Pilot of Hiroshima A-bomb plane dies

Associated Press

Last update: November 01, 2007 – 10:31 AM

Tibbets (center) and his crew before their famous mission

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Paul Tibbets, the pilot and commander of the B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, died Thursday. He was 92.

Tibbets died at his Columbus home, said Gerry Newhouse, a longtime friend. Tibbets suffered from a variety of health problems and had been in decline for two months.

Tibbets had requested no funeral and no headstone, fearing it would provide his detractors with a place to protest, Newhouse said.

Tibbets' historic mission in the plane Enola Gay, named for his mother, marked the beginning of the end of World War II. It was the first use of a nuclear weapon in wartime.

The plane and its crew of 14 dropped the five-ton "Little Boy'' bomb on the morning of Aug. 6, 1945. The blast killed 70,000 to 100,000 people and injured countless others.

Three days later, the United States dropped a second nuclear bomb on Nagasaki, Japan, killing an estimated 40,000 people. Tibbets did not fly in that mission. The Japanese surrendered a few days later, ending the war.

"I knew when I got the assignment it was going to be an emotional thing,'' Tibbets told The Columbus Dispatch for a story on Aug. 6, 2005, the 60th anniversary of the bomb. "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.''

Tibbets, then a 30-year-old colonel, never expressed regret over his role. It was, he said, his patriotic duty — the right thing to do.

"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,'' he said in a 1975 interview.

"You've got to take stock and assess the situation at that time. We were at war. ... You use anything at your disposal.''

He added: "I sleep clearly every night.''