Last year, I stood in front of the Enola Gay at the Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum and discovered a catch in my throat and the beginning of tears. I was looking at something that represented so much - including the fact that I was born and standing there. My father was a bombardier scheduled to be sent to the Pacific where bombardiers were not known for longevity.
Paul Tibbets left his second year of medical school to join the Army Air Corps. What he really wanted to do was fly. In 1942 he was named commanding officer of the 340th Bomb Squadron of B-17 Flying Fortresses, which operated out of Britain against Nazi Germany. In September 1944, Tibbets, then already a colonel, was chosen to head the special air unit that would carry out "Project Alberta" – the codename for the plan to deliver the atomic weapon that was being developed at Los Alamos, New Mexico, under the ultra-secret Manhattan Project. He set up the training of 1,500 enlisted men and 200 officers to prepare for the ultra-secret mission.
On August 6, the Enola Gay - named for Paul Tibbets mother - a B-29 Superfortress, with her cargo of the atomic bomb 'Little Boy", took off from Tinian island in the Northern Marianas for the six-hour flight north to Hiroshima. History was made that day.
"I'm proud I was able to start with nothing, plan it and have it work as perfectly as it did," he said years later. "You've got to take stock and assess the situation at that time. We were at war, and you use anything at your disposal. There are no Marquess of Queensberry rules in war". And, he added, "I sleep clearly every night."
Paul Tibbets retired as a Brigadier General in the Air Force in 1966. He was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1996. His awards include Distinguished Service Cross, Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal, Purple Heart, Legion of Merit, European Campaign Medal, Joint Staff Commendation Medal, American Defense Service Medal, W.W.II Victory Medal, Air Force Outstanding Unit Award, American Campaign Medal.
Today the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have become quite controversial. It was a controversy that was not lost on Paul Tibbets. He requested no funeral and no burial. He did not want an event or a place that would provide detractors with a place to protest. He requested his ashes be scattered across the English channel where he flew so many missions.
Detractors were nothing new for Paul Tibbets. After the war, he was dogged by rumors claiming he was in prison or had committed suicide. "They said I was crazy, said I was a drunkard, in and out of institutions," he said. "At the time, I was running the National Crisis Center at the Pentagon." Today's childish criticism can only be waged without the prism of history. His actions saved hundreds of thousands of American troops, Japanese troops and Japanese civilians, preventing an invasion of the Empire of Japan. And, allowing even more of us to be born at all.
If you would like to have a sense of this amazing American, I strongly recommend the book DUTY by Bob Greene. This is an amazing peak into the lives of the men who won the war .
Thank you, Paul Tibbets. Thank you for what you did for our country, thank you for ending the war, thank you for all of the lives you saved and all of us you allowed to be born. You will always be my hero. Farewell, and Walk with God.