Enola Gay Pilot Mourned in East Tennessee

By: Gordon Boyd
By: Gordon Boyd

Anderson County, Oak Ridge (WVLT) -- He named the aircraft after his mother and always said he slept soundly and had no regrets.

The pilot who dropped the first atomic bomb, died on Thursday after a long illness.

For many, Brig. Gen. Paul Warfield Tibbets Jr., holds a special place among in the birthplace of the bomb, even though he may never have visited the secret city.

His mission would end a war, change how war's fought and even change the world.

But of the 14 aviators who flew and crewed the B-29 Enola Gay that would drop the Little Boy on Hiroshima, much of the truth was known only by Tibbets.

“He was the only one who knew the full story,” said Bill Wilcox, a Manhattan Project member and historian.

Four decades later, Tibbets would say history was his last concern

“Are we going to have enough time to do the types of thing that we know we know we have to do before we get over the target? It was those types of things that were on our mind,” he said in 1985.

“Colonel Tibbets was a product of the environment of the time,” Wilcox said.

Wilcox, now an Oak Ridge historian, never met Paul Tibbets, but he has lived and studied enough of the Manhattan Project to be certain of one thing.

“His personal value system emphasized duty,” he said.

“It seems to me that they would have accepted this responsibility willingly, pleased that he was asked to do such an important task,” said Dutch Van Kirk, navigator on the mission that dropped the bomb.

Enola Gay's role takes a prominent place at the American Museum of Science and Energy in Oak Ridge.

“They were our voices from the World War II era,” said Lissa Clarke from the museum. “To them, our freedom would live from generation to generation, through the World War Two stories that are revealed.”

Paul Tibbets was too ill to attend the last reunion of his bomber group in Oak Ridge two years ago, Van Kirk, could have echoed him.

“I don't consider myself an important man,” the navigator said, “I was doing a job, that's all there was to it.”

“He had major responsibilities,” Wilcox said, “this was just one more.”

Still, the historian treasures his model of the Enola Gay, signed by Paul Tibbets and Dutch Van Kirk.

“None of the people that really ran the show are still with us,” Wilcox said.

Brig. Gen. Paul Tibbets was 92.

Per his wishes, his daughter says he'll have no funeral or a headstone so that nuclear opponents would not have a place to protest.

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