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.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...
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.
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.