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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

A famous military man of an earlier era has died. General Paul Tibbets did many things in his 92 years, but nothing more world-shattering than piloting the B-29 that dropped the first atomic bomb. He was then a 30-year-old colonel and he'd named his plane Enola Gay after his mother.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

In 2000, Paul Tibbets told NPR about the attack of August 6, 1945. Tibbets remembered his bombardier, spotting their target from 31,000 feet above Japan.

Mr. PAUL TIBBETS (Pilot, Enola Gay): As we approached the target, finally, Ferebee says I got the aiming point, which was Aioi Bridge, if I remember the name of it correctly. We then all got ready for the bomb, the final bomb run. I gave him the countdown. I hooded(ph) the circuits, and then the next thing that happened, the bomb had left the airplane.

BLOCK: Tibbets flew the plane steeply upwards as the nearly 5 ton bomb fell and exploded.

Mr. TIBBETS: I saw the sky in front of me light up brilliantly with all kinds of colors. And at the same time, I felt the taste of lead in my mouth. And where - we had seen the city on our way in, I saw nothing but a bunch of boiling debris with fire and smoke and all that kind of stuff. It just - it was devastating to take a look at it.

President HARRY TRUMAN: The world doesn't know that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base.

SIEGEL: Pres. Harry Truman made this radio announcement about the bomb.

Pres. TRUMAN: We have used in order to shorten the agony of war, in order to save the lives of thousands and thousands of young Americans. We shall continue to use it until we completely destroy Japan's power to make war.

SIEGEL: And that bomb, and another dropped on Nagasaki three days later, hastened the end of World War II. On August 10th, Japan offered to surrender.

BLOCK: The death toll was enormous. In Hiroshima, by some counts, more than 100,000 people were killed. Tens of thousands more died from long-term effects of radioactive fallout.

SIEGEL: Paul Tibbets was dogged for the rest of his life by charges that the atomic bomb attacks were morally wrong. He had a different take.

Mr. TIBBETS: I said to myself, if you're going to be a bombing pilot, I feel for - you can't worry about these things. This is not anything that you've thought of, but it's something that you were told to do to fulfill your duty.

SIEGEL: Tibbets called claims that the atomic bombing was immoral, hogwash.

Mr. TIBBETS: The thing of it is there is no morality in warfare, that's where you start. So there is no morality to anything that goes on in war. War itself is immoral, and I can't buy that bit of statement. They would have gone on and on and they would have been many more people killed.

BLOCK: Paul Tibbets retired from the air force in 1966. He lived the rest of his life in Ohio, where he ran a charter jet service. He rarely gave interviews. Tibbets told his biographer, Bob Green, that he didn't want a funeral, headstone, or a grave. He said he had enough attention in his lifetime, both good and bad. He had other plans.

Mr. TIBBET: I want to be cremated, have my ashes thrown out across the North Atlantic if possible because flying airplanes back and forth across the North Atlantic have been some of the most peaceful moments in my life.

BLOCK: Paul Tibbets died today at his home in Columbus, Ohio. He was 92 years old.

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