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Paul Warfield Tibbets, Jr.
Born: February 23, 1915, Quincy, Illinois
Died: November 1, 2007, Columbus, Ohio
Cause of death: Strokes and heart failure.
Notable because: The pilot who dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima and never once in his 92 years expressed any regret or remorse, even flying a simulation of the raid at a Texas air show, complete with mushroom cloud. Around 140,000 people died in Hiroshima. He named his plane 'Enola Gay' after his Mother.
Paul Tibbets 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 was dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima.
Tibbets was born in Quincy in western Illinois, the son of Paul 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 moved and was living at the time in Des Moines. Thereafter, the family moved to Miami, Florida. Tibbets attended the University of Florida in Gainesville and was an initiated member of the Epsilon Zeta Chapter of Sigma Nu fraternity in 1934.
On February 25, 1937, Tibbets enlisted as a flying cadet in the Army Air Corps at Fort Thomas, Kentucky. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1938 and received his wings at Kelly Field, Texas (later Kelly AFB and now the Kelly Field Annex of Lackland AFB). Tibbets was named commanding officer of the 340th Bomb Squadron, 97th Heavy Bomb Group flying B-17 Flying Fortresses in March 1942. Based at RAF Polebrook, he piloted the lead bomber on the first Eighth Air Force bombing mission in Europe on August 17, 1942, and later flew combat missions in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations 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 Dwight D. Eisenhower, for whom Tibbets served as a personal pilot at times during the war.
In September 1944, he was selected to command the project at Wendover Army Air Field, Utah, that became the 509th Composite Group, in connection with the Manhattan Project's On August 5, 1945, Tibbets formally named B-29 serial number 44-86292 Enola Gay after his mother (she was named after the heroine, Enola, of a novel her father had liked). 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. Total casualties were in the range of 90,000-140,000 persons, due to the initial impact, injuries and subsequent radiation that came from the explosion. The film Above and Beyond (1952) depicted the World War II events involving Tibbets, with Robert Taylor starring as Tibbets and Eleanor Parker as his first wife Lucy. In 1980, a made-for-television movie aired, again telling a possibly more fictionalized version of the story of Tibbets and his men, with Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing from the CBS series Dallas) having played the part of Tibbets and Kim Darby as 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.
Tibbets' marriage, to the former Lucy Wingate ended in divorce in 1955; a second wife was named Andrea. In 1959, he was promoted to Brigadier General. He retired from the U.S. Air Force on August 31, 1966.
In the 1960s, Tibbets was named military attaché in India, but this posting was rescinded after protests. 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 firm 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.
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 devoid of its context, a "damn big insult."
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.
His grandson Lieutenant Colonel Paul W. Tibbets IV, USAF (as of 2006) is commander of the 393rd Bomb Squadron at Whiteman AFB, Missouri and flies the B-2 Spirit. The 393rd is one of two operational squadrons under the same unit his grandfather commanded, the 509th Bomb Wing.
Tibbets expressed no regret regarding the decision to drop the 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."
Tibbets died in his Columbus, Ohio, home in 2007. He had suffered small strokes and heart failure in his final years and had been in hospice care. Tibbets specified in his will that there should be no funeral service after his death and no headstone because anti-nuclear demonstrators could make his resting place a pilgrimage site. Tibbets asked to be cremated and have his ashes dispersed into the waters of the English Channel.
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