A photograph on an inside page of yesterday's Style section was incorrectly identified as that of Paul Tibbets, the pilot of the Enola Gay. It was of Jacob Beser, a radar specialist.
Paul Tibbets, who piloted the B29 that dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima, sits down to lunch. He orders quiche.
But he hardly has time to take a bite. Everyone around the table has questions about him and the morning of Aug. 6, 1945. They want to talk about his emotions when he dropped the first atomic bomb in battle. What did he feel when he saw the "bluish pink reflection" in the sky, what sense of fear or relief might have overcome him before he turned the plane away from the "black boiling mass" of destruction below him and headed for his home base?
Retired brigadier general Tibbets' answer is unclouded by doubt or 40 years of debate:
"I feel no guilt, no second thoughts. The bomb did what it was supposed to do. It ended the war."
Tibbets sits before a television monitor and watches rare footage of the flight crew just hours before its mission. He sees the soundless images of himself at age 29, smiling and waving from the cockpit of his plane, the Enola Gay.
Tibbets continues watching through thick bifocals. There he is on the screen with curly hair, brilliant, light eyes and wearing GI-issued khakis. "There I am," he says. "I was young once."
And there he is in a desk chair, watching, hearing aids in both ears, his hair gray, his stubby hands darkened by age and the summer sun.
Since he retired from the military in 1966 -- "They wouldn't let me fly anymore and I'm no desk man" -- Tibbets has worked for, and now runs, Executive Jet Aviation, which leases Lear jets out of Columbus, Ohio. Despite his status as the pilot and military coordinator of the mission that ended the war in the Pacific, surprisingly few people bothered him about his place in history. Until recently. With the 40th anniversary of that event approaching, he says, "I've been getting it from all sides. Everyone seems to want to talk to me.
"Of course, immediately after the war there was a lot of interest, but I was really restricted in what I had to say. And during the Korea and Vietnam periods nobody was too interested in the military. In the last several years, though, people want to know what it was like. The anniversary has attracted attention like nothing I'd ever imagined."
On the screen, Gen. Thomas W. Farrell is writing a message to the Japanese emperor on the bomb with a grease pencil: "To Hirohito With Love and Kisses." Other military personnel who worked on the project on the island of Tinian near Guam also "signed" the "Little Boy" before it was hoisted into the bomb bay of the Enola Gay.
"That wasn't really my style," says Tibbets. "Besides, why sign it? I knew nobody would read it."
The mission began for Tibbets one September morning in 1944. A veteran combat pilot in the European theater, Tibbets was "happily testing B29s" when he was told to go to Tinian Island. "They told me, 'Pack a suitcase. You're not coming back.' "
On Tinian, he learned about the Manhattan Project. Someone told him, "Tibbets, you'll either end up a hero or in prison." He would soon meet J. Robert Oppenheimer, the chief architect of the project. "Oppenheimer was the most nervous man I've ever known, constantly chain-smoking. He was in a world of his own most times."
The bomb that exploded over Hiroshima and killed approximately 113,000 people was usually known as "Little Boy," though Tibbets and his crew also referred to it as "Thin Man" and "The Gimmick."
"They let me pick my own people," Tibbets says. "We spent a lot of time dropping inert objects to simulate the real thing."
On the afternoon of Aug. 5, a tow truck moved the uranium-based bomb out of a hangar and to the Enola Gay, named for Tibbets' mother. "I knew the plane would be famous, and my mother had been supportive of me when I left medical school for flight training."
When the plane took off at 2:45 a.m. and headed for Iwo Jima and then for Japan, Tibbets had already been awake for 15 hours. "I was working on adrenaline," he says. "I had so many things to do."
There were 12 men on board. Only Tibbets knew the secret of their mission and their weapon. Once airborne, Tibbets walked to the rear of the plane and asked if anyone knew what was about to happen.
"Colonel," said the tail gunner, "It wouldn't be atoms, would it?"
The Enola Gay made its rendezvous with two escort planes near Iwo Jima and headed for Hiroshima. A weather plane flying ahead of the other three planes announced that visibility and conditions were perfect. Tibbets put all alternative targets out of his mind.
"I wasn't nervous," he says. "I tell people I was shot in the ass with confidence. There wasn't anything I couldn't do.
"The only thing I was thinking is if I had made a mistake anywhere along the road. There are so many things that could go wrong." Tibbets had to worry about the plane, the crew, the target, the timing. But everything seemed right. And with Japan approaching, the crew grew silent.
"Any time a plane goes into a combat zone it becomes very quiet, deadly serious," Tibbets recalls. The bombing run took about seven minutes. The crew could see the city of Hiroshima, says Tibbets, "as clearly as you can see the tablecloth right in front of you."
The bombardier set the cross hairs over the Aioi Bridge spanning the Honkawa River and dropped the 9,000-pound payload over Hiroshima.
Forty-three seconds later the bomb exploded. Tibbets was in the process of making a 160-degree turn away from the city and toward Tinian when he looked back and saw "a city that was a black, boiling mess of tar, tumbling debris, the flames, the steam and the cloud tumbling over it." A shock wave, 2 1/2 times the force of gravity, jolted the Enola Gay.
The plane turned away, leaving behind a charred city and the beginning of the nuclear age. On the way home, Tibbets took a nap.
For years it's been happening. And in a local TV studio where Tibbets is taping another interview it's happening again. CBS "Nightwatch" host Charlie Rose introduces Tibbets to the previous guest, Rep. Jack Brooks (D-Tex).
"So you're the one!" Brooks barks off camera. "Damn glad to meet you. I was one of those Marines who would have been sent on the invasion of Japan if you guys hadn't come along."
Tibbets smiles weakly. He has no reservations about the utility of the bomb, no guilt -- "I put those thoughts out of my mind." But he seems a bit embarrassed by Brooks' bolt of enthusiasm.
"Tell 'em about it!" Brooks shouts. "Give 'em hell."
On the show, Tibbets says, "Please understand. I'm not for nuclear war. I'm not even in favor of warfare if you want to know the truth."
So Tibbets, in a sense, ended the war between Japan and the United States. In 1959 he met the man who, in a sense, began it.
"It was at a conference and a Japanese fellow came up to me and said, 'I'm Fuchida, shall we talk about it?' "
It was Mitsuo Fuchida, commander of the Japanese bombing raid on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941.
"And I said, 'Boy, you sure took us by surprise.'
"He said, 'You didn't do too bad yourself.' "
Tibbets traveled widely for the military before retiring and his business has certainly provided him with the means to travel anywhere in the world. But he only visited Japan once after his mission over Hiroshima. Just after the Japanese surrender, Tibbets traveled to Nagasaki to observe the devastation there.
"People were walking around and going about their business," Tibbets remembers. "They were getting on with their life."
In Nagasaki, Tibbets bought some hand-carved trays and a few handmade rice bowls. "The trays split," he says, "but the rice bowls, I still have those."