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The "Enola Gay" Display Dispute

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The function of the Air and Space Museum is prescribed by law, established in 1946 and amended only once, in 1966, to add "space" to the name and the charter. The statute reads in its entirety: "The national air and space museum shall memorialize the national development of aviation and space flight; collect, preserve, and display aeronautical and space flight equipment of historical interest and significance; serve as a repository for scientific equipment and data pertaining to the development of aviation and space flight; and provide educational material for the historical study of aviation and space flight."

Some aviation enthusiasts feel that the Smithsonian has veered away from its charter to "collect, preserve, and display." They also perceive a departure from subsequent (1961) congressional direction that "the Smithsonian Institution shall commemorate and display the contributions made by the military forces of the Nation toward creating, developing, and maintaining a free, peaceful, and independent society and culture in the United States. The valor and sacrificial service of the men and women of the Armed Forces shall be portrayed as an inspiration to the present and future generations of America. The demands placed on the full energies of our people, the hardships endured, and the sacrifice demanded in our constant search for world peace shall be clearly demonstrated."

What Congress had in mind seems reasonably apparent. The 1961 statute added, however, that "the Smithsonian Institution shall interpret through dramatic display significant current problems affecting the Nation's security." It also authorized "a study center for scholarly research into the meaning of war, its effect on civilization, and the role of the Armed Forces in maintaining a just and lasting peace by providing a powerful deterrent to war."

Opinions differ on how the program at the Air and Space Museum squares with the language in the U.S. Code. In the view of its critics, the museum shows a limited interest in its basic job, allocating a low share of budget and staff to the restoration and preservation of aircraft. Arthur H. Sanfelici, editor of Aviation Magazine, has been particularly outspoken. He charges that "a new order is perverting the museum's original purpose from restoring and displaying aviation and space artifacts to presenting gratuitous social commentary on the uses to which they have been put."

Dr. Harwit disputes the accusation that the level of effort for aircraft restoration is down significantly on his watch. He says also that there are specific problems with funding. Those who supply the money, including Congress and private donors, want to contribute to "that part which is the most visible," the exhibits and the films, rather than to preservation and restoration.



The Smithsonian Controversy



Perhaps the most written about, talked about, and biggest event in our history is the story of the bombing of the Japanese by the Enola Gay that ended the war. So before you jump to another web site give me a moment to explain what prompted me to write another story about the Enola Gay . I thought I was fairly knowledgeable concerning the whole episode. However, after studying the Smithsonian controversy, I spoke with many people who also supposedly were familiar with the incident and found that they knew little or nothing about the debacle. Even though the complicated incident is well documented, the more I investigated the more I became convinced that there was a need for a somewhat brief report of this matter.   Wayland Mayo.


The Enola Gay And The Smithsonian Controversy



 by Wayland Mayo


I will touch only briefly on the actual bombing, and Paul Tibbets, as this information is well known. This particular plane was among a group of fifteen B-29's selected by Tibbets at the Martin, Omaha plant. These planes , plus 1800 men would comprise the top secret group which would be known as the 509th Composite Group, and would be temporarily stationed at Wendover, Utah. This was a remote and secure location where they would practice until they were ready for their unknown extraordinary experience which was to follow. The 509th moved to the island of Tinian in the Marianas which had a very desirable 8500 foot runway. On July 26, 1945, the cruiser Indianapolis delivered a large wooden crate. It is frightening to think of how close we came to not even having the bomb. Four days after leaving Tinian, the Indianapolis was sunk by Japanese subs, killing nearly 900 men. The ships captain, McVay, was court martialed for failure to follow evasive maneuvers in a highly controversial finding. Never able to clear his name, he committed suicide.

