Enola Gay pilot, Brig. Gen. Paul W. Tibbets Jr. has passed away
Retired USAF Brig. Gen. Paul W. Tibbets, Jr.óborn in Quincy, Illinoisóentered the Army Air Corps on February 25, 1937, at Fort Thomas, Kentucky. He graduated from pilot school at Kelly Field, Texas, and moved on to his first duty assignment with the 16th Observation Squadron at Lawson Field, Fort Benning, Georgia.
He later flew numerous combat missions in North Africa and Europe. While piloting Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses in Europe, he was selected to participate in the Boeing B-29 Superfortress program and returned to the U.S. in March 1943.
In September 1944, then-AAF Col. Tibbets was selected to organize, command and make operational the secretive 393rd Bombardment Squadron of the 509th Composite Group. The 393rd BS was first equipped with 15 specially modified Boeing B-29 Superfortress airplanes that were produced under the code-name Silverplate. These aircraft (65 were ultimately produced) were in place on the island of Tinian in the Northern Mariana Island chain by the end of May 1945. While these airplanes and their crews awaited their ìspecial stores,î the squadron flew numerous training missions.
Then on August 6, 1945, Tibbets departed Tinian and flew the 12-hour, 13-minute mission to and from Japan. At 8:15 a.m. local time the uranium atomic bomb known as Little Boy was dropped from an altitude of 31,500 feet. Forty-three seconds later, at 2,000 feet above ground zero, it detonated. The result: the city of Hiroshima was decimated and 60,000 to 70,000 Japanese citizens were killed and 50,000 were injured. (These numbers are according to a summary report issued on July 1, 1946 by the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey.)
It has been said that this action, and the subsequent August 9, 1945, action by another atomic bomb-carrying B-29 named Bockscar, piloted by Maj. Charles W. Sweeney, helped to hasten the end of WW II on September 2, 1945.
Tibbets later said, ìI have been convinced that we saved more lives than we took.î He added, ìIt would have been morally wrong if weíd have had that weapon and not used it and let a million more people die [in the planned invasion of Japan].î
Gen. Tibbets died of natural causes in Columbus, Ohio, on November 1, 2007. He was 92.
Paul W. Tibbets, Jr. (Photograph courtesy of the USAF.)