Earl Hoffsis remembers flying over Hiroshima the day after the Japanese surrendered World War II in 1945 and seeing the devastation caused by an American atomic bomb dropped there.
Instead of thinking about the more than 70,000 lives lost in the bombing, Mr. Hoffsis, 86, from Toledo, said he thinks about the many lives saved by ending the fighting.
The Air Force veteran knew Col. Paul Tibbets, the pilot of the B-29 Enola Gay that dropped the bomb "Little Boy" on Hiroshima 65 years ago today. The two were acquainted during the war and afterward, when Mr. Tibbets returned and toured the United States, explaining his role in the bombing.
Mr. Tibbets, who died three years ago and was a 30-year-old colonel at the time of the bombing, was unapologetic about his actions, even when faced with widespread public criticism.
"He had opposition in his own Air Force. He knew he had a job to do and that's what he had to do," Mr. Hoffsis said.
The B-29 Enola Gay provides the backdrop for the late Col. Paul Tibbets, who piloted the bomber 65 years ago today and dropped the atomic bomb dubbed 'Little Boy,' over Hiroshima, Japan.
Mr. Hoffsis is one of a handful of World War II veterans who will speak at today's 11:30 a.m. American Legion Toledo Post 335 event at the Toledo Grecian Center honoring Mr. Tibbets and his crew. This American Legion post is one of few Toledo veterans posts remembering the 65th anniversary of the bombing mission, in part because of the event's controversial nature and the dwindling numbers of World War II veterans.
Ernest Mease, an officer at Post 335, said the idea for the "Tribute to Tibbets" event was partly a matter of coincidence. The post has a special program every Friday, which happened to line up with the bombing's 65th anniversary this year, he said.
He said his plan was to contact Veterans of Foreign Wars posts to be involved in the event, because their veterans have gone overseas unlike veterans of American Legion posts, but he was ill and did not manage to do so in time.
Although the event is seemingly more relevant for foreign veterans, at least seven local VFW posts are not formally recognizing the anniversary.
Gary Sass, quartermaster of the Maumee Valley Post 2510, said the post is not doing anything because the bombing topic is too controversial.
"There are too many mixed emotions on that. We don't celebrate it. We don't bring that up," he said.
There is no tradition of recognizing the bombing among local posts, said Chuck Ignatowski, quartermaster of Roman "Buddy" Frankowski Post 5530. He said his post has always recognized the December, 7, 1941, bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese Navy to remember the American lives taken.
"I don't think it was a celebration that we dropped the bomb," he added.
There are also fewer people to honor, as the World War II veterans are in their 80s and 90s, he said.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, more than 1,000 World War II veterans are dying each day, and fewer than 15 percent remain.
Gene Krantz, 82, from Toledo, was in the U.S. Army when the bomb was dropped, preparing to be shipped to the Pacific. He said it was "a relief" when he found out the war was ending, and in that regard, he thinks the bombing of Hiroshima was a positive thing.
But he said it does not matter to him that veterans' posts - including his own Commodore Perry Post 3338 - are not recognizing the anniversary.
"I'm not one to dwell on it. It happened and I'm thankful," he said.
Mr. Mease, 85, who served in the Navy during the war, was also on the verge of being shipped out before the bombing. He said he owes the last 65 years of his life to Mr. Tibbets for piloting the plane.
The act moved the world from the industrial age to the nuclear age, he said.
Every year, anti-nuclear protestors around the world rally in remembrance of "Hiroshima Day," to discourage the use of nuclear weapons. In fact, before his death in 2007, Mr. Tibbets specified that he not be given a funeral service or burial site, because he feared it would become a target for vandals.
There is no indication that there will be protesters at the Toledo event today, though police will be present just in case, Mr. Mease said.
"We're not highlighting the bombing," he said. "We're highlighting a hero."
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