Finally, by early August,1945, the group was ready to undertake the still unknown mission. A group of seven B-29's was formed. Three weather planes would proceed ahead of the Enola Gay, which would be accompanied by a photo plane, and one loaded with blast measuring instruments. Another plane would be used as a standby. August 6, 1945, was designated "drop day". The Enola Gay had been loaded with the 9000 pound "Little Boy" which possessed the power of 15,000 tons of TNT. The Enola Gay would not take off with the bomb armed, so Deak Parsons would arm the bomb in flight, a most risky procedure. After take off at 2:30AM they climbed to 30,700 feet. The weather planes which proceeded ahead of the Enola Gay radioed that conditions over Hiroshima were acceptable, and Col. Tibbets gave his crew the word "It's Hiroshima". At 9:15 AM the Enola Gay dropped the "Little Boy", and made her diving 155 degree turn to the right, and waited. The bomb exploded 1890 feet above the ground, with the mushroom cloud rising above 45,000 feet. The Japanese were given an ultimatum calling for an unconditional surrender, or face further attacks. Three days later the B-29 Bocks Car piloted by Chuck Sweeney dropped the second bomb on Nagasaki. The unconditional surrender by the Japanese occurred on Aug 15, 1945.


Paul W. Tibbets


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Paul Tibbets

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Paul Tibbets and Crew

I met Paul Tibbets in the early 70's when my aircraft was temporarily in the Executive Jet hanger in Columbus, Ohio. I found him to be a man of character and humility, a man of whom I have the utmost respect.  This is his personal web site and contains a world of information. It is probably the best organized and designed web site I have yet to navigate. I had always wanted personally autographed photos of Tibbets and the Enola Gay. I was overjoyed when I received them, along with his book "Return of the Enola Gay", also autographed. I consider these among my most prized possessions.

On June 8,1994, Brigadier General Paul Tibbets delivered a statement which in my opinion is one of the finest I have ever read. I urge you to take a moment and read this masterpiece. I am presenting the entire speech verbatim as it was a news release by the Airmen Memorial Museum. General Tibbets expresses his feelings concerning the inappropriate handling of the Enola Gay by the Smithsonian. His speech will be the introduction to the purpose of this article, which is about the politically slanted handling of the entire Enola Gay episode.



News Release By The Airman Memorial Museum




A number of people and veterans organizations have asked me to comment on the subject of the Enola Gay , the care afforded her by the Smithsonian Institution together with the treatment of the Atomic mission in general.

From my point of view, the matter has been politicized, and, as a result, mishandled. Those whose business it is to create, mold, manipulate and utilize public opinion have done so as a matter of self serving interest. Consequently, history has been denigrated; the Enola Gay has been miscast and a group of valiant Americans have had their role in history treated shamefully. I am an airman, a pilot. In 1945 I was wearing the uniform of the US Army [Air Forces] following the orders of our commander - in- chief. I was , to the best of my ability, doing what I could to bring the war to a victorious conclusion- just as millions of people were doing here at home and around the world. Each of us - friend and foe alike- were doing the dictates of our respective governments. I recruited, trained and led the members of the 509th Composite Bomb Group. We had a mission. Quite simply, bring about the end of World War II. I feel I was fortunate to have been chosen to command that organization and lead them into combat. To my knowledge, no other officer has since been accorded the scope of the responsibilities placed on my shoulders at that time.

As for the missions flown against Japan on the 6th and 9th of August, 1945, I would remind you, we were at war. Our job was to win. Once the targets were named and presidential approval received, we were to deliver the weapons as expeditiously as possible consistent with good tactics. The objective was to stop the fighting, thereby saving further loss of life on both sides. The urgency of the situation demanded that we use the weapons first- before the technology could be used against us.

During the course of the half century that has elapsed since the use of the atomic weapons, many scribes have chronicled the flight of the Enola Gay with nothing but descriptions of the destructive nature of our atomic weapons. Few such narratives have been objective. Indeed, I suggest to you that few, if any of the articles, books, films or reports have ever attempted to discuss the missions of August 6th and August 9th, 1945, in the context of the times. Simply stated the Enola Gay and the 509th Composite Bomb Group have been denied a historically correct representation to the public. Most writers have looked to the ashes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; to find answers for the use of those atomic weapons. The real answers lay in thousands of graves from Pearl Harbor around the world to Normandy and back again. The actual use of weapons as ordered by the President of the United States was believed to be the quickest and least costly [in terms of lives lost] way to stop the killing. I carried out those orders with the loyal support of the men of the 509th Composite Bomb Group and the United States military at large. Our job was to serve, our sworn duty was to God , country and victory. Today, there is a debate on how to present the Enola Gay and the use of the atomic bombs to the American public and the world at large. There are questions as to how to best present the events of the summer of 1945. I have had many request, many appeals; to openly voice my opinions as to the Smithsonian's proposal and depiction of these realities. Consequently, I suggest that the Enola Gay be preserved and displayed properly, and alone, for all the world to see. She should be presented as a peace keeper and as a harbinger of a cold war kept from going "hot'. The Enola Gay and her sister ship Bock's Car should be remembered in honor of the scientists who harnessed the power of the atom for the good of mankind. The talents and skills of those men and women who gave us the means to use, regulate and control atomic energy. Such notable positive contributions are worthy of Smithsonian's recognition.

