Friday, July 23, 2010
MEETING PAUL TIBBETS
At the National Management Association dinners, we usually had very interesting speakers. Brigadier General Paul Tibbets (retired) was one of our speakers and he gave a very exciting recitation of dropping the bomb on Hiroshima. Tibbets was very short and had piercing blue eyes and wore large hearing aids. The historian Stephen Ambrose had written that Tibbets was, "By reputation, the best flier in the Army Air Force." Dwight Eisenhower had Tibbets as his personal pilot at times during WWII.
Tibbets said that when he was selected to command the project that became the 509th Composite Group in connection with the Manhattan Project, he knew very little of the concept of an atomic bomb: "I will go only as far as to say that I knew what an atom was!" He also told several amusing anecdotes, one of which was that he had to lie to his wife for security reasons, and when she wondered about all of the civilians on the base, Tibbets told her that the engineers were "sanitary workers"; during one of Tibbets' trips to Los Alamos, his wife called one of the "sanitary engineers" to fix a clogged drain! Tibbets said he and the Master's Degree holding physicist later laughed about his inability to unstop the drain! He named his B-29 the "Enola Gay" after his mother. The bomb was known as "Little Boy". When Tibbets re-enacted the bombing in a restored B-29 at a Texas air show in the 1970s, complete with a mushroom cloud, the Japanese government was outraged and the United States government apologized. Tibbets said that he never meant for the reenactment to be an insult to the Japanese people. He finished his speech by saying, "I am proud that I was able to start with nothing, plan it, and have it work as perfectly as it did and I sleep soundly every night and if I had the same situation, I'd do it again!"
When he completed his prepared remarks, he said that he would gladly take questions and I stood up to ask a question. My boss, who was sitting beside me, tugged at my elbow and said, "Just don't embarrass the department!" I asked, "General Tibbets, what is your opinion of how our country treated Robert Oppenheimer?" Tibbets didn't hesitate and said, "It was a GODDAMNED shame!" He then said he was glad I asked the question and he expounded on the Manhattan Project and his relationship with Dr. Oppenheimer. I wish that I had had a tape recorder, but I was feverishly taking notes.
When Paul Tibbets died in 2007, it was noted that he had specified in his will that there could be no funeral service and that there could be no tombstone, because anti-nuclear activists would make his grave a protest pilgrimage to deface it. He was cremated and his ashes spread into the English Channel.