Pilot Journal
Friday, July 1, 2005

60 Years After

General Paul Tibbets and Enola Gay navigator Dutch Van Kirk look back on one of the most famous moments in history

60 years afterPaul Tibbets joined the Army Air Corps at Fort Thomas, Ky., in 1937. In 1942, Tibbets joined the 97th Bomb Group in the Bolero Mission, ferrying B-17s, P-38s and C-47s from Bangor, Maine, across Greenland and Iceland to the European Theatre. He flew the B-17 Flying Fortress with the 340th Bomb Squadron Bombardment Group in Europe and later flew missions to support the Allied invasion of North Africa.
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Tibbets: I’ve been credited with saying something like that, “What did we do?” But, no, I knew what the hell we did, and I wasn’t of the nature to say that line. All we said was, “We looked for a big bang, and we got it.”

Directly after the war, Japanese military officers were flown to the United States to visit American military bases to see how they operated to enable a smooth transition to the U.S. occupation forces that would be in charge of all Japanese bases. Tibbets remembers being at a gathering of officers from both sides when a Japanese man approached him.

60 years after
A number of World War II aircraft flew in for Tibbets’ surprise party, including the restored B-17 Liberty Belle and the P-38 Glacier Girl.
Tibbets: This guy wearing a blue suit steps right up to me; he had a can of beer in his hand and said, “My name’s Fuchida. Should we talk about it?” I did a take on that because Fuchida didn’t mean anything to me. He said, “Oh, hell, man, I led the attack on Pearl Harbor. What do you say to that?” I said, “Well, you sure surprised us.” He said, “Well, what the hell do you think you did to us?” Before the war, Fuchida had graduated from Harvard and spoke perfect English. He looked into my eyes and he said, “By the way, you did the right thing dropping the bomb. The Japanese would never have surrendered.”

Now, 60 years after the first atomic bomb, Paul Tibbets and Dutch Van Kirk look back over that historic mission and the controversy that sometimes surrounds it. How would they like the world to look at what they did?

Van Kirk: Anybody who takes the trouble to study the bomb and why we did it can only conclude that we saved more lives than the bomb killed. Remember, there were about 5,000 people being killed over there every day—5,000 a day. Anybody who studied the facts and knows what the situation was can only conclude that dropping the bomb was the right decision.

Tibbets: Based on personal experience, I seldom go anywhere over the years when somebody doesn’t come up to me and say, “I was scheduled for that invasion. You saved my neck.”

And I’ll say, “That’s good news. I’m glad I could.”

I want to be remembered as a man who was given a job and who did it. No explanation, no nothing. I was given a job, and I just happened to do it.

I’ve got my own thoughts about that moment, but they’re fleeting. I always try to face the future instead.


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