2000: Enola Gay pilot Paul Tibbets calls fateful Hiroshima mission 'routine'
July 1, 2000
BY LINDA O'DONNELL
For the Hannibal Courier-Post
QUINCY, Ill. - On Aug. 6, 1945, a bombing mission over the Japanese city of Hiroshima changed the course of history. The pilot who flew the mission spoke of his experience in Quincy on Friday, June 30, 2000, describing the historic venture as "routine."
"I can't see that I did anything spectacular," USAF Brigadier Gen. Paul W. Tibbets (Retired), now 85, said. "It shocked the public. It sure shocked the Japanese. But I was doing the job I was supposed to do." Tibbets is returning to his hometown for the weekend's Millennium Homecoming celebration. He will be the grand marshal of the July 4 parade scheduled for 4 p.m. in downtown Quincy. Mayor Chuck Scholz issued a proclamation naming Friday June 30, as "Paul Tibbets Day" in Quincy, and Tibbets will be at the All Wars Museum at the Veterans Home signing copies of the book he wrote about his war experiences, "Return of the Enola Gay," from 3 p.m. until 6 p.m. on Monday, July 3.
He was responsible for the organization, training and command of the world's first nuclear strike force. He flew the Enola Gay which was named after his mother over Hiroshima and dropped the world's first atomic bomb. "The job I was supposed to do was to drop bombs on the target," he said. In his mind he was thinking: "I will kill some people, but I will save the lives of millions if I can end the war. If we can be successful, it will be a day of reckoning."
And it was. Soon after Tibbets and the 509th Division completed the raid over Japan, the enemy surrendered. Gerry Newhouse, Tibbets ' personal manager and publisher, travels the country acting as "ears" for Tibbets , who is hard of hearing. "A B-25 is what took my hearing from me," Tibbets said. Newhouse explained that Tibbets travels about 180 days a year speaking at World War II reunions, air shows and assorted gatherings where people come together to remember the war.
"People who went to war and came back want to tell their stories, and I listen," Tibbets said. Others just want to thank him for saving lives. Tibbets wants the young people of today to understand what price their grandfathers paid for the lives they are able to lead today. When asked if he considers himself a hero, Tibbets said that all the men who served were heroes. "I can't see that I did anything special." Tibbets credits the revisionists with denigrating history and causing a misunderstanding of the Enola Gay and its role in history. He wants people to know the true story of the mission.
"My job was to drop bombs on my target. I never shirked from my responsibility, I knew I would save the lives of thousands of men. Even though we would lose people, Japanese in particular, in the end it would save lives. We had one mission, to bring about the end of World War II."
Tibbets said coming home to Quincy has been a joy. Tibbets moved away from Quincy at an early age, but has fond memories of visits to his grandmother, Susan Fifer. When he arrived in Quincy for the weekend festivities, he noticed that his grandmother's home at 2174 E. Maine St., was being renovated and he commented on how good it made him feel to see it being taken care of. During his visit to Quincy he plans to visit the cemetery where his family is buried, and he hopes to visit some of the landmarks he remembers.
Tibbets is the subject of a new book by Chicago Tribune Columnist Bob Greene. The book, entitled "Duty, A Father, His Son, and the Man Who Won the War," was inspired by Green's interest in learning about the role his own father's generation played in fighting for freedom. Prior to his death, Greene's father lived in Columbus, Ohio, where Tibbets still makes his home. The two men never met. Tibbets ' message to today's flyers and members of the military is simple: "Discipline. Do what you are supposed to. You're talking to a guy who believes in discipline." That discipline won a war. Read more about Paul W. Tibbets at his web site: www.theenolagay.com
Editor's note: Linda O'Donnell and Mary Lou Montgomery attended a speech presented by Tibbets on June 30, 2000. O'Donnell subsequently wrote a story for the Courier-Post. Tibbets died in 2007.