Wednesday, July 30, 2014

I Need to Get to Udvar-Hazy...

Another piece of history is gone.

Enola Gay's Last Crew Member Theodore Van Kirk Dies
The last crew member of the Enola Gay — the bomber which infamously dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan near the end of WWII — has died in Georgia. Theodore Van Kirk, who was also known as "Dutch," died Monday of natural causes at the Park Springs Retirement Community in Stone Mountain, a manager there told NBC Atlanta affiliate WXIA. Van Kirk was 93.

When he was just a young man of 24 years old, Van Kirk was the navigator on the Enola Gay, a B-29 Superfortress, which dropped "Little Boy" on Hiroshima at 8:15 a.m. August 6, 1945, killing 140,000 people. It was the first time in human history that an atomic bomb had ever been used. The second and last instance came three days later at Nagasaki, where 80,000 perished.
You need to actually *see* the Enola Gay to truly understand the giant brass ones these men had. These propeller-driven aircraft, held together by rivets, carried a single bomb large enough to destroy an entire city. I've had the good fortune to take a look inside both a B24 Liberator and a B17 Flying Fortress. While the B29 is larger than either of those aircraft, it's not by a lot; especially when you realize that a B29 would have a 11-man crew. That's a lot of people to cram into a small metal tube...

Without getting into the ethics of the dropping of the atomic bombs, it's still pretty amazing that these men performed the task as assigned. To take part in such a historic event - the first time an atomic weapon would be used in warfare - has got to make a mark on a person. Given the state of knowledge of nuclear weapons at the time (Exhibit A: Duck and Cover drills), they may or may not have realized the full import of the bombs they were delivering. But they delivered them just the same, and saved thousands if not millions of lives.

Rest in peace, Dutch.

That is all.

7 comments:

Murphy's Law said...

Let me know when you're up for rolling over there. I'm overdue for a visit myself.

Ted said...

It was the first time anow atomic bomb was dropped. The test at the trinity site was a static bomb
They wern't sure it would actually properly trigger at the right altitude and go off. The crew was not told exactly how large the explosion would be, partly because the scientists were not sure themselves.

Bubblehead Les. said...

State of the Knowledge was "Crossed Fingers" and OMFG!

LCB said...

Bock's Car, the plane that hit Nagasaki, is in Dayton, OH at the USAF Museum. Anyone in to planes and history should make the trip. The museum is free to the public, except for the movies they show in the IMAX theater. And don't miss the annex...it's a bus ride from the museum to old hangers where they have lots of cool stuff that won't fit in to their main buildings.

Will said...

IIRC, they later calculated that they only got about 3% atomic conversion of the contents. That's why the early bombs were so "dirty".

After the second one was dropped, we only had parts for a third bomb actually built. The thinking was, if they were forced to drop that third bomb, we were in trouble, since there was going to be several months before they would be able to do it again, and that lack of inventory would be obvious to the enemy. They expected that if two didn't do it, they would be forced to use LOTS of them.

Read: "Hell To Pay" by D M Giangreco, for a scary look at what an invasion of Japan would have been like. The head of the Army was considering using atomic bombs to help clear a path for the invasions! They had no clue what they were dealing with.

ProudHillbilly said...

Yep. Get to Udvar-Hazy. It's jaw dropping.

Daniel in Brookline said...

I forget where I read this -- might have been one of Bill Whittle's early essays. It was a description of the ship that transported the first atomic bombs from New Mexico to the front.

If I recall correctly, the bombs were very carefully secured indeed... and surrounded by a 24-hour armed guard, under orders to shoot anyone who attempted to tamper with them. Shoot to kill, with no questions asked.

When you realize, as Will was saying, that (a) this was the extreme-long-shot Magic Hope that could end the war early, and (b) they literally could NOT be replaced under any circumstances, such extreme caution seems fully warranted.

But still... damn. Just damn.