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A photo of the crew of the ENOLA GAY signed by the pilot Paul Tibbets

The Enola Gay has become a symbol to different groups for one reason or another. I suggest that she be preserved and given her place in the context of the times in which she flew. For decades she has been relegated to a storage facility. Her place in history has been dealt with unfairly by those who decry the inhumanity of her August 6th mission. Ladies and gentlemen, there is no humanity in warfare. The job of the combatants, the families, the diplomats, and factory workers is to win. All had a roll in that all out fight.

I am not a museum director, curator, or politician. I am a pilot. I am a military man trained to carry out the orders of the duly elected commander - in- chief.

For decades the Enola Gay has been in pieces. During the same period the subject of the atomic missions has provoked a flood of emotions. Virtually each and every narration of the events surrounding the flight of the Enola Gay has delved into the horrors and tragedies brought on by the atomic bombs.

Today, on the eve of the 50th Anniversary of the end of World War II, many are second-guessing the decision to use the atomic weapons. To them I would say, "STOP!" It happened. In the wisdom of the President of the United States and his advisors at the time, there was no acceptable alternative but to proceed with what history now knows as Special Bombing Mission No. 13. To those who consider it's proper presentation to the public, I say; "FULL SPEED AHEAD!" We have waited too long for all the wrong reasons to exhibit this aircraft. Too many have labeled the atomic missions as war crimes in an effort to force their politics and their opinions on the American public and to damn military history. Ironically, it is the same segment of society who sent us off to war that now wish to recant the flight of the Enola Gay .

Thus far the proposed display of the Enola Gay is a package of insults. Resting on an arrangement that will be shaped like a cradle, the sixty-some feet of fuselage and forward bomb bay- without wings, engines and propellers, landing gear and tail assembly- makes for an awesome sight. If nothing else, it will engender the aura of evil in which the airplane is being cast.

I am unaware of any positive achievements being credited to the men and women who built the B-29 bombers that carried the war to the Japanese homeland, or the soldiers, sailors, marines, and Seabees who fought, lived and died fighting to take Pacific Islands that were needed for airplane bases within striking distances of the mainland. What about the airmen who flew those strikes and lost their lives, and those who survived. Are they to be denied recognition for their efforts? Something is wrong with this scenario.

In closing, let me urge consideration and let the exhibition of the Enola Gay accurately reflect the American spirit and victory of August 1945. Those of us who gained that victory have nothing to be ashamed of, neither do we offer an apology. Some suffered, some died. The million or so of us remaining will die believing that we made the world a better place as a result of our efforts to secure peace that has held for almost 50 years. Many of us believe peace will prevail through the strength and resolve of the United States of America.


The Controversy Raises It's Ugly Head

Public sentiment over the atomic bombing of Japan fluctuated, as many felt we were the aggressors that bombed the innocent Japanese. The media had a field day, and was partially responsible for the turnaround in feelings. People seemed to forget the attack on Pearl Harbor. They forgot about the fanatical resistance at Iwo Jima, the Kamikaze attacks from Okinawa. They forgot the brutalization of our POW's, the numerous beheadings, the Bataan Death March. There seemed to be an emphasis on Japanese suffering, once again portraying the Americans as not really needing to drop the bomb. Why was there such an imbalance of public opinion? Was it politically motivated, or were we experiencing the Vietnam syndrome? Was it just the period of time that was changing Americans, and the rest of the world? The question persisted. Was it really necessary to drop the bomb? The very decision was now being questioned. This type of controversial thinking eventually worked it's way around to the Smithsonian bureaucracy, and the Enola Gay became the focal point of all the dissention.

