KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. (AFNS - 12/2/2011) -- Col. Paul W.
Tibbets IV, the Air Force Inspection Agency commander, is the
grandson of retired Brig. Gen. Paul W. Tibbets Jr., the pilot in
command of the "Enola Gay" when it dropped the atomic bomb on
Hiroshima, Japan, Aug. 6, 1945.
Retired Brig. Gen. Paul Tibbets Jr. (left) and his grandson, then-Capt. Paul Tibbets IV, fly the last flyable B-29 Superfortress. General Tibbets was the pilot in command of the Enola Gay when it dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan on Aug. 6, 1945. Now a colonel, the younger Tibbets is the Air Force Inspection Agency commander at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M. (Courtesy photo)
Larger version of photo
Colonel Tibbets said that while growing up, he was aware
of what his grandfather had done during World War II. His
father spent a 30-year career in the Army Reserve as a
pharmacist and hospital administrator, retiring as a
"My father had the biggest influence on me
joining the Air Force," Colonel Tibbets said. "When I was in
9th grade, I became involved in youth service projects. It
was a passion of mine to serve. My father said 'You seem to
be very interested in serving -- what do you want to do with
your life?' I told him I was interested in serving, and he
told me to look into something like the ROTC or service
Colonel Tibbets applied to the service
academies and was accepted to the Air Force Academy, where
he spent four years training for his Air Force career.
"The time that I spent with my grandfather was very
limited growing up," Colonel Tibbets said. "It was an honor
being a Tibbets, and I will always consider him a hero. The
last time I saw him before leaving for the Air Force
Academy, he told me, 'Paul, just remember, people are going
to know you because of who I am. You be who you are and
don't worry about who I was.' What I found out later was
that he was really concerned his service would somehow have
a negative effect on my career. I took his advice to heart
the best I could."
During his time at the Academy,
Colonel Tibbets was interested in flying. Following
graduation, he was selected to attend Air Force pilot
training; multiple factors went into the deciding which
aircraft he would be assigned to fly. According to the
colonel, the first factor was the needs of the Air Force.
From there, consideration was given to his 'Dream Sheet,'
listing the planes he wanted to fly. Finally, the
instructor's provided an evaluation as to which weapon
system would be best for him based on performance.
"There was no favoritism when I was chosen for bombers,"
Colonel Tibbets said, who has been in the Air Force for 22
years.. "The Air Force can't afford to put someone in a job
for which they're not qualified. I was told that it wasn't
because of who I was, but because it was the best fit."
During World War II, General Tibbets flew B-17s in
Europe. Later in the war, he returned to the U.S. to
test-fly the B-29 Superfortress. He was selected to command
the 509th Composite Group that was connected to the
Manhattan Project. On Aug. 6, 1945, he flew a B-29, which he
dubbed Enola Gay after his mother's name, during the bombing
"Even though there was controversy over
the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, my grandfather said
he never lost one minute of sleep," Colonel Tibbets said.
"He emphasized that, 'My country asked me to do something,
and I set forth with the men in the 509th Composite Group to
accomplish it to the best of our ability, and it helped
bring the war to an end.' It is interesting being a senior
officer now and thinking about the challenges those men went
through. They never lost focus on the mission they were to
carry out, and they did it beautifully."
Tibbets was previously assigned to the 509th Bomb Wing at
Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. That was the same unit his
grandfather commanded during the bombing of Hiroshima.
"I competed to go to the 509th and was selected," the
colonel said. "It was quite an honor to be in that
organization. It's a highly skilled, highly capable
organization with a very unique mission. Later, I was
selected to command."
He commanded the 393rd Bomb
Squadron, an operational squadron of B-2 'Spirit' aircraft
at Whiteman AFB, within the same wing his grandfather
"The wing commander made the decision that
commanding the unit was where my skills were needed,"
Colonel Tibbets said. "It was one of those opportunities
that the Air Force has given me, to command an operational
squadron, and I'm obviously honored and thrilled to be a
part of something like that. You add on that it was my
grandfather's squadron and it meant just the world to me.
Just as my grandfather did, I was focused on serving those
entrusted to my command to the best of my ability. I
thought, 'I won't let them down, I can't let my grandfather
down, and I don't want to let my Air Force down.'"
During a deployment in 2010, Colonel Tibbets spoke on
Veterans Day about the attributes of his grandfather and the
crew of the Enola Gay.
"These were men of courage, in
the air and on the ground," Colonel Tibbets said. "In the
latter days of World War II, the Allies were faced with a
terrible dilemma. The Japanese had proven to be a proud,
courageous and determined people, willing to die for their
emperor. The invading of Japan was necessary to end the war.
The decision was pending that would cost an estimated 1
million allied casualties and possibly 5 to 6 million
Japanese casualties. The alternative was dropping a bomb on
two cities in Japan, which would result in significantly
less bloodshed and hopes of ending the war. The bombing was
a choice made by our leaders to swiftly end the war, thereby
guaranteeing our future and freedoms."
different perspectives on the rights and wrongs of this
"We should not shy away from intellectually
discussing this with people who are 180 degrees off from
your opinion," Colonel Tibbets said. "That's one of the
reasons why I wear this uniform, so people can have the
right to voice differing opinions. I think it's important
for me as a 'Paul Tibbets' to think about what my
grandfather went through."
He also spoke about the
decision-making that directs military action.
execute military orders from our politicians, who decide
what needs to be done," Colonel Tibbets said. "People who
think my grandfather and his crew were warmongers are
missing the point. They had a military mission to carry out.
They were also told that maybe it would help end the war.
Would you not want to be a part of that? You might not, but
at least understand what they did. It came down to a simple
(question): Can we end the war and save lives?"
General Tibbets died in Columbus, Ohio, on Nov. 1, 2007 at
"It is a real privilege to serve our great
nation, being part of something bigger than ourselves," said
Colonel Tibbets, who took command of AFIA in July. "I am so
proud of all our Airmen and joint partners, who are a very
small percentage of all Americans who are wearing the
uniform and defending freedom. I love it."
By Stefan Bocchino
377th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Air Force News Service
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