Friday, March 13, 2009


I received his via email. It is such an interesting story that I would like to share with you. Since it is so long I have cut it into 3 segments,

Studs Terkel and his interview with Paul Tibbets (2007

A great interview with Paul Tibbets, the pilot of the Enola Gay,
which dropped the A bomb on Hiroshima . He is 87, at this interview.

Studs Terkel: We're seated here, two old gaffers. Me and Paul
Tibbets, 89 years old, brigadier-general retired, in his home town
of Columb us , Ohio , where he has lived for many years.

Paul Tibbets: Hey, you've got to correct that. I'm only 87. You
said 89.

Studs Terkel: I know .. See, I'm 90. So I got you beat by three years.

Now we've had a nice lunch, you and I and your companion. I
noticed as we sat in that restaurant, people passed by. They
didn't know who you were. But once upon a time, you flew a plane
called the Enola Gay over the city of Hiroshima , in Japan , on a
Sunday morning - August 6 1945 - and a bomb fell. It was the
atomic bomb, the first ever. And that particular moment changed
the whole world around. You were the pilot of that plane.

Paul Tibbets: Yes, I was the pilot.

Studs Terkel: And the Enola Gay was named after...

Paul Tibbets: My mother. She was Enola Gay Haggard before she
married my dad, and my dad never supported me with the flying - he
hated airplanes and motorcycles. When I told them I was going to
leave college and go fly planes in the army air corps, my dad
said, "Well, I've sent you through school, bought you automobiles,
given you money to run around with the girls, but from here on,
you're on your own. If you want to go kill yourself, go ahead, I
don't give a damn" Then Mom just quietly said, "Paul, if you want
to go fly airplanes, you're going to be all right." And that was

Studs Terkel: Where was that?

Paul Tibbets: Well, that was Miami , Florida . My dad had been in
the real estate business down there for years, and at that time he
was retired. And I was going to school at Gainesville , Florida ,
but I had to leave after two years and go to Cincinnati because
Florida had no medical school.

Studs Terkel: You were thinking of being a doctor?

Paul Tibbets: I didn't think that, my father thought it. He said,
"You're going to be a doctor," and I just nodded my head and that
was it. And I started out that way; but about a year before I was
able to get into an airplane, fly it - I soloed - and I knew then that I had to go fly airplanes.

Studs Terkel: Now by 1944 you were a pilot - a test pilot on the
program to develop the B-29 bomber. When did you get word that you
had a special assignment?

Paul Tibbets: One day[in September 1944] I'm running a test on a
B-29,I land, a man meets me.He says he just got a call from General Uzal Ent [commander of the second air force] at Colorado Springs,he wants me in his office the next morning at nine o'clock.He said,"Bring your clothing-your B4 bag-because
you're not coming back."Well,I didn't know what it was and didn't pay any attention to it-it was just another assignment. I got to Colorado Springs the next morning perfectly on time. A man named Lansdale met me, walked me to General Ent's office and
closed the door behind me. With him was a man wearing a blue suit, a US Navy captain -that was William Parsons, who flew with me to Hiroshima- and Dr Norman Ramsey, Columbia University professor innuclear physics. And Norman said: "OK, we've got what we call the Manhattan Project. What we're doing is trying to develop an atomic
bomb. We've gotten to the point now where we can't go much further till we have airplanes to work with." He gave me an explanation which probably lasted 45, 50 minutes, and they left. General Ent looked at me and said, "The other day, General Arnold [commander general of the army air corps] offered me three names. "Both of
the others were full colonels; I was a lieutenant-colonel. He said that when General Arnold asked which of them could do this atomic weapons deal, he replied without hesitation, "Paul Tibbets is the man to do it." I said, "Well, thank you , sir." Then he laid out what was going on and it was up to me now to put together an
organization and train them to drop atomic weapons on both Europe and the Pacific - Tokyo ..

Studs Terkel: Interesting that they would have dropped it on Europe as well. We didn't know that.

Paul Tibbets: My edict was as clear as could be. Dropsimultaneously in Europe and the Pacific because of the secrecy
problem - you couldn't drop it in one part of the world without
dropping it in the other. And so he said, "I don't know what to
tell you, but I know you happen to have B-29's to start with. I've
got a squadron in training in Nebraska - they have the best record
so far of anybody we've got. I want you to go visit them, look at
them, talk to them, do whatever you want. If they don't suit you,
we'll get you some more." He said: "There's nobody could tell you
what you have to do because nobody knows. If we can do anything to
help you, ask me." I said thank you very much. He said, "Paul, be
careful how you treat this responsibility, because if you're
successful you'll probably be called a hero. And if you're
unsuccessful, you might wind up in prison."

Studs Terkel: Did you know the power of an atomic bomb? Were you
told about that?

&n bsp;Paul Tibbets: No, I didn't know anything at that time. But I knew
how to put an organization together. He said, "Go take a look at
the bases, and call me back and tell me which one you want." I
wanted to get back to Grand Island , Nebraska ; that's where my
wife and two kids were, where my laundry was done, and all that
stuff.. But I thought, "Well, I'll go to Wendover [army airfield,
in Utah ] first and see what they've got." As I came in over the
hills I saw it was a beautiful spot. It had been a final staging
place for units that were going through combat crew training, and
the guys ahead of me were the last P-47 fighter outfit. This
lieutenant-colonel in charge said, "We've just been advised to
stop here and I don't know what you want to do...but if it has
anything to do with this base, it's the most perfect base I've
ever been on. You've got full machine shops, everybody's
qualified, they know what they want to do. It's a good place."

Studs Terkel: And now you chose your own crew.

Paul Tibbets: Well, I had mentally done it before that. I knew
right away I was going to get Tom Ferebee [the Enola Gay's
bombardier] and Theodore "Dutch" van Kirk [navigator] and Wyatt
Duzenbury [flight engineer].

Studs Terkel: Guys you had flown with in Europe ?

Paul Tibbets: Yeah.

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