I was reading some of the retrospectives of the recently deceased on the MSNBC site and Paul Tibbets popped up again.
Paul flew the B-29 named Enola Gay that dropped the first of only two Atomic Bombs ever dropped in anger. He is held up as a hero by many and reviled as an arm of evil by many others.
Paul considered his mission as neither. Not heoric nor evil. It was his job. And he did it well. He was considered the best pilot in the Army Air Force during WWll.
My father knew Paul. My father was ahead of him in the hiearchy back in the day and ended up in more of a supervisory role during the war. But he did know him. He never said much about Paul other than he was a helluva pilot. But then my dad did not discuss much about the specifics of his time in the Air Force.
The point I guess is we Americans often bestow hero status on people without a clue as to what a real hero is. Paul's efforts were no more heroic than the thousands of other pilots who dared to fly into hostile airspace in any war. Yet because of one specific mission, he is placed higher in our history of heroes than many other possibly more deserving men.
That is not to say Paul did not perform heroic acts. I am sure he did. Just climbing in a plane he knew had a better than even chance of getting shot down took some nads. But larges nads, a hero does not make.
A hero to me is someone who steps out of character, digs deep and rises to an occaision that they would not normally be able to deal with. Being a bad swimmer, yet jumping in to save a drowning man. Being scared out of their wits, yet finding the strength to overcome their fear and do something beyond their comprehension. By the time Paul hit the sky over Japan, it was just another day in the life. If Paul was the man I think he was, that's how he saw it also.
Nor does Paul deserve to be demonized either. He followed his orders. The bomb was going to be dropped whether he flew the mission or not. Paul just made sure it hit it's target.