, with Robert Taylor starring as Paul Tibbets and Eleanor Parker as his first wife Lucy. A 1980 made-for-television movie, somewhat fictionalized, told the story of Tibbets and crew. Patrick Duffy played the part of Tibbets and Kim Darby played Lucy. The film was called, Enola Gay: The Men, the Mission, the Atomic Bomb. Tibbets was also portrayed in the films Day One and The Beginning or the End.
An interview of Paul Tibbets can be seen in the 1982 movie Atomic Cafe. He was also interviewed in the 1970s British documentary series The World at War, as well as "Men Who Brought the Dawn" episode of the Smithsonian Networks War Stories (1995) and Hiroshima (2005).
Tibbets was interviewed extensively by Mike Harden of the Columbus Dispatch, and profiles appeared in the newspaper on anniversaries of the first dropping of an atomic bomb.
In a 1975 interview he said: "I'm proud that I was able to start with nothing, plan it, and have it work as perfectly as it did .... I sleep clearly every night." In March 2005, he stated, "If you give me the same circumstances, I'd do it again."
In the 2005 BBC premier, Hiroshima: BBC History of World War II, recalls the day of the Hiroshima bombing. When the bomb had hit its target, he was relieved. Tibbets stressed in the interview, "I'm not emotional. I didn't have the first [vulgarity] thought, or I would have told you what it was. I did the job and I was so relieved that it was successful, you can't even understand it."
Tibbets' marriage, to the former Lucy Wingate ended in divorce in 1955, his second wife was a French woman named Andrea Quattrehomme. In 1959, he was promoted to Brigadier General. He retired from the U.S. Air Force on August 31, 1966.
During the 1960s, Tibbets was named military attaché in India, but this posting was rescinded after protests in India regarding Tibbets' role in dropping the atomic bomb on Japan. After his retirement from the Air Force, he worked for Executive Jet Aviation, a Columbus, Ohio-based air taxi company now called NetJets. He retired from the company in 1970 and returned to Miami, Florida. He later left Miami to return to Executive Jet Aviation, having sold his Miami home in 1974. He was president of Executive Jet Aviation from 1976 until his retirement in 1987.
Tibbets briefly commanded the 393rd Bomb Squadron during his tenure in the 509th Composite Group. His grandson Colonel Paul W. Tibbets IV, USAF, (a 1989 graduate of the US Air Force Academy) was also commander of the 393rd Bomb Squadron at Whiteman AFB, Missouri, from 2005–2007 and flew the B-2 Spirit. The 393rd is one of two operational squadrons under the same unit his grandfather commanded, the 509th Bomb Wing.
Tibbets died in his Columbus, Ohio, home on November 1, 2007 at the age of 92 He had suffered small strokes and heart failure during his final years and had been in hospice care.