COLUMBUS, Ohio – When the Enola Gay (search) took off en route to Hiroshima (search), Japan, 60 years ago, Col. Paul Tibbets sat at the controls carrying a few cigars and his favorite pipe.
He also brought a small cardboard box holding a dozen cyanide pills, in case his crew had to bail out over enemy territory.
Hours later, the crew released 8,900-pound "Little Boy," the first atomic weapon used in war, and the stripped-down B-29 (search) lurched upward from losing so much weight in an instant.
On the ground, tens of thousands were killed in an instant, and many more died from lingering effects.
"I knew when I got the assignment it was going to be an emotional thing," Tibbets, now 90, told The Columbus Dispatch for a story on Aug. 6, the 60th anniversary of the bomb. "We had feelings, but we had to put them in the background. We knew it was going to kill people right and left. But my one driving interest was to do the best job I could so that we could end the killing as quickly as possible."
Japan surrendered on Aug. 15, 1945, ending World War II (search).
After the war, Tibbets said, he was dogged by rumors claiming he was in prison or had committed suicide.
"They said I was crazy, said I was a drunkard, in and out of institutions," he said. "At the time, I was running the National Crisis Center at the Pentagon."
Tibbets left the Air Force as a brigadier general in 1966. In the 1970s, he and his wife moved to Columbus, where Tibbets became president of an executive jet-taxi service.
He retired in 1985, and has faced declining health, including two fractured vertebrae in the past few months. Acknowledging his mortality, he says he wants his ashes scattered over the English Channel, where he loved to fly during the war.
In late 2003, a fully restored Enola Gay went on display in a companion building to the air and space museum in Virginia.
"I wanted to climb in and fly it," Tibbets said.