Yesterday November 1, 2007 I visited the grave of Robert Capa at Amawalk New York. Capa had covered the Second World War and received the Medal Of Freedom Citation from General Eisenhower. His photos of the D-Day landings are classics although war was not the only subject of his photography.
I came home later that day to learn that Paul W. Tibbets had just passed away. To know the story of Paul we must know the story of WWII. Paul was asked to do something that no man in the history of the world had done before. He was solely responsible for organizing, training, and commanding the world's first nuclear strike force. Paul was a pilot. He wasn't Albert Einstein. He wasn't Sir Winston Churchill but he and his crew changed the course of human history.
On August 6, 1945 Colonel Tibbets flew the B-29 Bomber the Enola Gay towards the Imperial Japanese City of Hiroshima and dropped the first atomic bomb at approximately 8:15 in the morning. The blast instantly killed close to 80,000 people. On August 15, 1945 Japan announced it's surrender.
Paul W. Tibbets was a man who may have had to act against his own morality and thoughts. But when you look at it the America people benefited. The people of europe benefited and in a strange way the people of Japan benefited from the atomic bomb. The invasion of Japan would have led to the possible extinction of the Japanese people. It was estimated that at least 2-3 million Japanese would die from the invasion and use of poison gas. It was also determined that a possible 500,000-1,000,000 Allied Forces would die.
President Truman at the time was thrown into the mix after Roosevelt's demise. Everyone in Roosevelt's cabin held him in distain. Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson was the only man who attempted to work with Truman who became Vice-President after replacing Henry Wallace. Wallace had stated during his second term that an invasion of Japan was not worth American lives.
George Marshall Chief of Staff had asked General Douglas MacArthur Allied Commander of the Pacific Theater to rethink the invasion plan. Although Japanese intelligence had largely been destroyed the number of divisions grew from 2-3 to 12-15 at the pre-planned invasion site. It appears the invasion plan had been compromised possibly by the Russians who were prepared to invade Western Europe. I don't think the US Army would have defeated the Russians at that point. The Russians had a larger force ready to go. The US was redeploying it's european forces to the pacific for the full scale Invasion of Japan thus leaving europe vulnerable for an invasion by Russian Forces who at the time had not even declared war with Japan.
The atomic bomb was America's way of telling Russia not to invade europe.
Paul W. Tibbets had the guts to drop an atomic bomb whose blast and shockwave could have killed the crew of plane. He had no idea at the time if he would survive or perish in the action. Everything he was told by the scientists was theoretical. Models don't always work. The shockwave could have come over faster than the plane could go. The plane could have been knocked out of the sky or imagine landing and being captured in Japan(Bataan Death March, Nanking) if he had survived (Tibbets had cyanide capsules on his person). He was prepared to give his life so that others might live.
In the 60's and 70's he was demonized by his own people for following orders. There is nobody else to blame but Truman who made the decision or those responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbor.
When I first met Paul Tibbets on May 7, 2006 he had signed a few prints of mine taken of the Atomic Dome in Hiroshima and I in turn signed one for him. My assistant who was of asian ancestry asked Paul if he would sign a photo for her. The photo was an image of myself standing in front of the Atomic Dome. Paul mistook her for being Japanese. He was partially deaf at the time. He signed the photo "With Apologies". He never had apologized before but then he also wrote the incorrect date of 16 AUG 45. Why he chose to write an apology then is beyond me. I will never know. I guess he had to say it to a person not a nation.
Now at his request he wanted no funeral and no tombstone. What an end for a man who saved so many by killing so many.
The last time I saw Paul alive I watched him from a distance in a parking lot in Harrisburg Pennsylvania. He was being wheeled in a wheelchair. I held my camera in hand prepared to take the shot. I thought of Theodore Roosevelt when he stated "It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows achievement and who at the worst if he fails at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat." I placed the camera slowly down. I am not the crItic. I am Ace Preston. I don't see General Paul W. Tibbets sitting hopelessly in wheelchair. I see Paul Tibbets in all his glory flying in the skies above me.
No man is an island, entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less,
as well as if a promontory were,
as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were.
Any man's death diminishes me
because I am involved in mankind;
and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee. . . .
from Meditation 17 by John Donne, 1624