ENOLA GAY by John Minichillo

illustration by John Dermot Woods


Enola Gay Haggard was named after a character in Enola, or Her Fatal Mistake, by Mary Young Ridenbaugh. Enola was painted on the nose of the aircraft by her son, Paul Tibbets. Tibbets is seen waving from the silver cockpit in the famous photo in his colonel's cap, smiling above the black block letters. He was the personal pilot to Ike, the five-star general.

Mary Young Ridenbaugh wrote one other book, the biography of her famous grandfather, Dr. Ephraim McDowell, "the father of ovariotomy and the founder of abdominal surgery." He noted in observations of women, alive and dead, that encysted dropsies of the ovaries couldn't be cured. His scientific opinion predicted less danger in opening the abdomen and removing the ovaries, and on the American frontier, some fifty years before the Parisians at the French School of Surgery followed the facts to the same conclusion, Ephraim McDowell talked a Mrs. Crawford into his experiment.

Paul Tibbets had wanted to be an abdominal surgeon but changed course and joined the Army Air Corps. He was embarrassed that his mother's name would become associated with the bomb. Enola spelled backwards is "alone," a novelist's trick.

The retired colonel worked as a pilot for an air taxi corporation called NetJets. In 1976 he piloted a restored B-29 in a Texas air show in a re-enactment that included a fake mushroom cloud. The United States apologized for the insensitivity of the stunt. But the United States has never apologized for dropping Little Boy.

Enola Gay's son died on November 1, 2007 at the age of 92. Tibbets admitted to sleeping clearly every night. At his request, there was no funeral and there is no headstone.


John Minichillo writes and teaches in Tennessee. He's an adviser at Fictionaut, is happily married, and has learned more about language from his two-year-old than any book.
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