Seventy years ago today, the face of warfare changed forever. Terms like Silverplate and Little Boy took on whole new meanings, and the name Enola Gay became known across the globe.
The “Enola Gay” was a Boeing B-29 Superfortress with extensive “Silverplate” modifications that delivered the “Little Boy” into the sky over Hiroshima, Japan. At 0815 Local time, the world’s first nuclear weapon detonated approximately two thousand feet above the Japanese city, with a force equivalent to approximately 16 kilotons of TNT.
The Little Boy exploded directly over a surgical center after a crosswind pushed it off course; the original designated mean point of impact (DMPI) was supposed to be a nearby bridge. While considered inefficient–with less than two percent of the Uranium-235 actually fissioning, the explosion created an radius of total destruction of about a mile, with fires and major structural damage to buildings approximately four and a half miles from the hypocenter.
Ultimately, one hundred thousand people were killed–either immediately or as a result of radiation exposure and its after-effects. The long-held position of the United States, despite the massive death toll of the initial attack on Hiroshima and the follow-on annihilation of Nagasaki, was the number of American lives saved by avoiding an eventual invasion of Japan. That was also the view held by Brigadier General Paul Tibbets, Jr., the pilot of the Enola Gay.
Today, Air Force Brigadier General Paul Tibbets IV, grandson of the famed B-29’s pilot, holds the same rank his grandfather retired at. He also commands the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri–the very same unit his grandfather commanded for the Hiroshima mission. The 509th is under Air Force Global Strike Command, with the tasking of being ready to deliver nuclear weapons if called upon to do so.
“I was born with the name Paul Tibbets,” said the 509th’s commander, “but I am honored to be a Paul Tibbets.”
Qualified to fly the nation’s three strategic bombers–the B-1, B-2, and B-52, General Tibbets honors his grandfather’s legacy not only in name, but also in his vision for taking care of the people under his command, and the AFGSC mission.
Let us hope he’s not called upon to repeat history in a similar fashion, but if he is, you can bet it will be done with the same professionalism as Special Mission 13 was seventy years ago.
(Featured photo courtesy of Brigadier General Paul Tibbets IV)