Paul W. Tibbets

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Paul Tibbets, who dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima from a B-29 named for his mother, died Thursday at 92. Tibbets, who grew up in Miami, insisted until the end that he had no regrets. ''I was assigned to do a job [and] I did it with no personal feelings entering into the mission,'' he told The Miami Herald in 1970. ``Today I still feel the same way . . . I would drop that bomb again without reservation, because it saved far more lives than it took.'' He often said he never lost a night's sleep over having killed 70,000 to 100,000 Japanese civilians and injuring countless others -- although he later said he hadn't slept for 30 hours before the bombing run. Tibbets, son of a Miami candy wholesaler, died at his Columbus, Ohio, home, said Gerry Newhouse, a longtime friend. He had multiple health problems and had been declining for two months. Newhouse said that Tibbets wanted neither a funeral nor a headstone, fearing it would prove a magnet for his detractors. Tibbets' historic mission in the Enola Gay marked the beginning of the end of World War II and eliminated the need for what military planners feared would have been an extraordinarily bloody invasion of Japan. It was the first wartime use of a nuclear weapon. The plane and its crew of 14 dropped the five-ton bomb on Aug. 6, 1945. Three days later, another U.S. pilot dropped a second nuclear bomb on Nagasaki, Japan, killing an estimated 40,000 people. The Japanese surrendered days later. ''I knew when I got the assignment it was going to be an emotional thing,'' Tibbets told The Columbus Dispatch for a story published on the 60th anniversary of the bombing. ``We had feelings, but we had to put them in the background. We knew it was going to kill people right and left. But my one driving interest was to do the best job I could so that we could end the killing as quickly as possible.'' In 1970, Tibbets, who had moved back to Miami, gave an interview to The Herald describing what he saw looking down from the cockpit: ``It looked like someone making a city in the sand and then rubbing a hand over it . . . It's still hard to believe what we saw that day.'' In a 1975 interview with the Associated Press, he said, ``I'm not proud that I killed 80,000 people, but 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.'' Paul Warfield Tibbets Jr. was born Feb. 23, 1915, in Quincy, Ill. and spent most of his boyhood in Miami. Some accounts say he attended Central Elementary School, others Silver Bluff Elementary, and Shenandoah Junior High before heading to military school in Illinois. After the 1926 hurricane destroyed his father's business, the family moved to Iowa but returned to Miami within a few years. At 12, Tibbets tossed Baby Ruth candy bars from a small plane over Hialeah Race Course as a promotion for his father's business. It hooked him on flying. He piloted his first plane, a Taylor Cub, from the Opa-locka Airport in the mid-1930s. He attended the University of Florida, where he pledged Sigma Nu, then entered medical school at the University of Cincinnati, leaving for the Army Air Corps in 1937. In August 1945, Enola Gay Tibbets was living at 1629 SW Sixth St. Her son, who said he inherited her cool-headedness and emotional control, had painted her name on his plane's nose. She died in 1966. Tibbets retired from the Air Force as a brigadier general in 1966, becoming president of Executive Jet Aviation in Columbus, Ohio, an air taxi service owned by Miamian O.F. ''Dick'' Lassiter. He retired again in 1970, buying a home at 11240 SW 93rd St., before boredom led him back to Executive Jet Aviation, and Ohio. He retired for the last time in 1985. But his role in the bombing brought him fame -- and infamy -- throughout his life. In 1976, he was criticized for re-enacting the bombing during an appearance at a Harlingen, Texas, air show. As he flew a B-29 Superfortress over the show, a bomb set off on the runway below created a mushroom cloud. He said the display ''was not intended to insult anybody,'' but the Japanese were outraged. The U.S. government later issued a formal apology. At the time, he was commander of the Sixth Air Division at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. Tibbets again defended the bombing in 1995, when an outcry erupted over a planned 50th anniversary exhibit of the Enola Gay at the Smithsonian Institution. The museum had planned an exhibit that would have examined the context of the bombing, including the discussion within the Truman administration of whether to use the bomb, the rejection of a demonstration bombing and the selection of the target. Veterans groups protested that the proposed display paid too much attention to Japan's suffering, too little to itsbrutality, and that it underestimated the number of U.S. soldiers who would have perished if the war had continued. They said the bombing was an unmitigated blessing for the United States and the exhibit should say so. Tibbets denounced the original plan as ``a damn big insult.'' The museum agreed to display the plane's fuselage without commentary, context or analysis. Tibbets is survived by his French-born second wife, Andrea, and two sons, Paul and Gene, as well as a number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. This report was supplemented with material from The Associated Press.
Published in the Miami Herald from Nov. 2 to Nov. 7, 2007