Paul W. Tibbets Jr., flying the Commemorative Air Force B-29 "Fifi" (photo souce: The Enola Gay.com)
Tibbets was known as the man who piloted the B-29 Superfortress "Enola Gay," which dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945. A second atom bomb, dropped three days later on Nagasaki, Japan, forced Japan to accept unconditional surrender and end World War II. Though the decision to drop the bombs has sparked controversy in the 60 years since, it saved millions of Japanese and American lives which would have been lost in an invasion of Japan.
Tibbets never regretted his role in the mission. "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, he said in 1975. Thirty years later, he stated “If you give me the same circumstances, hell yeah, I'd do it again.”
In 1994, when the Enola Gay was proposed to be used in a controversial exhibit about the suffering the bombing caused, Tibbets responded with an eloquent reply (excerpts below):
"From my point of view, the matter has been politicized, and, as a result, mishandled. Those whose business it is to create, mold, manipulate and utilize public opinion have done so as a matter of self-serving interest. Consequently, history has been denigrated; the Enola Gay has been miscast and a group of valiant Americans have had their role in history treated shamefully...I am not a museum director, curator, or politician. I am a pilot. I am a military man trained to carry out the orders of a duly elected commander-in-chief...Today, on the eve of the 50th Anniversary of the end of World War II, many are second-guessing the decision to use the atomic weapons. To them, I would say, "STOP!" It happened. In the wisdom of the President of the United States and his advisors at the time, there was no acceptable alternative but to proceed with what history now knows as Special Bombing Mission No. 13. To those who consider its proper presentation to the public, I say; "FULL SPEED AHEAD!" We have waited too long for all the wrong reasons to exhibit this aircraft. Too many have labeled the atomic missions as war crimes in an effort to force their politics and their opinions on the American public and to damn military history. Ironically, it is this same segment of society who sent us off to war that now wish to recant the flight of the Enola Gay."Tibbets' grandson, Paul IV, has followed in the footsteps of his grandfather and is a B2 pilot and commander of the 393rd Bomb Squadron.
I frequently saw Tibbets at the Confederate Air Force airshows in Harlingen, Texas, during the early 1980s. Several times, he was a guest pilot of their restored B-29 "Fifi," which is the only one of its kind flying today. His plane, the "Enola Gay," is currently on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air & Space Museum near Dulles International Airport in the Washington DC area.
Enola Gay today, on display at the Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air & Space Museum (photo source - The Enola Gay.com)
God Bless You and thank you for your service to our nation, Brig. Gen. Tibbets. May you rest in peace.