Paul Tibbets was the pilot of B-29 bomber “Enola Gay” which dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. He died on November 1, 2007, at his home in Columbus, Ohio, at 92. Rather than taking his rightful place in a grave at Arlington National Cemetery, Tibbets himself asked not to be buried there for a very particular reason.
A Quick Look Back at The Day of The Bombing
It was August 5, 1945, when President Truman approved the use of atomic weapons against Japan. The next day, Paul Tibbets flew Enola Gay, his B-29 serial number 4486292 that he chose and named after his mother. The uranium bomb called “Little Boy” instantly killed 80,000 people and a lot more later on due to radiation exposure. That, and the other A-bomb that dropped in Nagasaki finally compelled Japan’s Emperor Hirohito to announce their unconditional surrender in World War II. (We have written a thorough article about Paul Tibbets here.)
Tibbets immediately became a national hero who ended the war with Japan. He was even awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and invited by President Truman to the White House. In 1976, he reenacted the bombing at a Harlingen, Texas, air show and claimed that it “was not intended to insult anybody.” The Japanese were not pleased.
His family was also proud of him. His grandson, named Paul Tibbets IV, graduated from the US Air Force and flew the B-2 Spirit as a commander of the 393d Bomb Squadron, one of the two squadrons that his father had commanded during his career.
Tibbets had no regrets about the Hiroshima bombing and never waivered from his view that dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan saved far more lives than they took. As he said in an article written by NBC News in 2007:
“I knew when I got the assignment it was going to be an emotional thing… 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.”
Planners of the pending invasion of Japan were predicting as many as one million casualties along with six million Japanese being killed to subdue the last of the Axis Powers.
Paul Tibbets died at his home in Columbus, Ohio, battling several health issues at the ripe old age of 92.
No Funeral, No Headstone
Before he died, Tibbets made the request of his family that his body be cremated and his ashes scattered over the English Channel, where he flew many times throughout the war. In a war where it was almost mathematically impossible to survive twenty-five missions in B-17 bombers over Europe, Tibbets had flown forty-three combat missions.
His reasons for wanting his remains disposed of in this manner seemed to have been related to wanting to have some peace in the afterlife.
Tibbets did not want his grave to be used by enemies of America or opponents of nuclear weapons to be able to protest or worse desecrate his gravesite. As per his last request, Tibbets was cremated and his ashes scattered over the English Channel which represented being home-free from their bombing missions over Europe.
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