Several months after dropping the bomb the Enola Gay was flown back to the United States. On Aug. 30, 1946, it was placed in storage and dropped from inventory. Three years later it was removed from storage and turned over to the Smithsonian for restoration and display. Little did we know what dissention and incompetence lay ahead for this "display". Apparently the Smithsonian, much to the dismay of thousands of veterans, allowed the plane to sit in storage for another 12 years. It was disassembled in 1961 and restoration not started until 1984. It would be another 11 years before it was finally put on display. During all these years the controversy raged, as WWII veterans groups voiced their objections not only to the Smithsonian handling of the project, but to the proposed manner they planned to portray the Enola Gay. In April, 1994, the Air Force Magazine published an article which finally raised questions as to the Smithsonian's intentions. Veterans rallied upon publication of this long overdue article and bombarded Congress with complaints. Apparently the Smithsonian was slanting the presentation to appear that the Japanese were the victims of a cruel American aggression. Photographs planned for the display were disproportionately sympathetic to the Japanese casualties and suffering, showing only a few American casualty photos. They planned a very emotional display showing the extreme suffering of the Japanese people. The wording was being twisted around to show the Americans bombed the Japanese as an act of vengeance and revenge. In reality they were rewriting history. Attacks on the Smithsonian were heating up, and Dr. Martin Harwit, director of the National Air and Space Museum, was on the receiving end of most of the flak. The Air Force Association and the Air Force Magazine were formidable opponents, with thousands of veterans and now Congress backing them up. The Smithsonian was questioning the morality of dropping the bomb, even suggesting maybe we should have invaded instead. Partitions of protest with thousands of signatures poured into the Smithsonian.

General Tibbets expressed his displeasure by announcing that the "proposed display of the Enola Gay is a package of insults". He said "Look at Lindbergh's airplane. There it sits, or hangs, in all it's glory. Here is the first airplane to fly the Atlantic solo. Okay. This airplane was the first to drop the atomic bomb. You don't need any other explanation. And I think it should be displayed alone".
Historian's comment: I have seen the Bock's Car many times at the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio, without any fanfare or protest. It is my personal opinion that years ago instead of letting the Enola Gay become a political football and sit for years deteriorating it should have been displayed in a single building, on permanent display.

As the hassle continued Congress got directly involved and sent a letter to the Smithsonian expressing it's "concern and dismay" over the slanted one sided portrayal of the Americans as aggressors in the attack. Seven Congressmen wrote to the Smithsonian to express "deep displeasure" with the proposed exhibition. The American Legion called for a cancellation of the planned exhibit and requested a Congressional investigation. Two days later the Air Force Association called for the exhibit to be cancelled. As a final blow to this escalating drama 81 members of Congress called for Martin Harwit to resign as director of the museum. On January 30, 1995, the Smithsonian cancelled the planned exhibit and began work on a new plan to display the Enola Gay. Finally on May 2,1995, Martin Harwit resigned as director of the Air and Space Museum. Not good news for the Enola Gay, as it was cut up in pieces, and only the forward section of the fuselage went on display for three years, closing in May of 1998. Almost four million visitors viewed the exhibit. It is appropriate to point out that none of the four historians who drafted the script were veterans of a military service. This in effect ended the Smithsonian debacle that ruffled feathers and left hard feelings in the hearts of those who cared.

Historian comment: Is this the end of the battle? Not really. What did we learn from these years of dispute? It is obvious the Smithsonian used the wrong people to script the display of the Enola Gay. The mission of the Smithsonian is to collect, preserve, and display historic aircraft. They mixed politics and emotions and made a complete sideshow of the project. Was it to appease the many Japanese visitors? Each of us will have his own personal opinion. Martin Harwit, in his forced retirement, wrote a book denying he had done anything improper. He blames the Air Force Association and the Air Force Magazine as the primary cause of his downfall.   This is the web site of the best written literature I have ever read, thanks to the Editor In Chief, John T. Correll. Veterans are so fortunate to have an organization like this serving as a watch dog. This story is expressed in my own words, a very brief interpretation of an unfortunate event. There are numerous incidents left out due to trying to keep the report brief.  I do not have verification of the following report, however I will pass it along. The Enola Gay was only displayed for three years [in pieces] I understand it is due to be fully assembled and displayed at the UDVAR-HAZY Center south of Dulles Airport in December 2003. Lets hope they learned to present it this time without distorting history.

 by Wayland Mayo

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