We’re talking 1948 now. I’m back in the Pentagon and I get notice from the chief of staff, Carl Spaatz, the first chief of staff of the air force. When we got to General Spaatz’s office, General Doolittle was there, and a colonel named Dave Shillen. Spaatz said, “Gentlemen, I just got word from the president he wants us to go over to his office immediately.” On the way over, Doolittle and Spaatz were doing some talking; I wasn’t saying very much. When we got out of the car we were escorted right quick to the Oval Office. There was a black man there who always took care of Truman’s needs and he said, “General Spaatz, will you please be facing the desk?” And now, facing the desk, Spaatz is on the right, Doolittle and Shillen. Of course, militarily speaking, that’s the correct order: because Spaatz is senior, Doolittle has to sit to his left.
Then I was taken by this man and put in the chair that was right beside the president’s desk, beside his left hand. Anyway, we got a cup of coffee and we got most of it consumed when Truman walked in and everybody stood on their feet. He said, “Sit down, please,” and he had a big smile on his face and he said, “General Spaatz, I want to congratulate you on being first chief of the air force,” because it was no longer the air corps. Spaatz said, “Thank you, sir, it’s a great honor and I appreciate it.” And he said to Doolittle: “That was a magnificent thing you pulled flying off of that carrier,” and Doolittle said, “All in a day’s work, Mr President.” And he looked at Dave Shillen and said, “Colonel Shillen, I want to congratulate you on having the foresight to recognize the potential in aerial refueling. We’re gonna need it bad some day.” And he said thank you very much.
Then he looked at me for 10 seconds and he didn’t say anything. And when he finally did, he said, “What do you think?” I said, “Mr President, I think I did what I was told.” He slapped his hand on the table and said: “You’re damn right you did, and I’m the guy who sent you. If anybody gives you a hard time about it, refer them to me.”
Studs Terkel: Anybody ever give you a hard time?
Paul Tibbets: Nobody gave me a hard time.
From Studs Terkel’s 2002 interview with Paul Tibbets, the pilot of the Enola Gay.
Related: “Thank God for the Atom Bomb,” by former Army officer Paul Fussell in 1981, writing in a very different New Republic magazine than today’s.