Brigadier General Paul Tibbets, Jr. (1915-2007)
Tibbets was born in Quincy, Illinois on February 23rd, 1915. Though his parents wanted him to become a doctor, was determined to fly and on February 25th, 1937, he enlisted as a cadet in the Army Air Corps at Fort Thomas, Kentucky. A year later got his wings at Kelly Field, Texas where he was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant.
He flew more than 25 combat missions in Europe as Squadron Commander of the 340th Bomb Squadron, 97th Bombardment Group including the first American Flying Fortress raid against occupied Europe. He later led the first bombardment missions in support of the North African invasion in Algeria. He was returned to the states in March 1943 to test the combat capability of Boeing's new B-29 Super Fortress. He eventually accumulated more experience with the B-29 than any other pilot at the time.
Colonel Tibbets was placed in command of the newly form 509th Composite Group, who mission was to drop the atomic bomb. He chose Wendover Air Base in Utah for the training. He requisitioned 15 new B-29s and had them stripped of turrets and armor plating except for the tail gunner position. He specified that fuel-injected engines and reversible-pitch propellers be installed and re-configured the bomb bay to suspend ten thousand pounds from a single point. These changes assured the planes would fly higher, faster, and beyond the effective range of anti-aircraft fire.
In March, 1945, the 509th moved overseas to Tinian Island in the Marianas chain. And on the afternoon of August 5th, 1945, President Truman gave his approval to use the weapons against Japan. At 02:45 A.M. August 6th, the Enola Gay - named after Tibbets's mother - lifted off North Field en route to Hiroshima.
At exactly 08:15 plus 15 seconds the world's first atomic bomb exploded. The course of history and the nature of warfare was changed. When the Enola Gay and her crew landed at Tinian at 2:58 P.M. they were greeted by General Carl Spaatz, a large contingent of brass, and a crowd of GIs. Spaatz decorated Tibbets with the Distinguished Service Cross and the other crew members with Air Medals.
In 1959, Col. Tibbets was promoted to Brigadier General. He retired from the U.S. Air Force on August 31, 1966. He is enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame. Tibbets died at his Columbus, Ohio home. He suffered from a variety of health problems and had been in decline for two months.