Columbus, Ohio – November 2, 2007 – Paul Tibbets commanded the airplane that dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan on Aug. 8, 1945. Although the bombing leveled the city and killed more than 80,000 people, Tibbets said he always believed it justifiable.
“I never lost a night’s sleep over it.”
Tibbets died Thursday at his home in Columbus, Ohio. He was 92.
A week after Tibbets and his crew bombed Hiroshima in their B-29 Superfortress “Enola Gay,” the Japanese surrendered. And despite that many lives were saved with the speedier end of the war, Tibbets and his crew were criticized through the years.
Months after authorizing the attack, President Truman commiserated with Tibbets at the White House about the criticism over dropping the bomb, the Los Angeles Times reported.
"It was my decision," Truman told him. "You didn't have a choice."
On the 60th anniversary of the bombing, Tibbets told the Columbus Dispatch that he knew the assignment would be emotional.
"We had feelings, but we had to put them in the background. We knew it was going to kill people right and left," Tibbets said. "But my one driving interest was to do the best job I could so that we could end the killing as quickly as possible."
A friend of Tibbets, Tony Mazzolini of Cleveland, told the Dispatch: "The current generation doesn't know, can't conceive of what the country was going through when Paul flew that mission. We had been at war for so long. The sacrifices had been huge…”
"We didn't have a choice, but that gets lost when people today look back on the bomb from the vantage point of the 21st century. It's easy to look at that old picture of a mushroom cloud in a history book and say, 'My God, how could we have done that to those people?' But, some of the people saying that today wouldn't be here if their grandfathers or great-grandfathers had been part of an offensive on Japan designed along the lines of the D-Day landing at Normandy."
Tibbets requested that he be cremated. In addition, he requested no funeral and no headstone so protectors would not have a place to gather.
Col. Paul Tibbets in the cockpit of the B-29 Superfortress” Enola Gay. The airplane was named for his month and is now on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
The “mushroom” cloud that signaled the detonation of the first atomic bomb attack on August 8, 1945
Paul Tibbets in 2003. He passed away at the age of 92 and was often criticized for the role he played in history. Tibbets however said he never lost sleep over the role he and his crew played in ending World War II