Brigadier General Paul Tibbets Saved My Life

December 2007

FRANKLIN COUNTY, Tn -- I never met Brigadier General Paul Tibbets, the man who piloted the Enola Gay over Hiroshima to drop the atomic bomb in August, 1945, but I am positive that he saved my life.

Let me back up a bit and explain because there are a bunch of other middle age boomers that might say the same thing.

1974, summer: I was a 1st class midshipman in the Navy R.O.T.C. program at Vanderbilt University on my way for a training cruise in the 7th Fleet (Far East). My assignment was on the U.S.S. Monticello (LSD-35). The Monticello was part of an ARG, Amphibious Readiness Group, i.e., a group of ships carrying Marine detachments capable of effecting combat landings on beaches.

Our ship had already made visits to the Philippines and Guam when the captain announced that we were underway to visit the island of Tinian, a Marianas island next door to Saipan. I admit that I had no idea why we would be going to Tinian.

What I did learn was that Tinian was one big Army Air Corps base during the Pacific War with six runaways, each 8500' long. They were needed for the B-29's that took off on the early bombing runs over Japan. (These flights were one of the reasons the Marines landed on Iwo Jima in April, 1945. Iwo Jima provided an airbase closer to the Japanese mainland to which crippled bombers could return and thus save planes and crews from destruction. There is an eerie scene in Flags of our Fathers of a flaming B-29 roaring overhead of the fighting Marines as it comes in to land on the newly conquered airfield.)

That summer in 1974, the Monticello became the first U.S. Navy ship to visit Tinian since the end of WWII. When we were ashore and attending a welcoming ceremony, one of the grown sons of the Tinian chief, fully dressed in native garb, came over to myself and the Lieutenant to whom I was assigned for training. He asked if we wanted to see an interesting and historic spot on the island. The Lieutenant turned to me and said let's go. I wasn't sure what we were agreeing to do. My National Geographic induced knowledge of island cultures wondered if this was safe.

We jumped in an old WWII Jeep and sped off into the jungle. We traveled at a very high rate of speed along an asphalt path that was nearly fully engulfed with jungle. My fears were building a bit.

After 15 minutes of driving we arrived into a slight clearing and stopped. The son motioned us over to a hole in the asphalt outlined by a lip of concrete. The hole was filled in with dirt and had a tree planted in the middle. Next to it was a bronze plaque that briefly described the hole as the bomb bunker that held the "Little Boy" atomic bomb. The Enola Gay taxied over the hole August 5, 1945 and, while covered in shrouds, raised the Little Boy into its forward bomb bay. From there the rest is history.

Upon my return stateside, I visited my mother before heading off to Nashville for my senior year in college. I told her of the trip on Tinian. She told me that I should be thankful for Col. Tibbets and his crews. They helped prevent huge American losses that everyone thought at the time would be necessary to end the Pacific War. She added that my father, an officer in the U.S. Navy in 1945, had been scheduled to transfer to the Pacific Fleet in time for the assaults on the Japanese mainland. She added that as horrible as the atomic bomb droppings were, they did end the war before the assaults became necessary. Those bombs possibly prevented my father from becoming one of the predicted million casualties.

Since I was born in 1953, I make the claim that Paul Tibbets saved my life.

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