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By RICHARD GOLDSTEIN
Published: November 1, 2007
Brig. Gen. Paul W. Tibbets Jr., the commander and pilot of the Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in the final days of World War II, died today at his home in Columbus, Ohio. He was 92.
Related Article and Multimedia: Why They Called It the Manhattan Project (October 30, 2007)His death was announced by a friend, Gerry Newhouse, who said General Tibbets had been in decline with a variety of ailments. Mr. Newhouse said General Tibbets had requested that there be no funeral or headstone, fearing it would give his detractors a place to protest.
In the hours before dawn on Aug. 6, 1945, the Enola Gay lifted off from the island of Tinian carrying a uranium atomic bomb assembled under extraordinary secrecy in the vast endeavor known as the Manhattan Project.
Six and a half hours later, under clear skies, then-Colonel Tibbets, of the Army Air Forces, guided the four-engine plane he had named in honor of his mother toward the bombfs aiming point, the T-shaped Aioi Bridge in the center of Hiroshima, the site of an important Japanese army headquarters.
At 8:15 a.m. local time, the bomb known to its creators as Little Boy dropped free at an altitude of 31,000 feet. Forty-three seconds later, at 1,890 feet above ground zero, it exploded in a nuclear inferno that left tens of thousands dead and dying and turned much of Hiroshima, a city of some 250,000 at the time, into a scorched ruin.
Colonel Tibbets executed a well-rehearsed diving turn to avoid the blast effect.
In his memoir gThe Tibbets Story,h he told of gthe awesome sight that met our eyes as we turned for a heading that would take us alongside the burning, devastated city.h
gThe giant purple mushroom, which the tail-gunner had described, had already risen to a height of 45,000 feet, 3 miles above our own altitude, and was still boiling upward like something terribly alive,h he remembered.
Three days later, an even more powerful atomic bomb ? a plutonium device ? was dropped on Nagasaki from a B-29 flown by Maj. Charles W. Sweeney.
On Aug. 15, Japan surrendered, bringing World War II to an end.
The crews who flew the atomic strikes were seen by Americans as saviors who had averted the huge casualties that were expected to result from an invasion of Japan. But questions were eventually raised concerning the morality of atomic warfare and the need for the Truman administration to drop the bomb in order to secure Japanfs surrender.
General Tibbets never wavered in defense of his mission.
gI was anxious to do it,h he told an interviewer for the documentary gThe Men Who Brought the Dawn,h marking the 50th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing. gI wanted to do everything that I could to subdue Japan. I wanted to kill the bastards. That was the attitude of the United States in those years.h gI have been convinced that we saved more lives than we took,h he said, referring to both American and Japanese casualties from an invasion of Japan. gIt would have been morally wrong if wefd have had that weapon and not used it and let a million more people die.h
Paul Warfield Tibbets Jr. was born on Feb. 23, 1915, in Quincy, Ill. His father was a salesman in a family grocery business. His mother, the former Enola Gay Haggard, grew up on an Iowa farm and was named for a character in a novel her father was reading shortly before she was born.
The family moved to Miami, and at age 12 Paul Tibbets took a ride with a barnstorming pilot and dropped Baby Ruth candy bars on Hialeah race track in a promotional stunt for the Curtiss Candy Company. He was thrilled by flight, and though his father wanted him to be a doctor, his mother encouraged him to pursue his dream.
After attending the University of Florida and University of Cincinnati, he joined the Army Air Corps in 1937.
On Aug. 17, 1942, he led a dozen B-17 Flying Fortresses on the first daylight raid by an American squadron on German-occupied Europe, bombing railroad marshaling yards in the French city of Rouen. He flew Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower to Gibraltar in November 1942 en route to the launching of Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa, and participated in the first bombing missions of that campaign.
After returning to the United States to test the newly developed B-29, the first intercontinental bomber, he was told in September 1944 of the most closely held secret of the war: scientists were working to harness the power of atomic energy to create a bomb of such destruction that it could end the war.
He was ordered to find the best pilots, navigators, bombardiers and supporting crewmen and mold them into a unit that would deliver that bomb from a B-29.