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Decatur resident recalls friendship with Enola Gay pilot

By Ronnie Thomas
rthomas@decaturdaily.com · 340-2438

Nancy Jones recalls meeting Paul Tibbets at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Wash., where she lives and works for Boeing.

“He gave a speech and had a book signing,” Jones said. “I asked him to sign a book for my brother-in-law, E.C. Hall. He looked up and said, ‘Where in hell is Easy?’ ”

Jones is visiting Hall and his wife, Joy, at their apartment at Riverside Assisted Living. A visitor steered the conversation to a discussion about Tibbets, who, on this date 62 years ago, piloted his B-29, the Enola Gay, over Hiroshima, Japan, and dropped the first atomic bomb, helping to end World War II.

“He would remember me as Easy,” Hall said. “I got the nickname in junior high school in Wichita Falls, Texas, and I remained a captain so long in the Air Force, they called me ‘Captain Easy.’ ”

Hall became a friend with the legendary flier during the mid-1950s at old Hunter Air Force Base in Savannah, Ga.

Serving under Tibbets

“He was my boss, commander of the 308th Bomb Wing,” Hall said. “I was flying a C-97 at the time. I was a co-pilot for a couple of years then made aircraft commander, the youngest at the time. I was at Hunter five years, and Joy and I married there.”

Hall said Tibbets apparently “took a liking to me” after he and his crew took him on a flight.

“From then on, whenever he needed to go someplace, he would call for me,” Hall said. “I felt good about that because as wing commander, he had a choice. There were many flights, but I remember one trip in particular when we flew him to Omaha, Neb., to meet with Gen. Curtis LeMay.”

LeMay was known as the father of Strategic Air Command and was vice presidential running mate of independent candidate and former Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace in 1968.

Hall said when the command rotated to North Africa in the late 1950s, Tibbets made a special request.

“By that time, he had divorced and married his current wife, Andrea, a French woman,” Hall said. “They’ve now been together more than 50 years. Anyway, their young son was with his dad near Casablanca, and Paul asked me to fly him home to Hunter. The boy at the time spoke only French, and I didn’t recall much from my college class. It was interesting, but we made it. We came home in a military air transport C-54.”

Training pilots

Later, Tibbets gave Hall a choice of a T-33 air training command or flying KC-135’s with Strategic Air Command.

“I was ready to get out of SAC, and I chose to train pilots at the old base in Greenville, Miss.,” he said. “Paul left Hunter for MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., and to stay in touch, I’d fly down there for visits. At the time, I was a lowly captain and he was now a brigadier general. We’d sit underneath a grapefruit tree and talk about everything. He’d pick my brain about younger pilots, and I’d tell him what I thought.”

He said he last saw Tibbets years ago in Atlanta at the annual National Business Aircraft Association show, when Tibbets was president of Columbus, Ohio-based Executive Jet Aviation, a global all jet air taxi company, and Hall worked for Air Research, headquartered in Los Angeles.

Living in Columbus

Tibbets retired from the company in 1987 and lives in Columbus. He is 92.

Hall, who retired from the Air Force Reserve as a lieutenant colonel, said he remembers Tibbets for not only being an American aviation hero but for being a gentleman as well.

“He was a great man, and it is an honor for me to know him,” Hall said.

He recalls that Tibbets did not drink or smoke and was an excellent ham operator until he lost his hearing.

“I e-mailed him a few minutes ago,” Hall said, “and wished him the best from Joy and me.

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