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Major Theodore Van Kirk, Navigator Of The Enola Gay And The Last Remaining Crewmember, Has Passed On

Major Theodore Van Kirk, Navigator Of The Enola Gay And The Last Remaining Crewmember, Has Passed On

As the automotive world gears up for the racing out at the salt flats near Wendover, Utah, a reflection needs to be made. Among the scrub, mountains and salt, seventy years ago, men started training for what is still to this day the most awe-inspiring and utterly horrific act that has ever befallen the Earth. Theodore “Dutch” Van Kirk, the navigator of the Enola Gay the day the B-29 dropped the first atomic bomb over Hiroshima, Japan, passed away on July 28, 2014 at a retirement home in Stone Mountain, Georgia at the age of 93.

Van Kirk commissioned into the Army Air Force on April 1, 1942 and was transferred to the 97th Bomb Group, where he flew with Paul Tibbets and Tom Ferebee, the other two men who would accompany him on the fateful Hiroshima mission. From 1942 to 1943, Van Kirk was in Europe. After returning to the U.S. in June 1943, he taught as an instructor navigator until November 1944, when he was transferred to the 509th Composite Group at Wendover Field, Utah. From November 1944 until June, 1945, they trained constantly for the upcoming mission.

Van Kirk left the service in 1946 as a Major. He received a Bachelor’s and Master’s of Science degree from Bucknell University and worked at DuPont in various positions for over 35 years. In 2012 he wrote a book, “My True Course”.

It is impossible to place oneself into the mind of a 24-year-old who is taking part of such an operation. Words will never, ever do it justice. As a war veteran myself, I can’t scratch the surface of what it must have been like to stand outside in the evening, with the dust and the salt swirling around, reflecting on the weight of what he was preparing for. There was no discussion of the project allowed; any talk out of work time, even to other crew members, could earn the violator a trip to a remote post. Any and every feeling he had about the mission at hand, he had to deal with himself.

Standing on the salt before the engines fire up and the crowds arrive is a haunting experience. The solitude and starkness of Bonneville make a perfect reflection of the time that Van Kirk spent there: purely alone. Over the years, he worked well in society, raised a family, and did what everyone tries to do in life. How he did that is incomprehensible knowing what must have weighed on his mind every day. If you ever get out to the Salt Flats, stop for a second and listen to the wind. You just might hear the props of a B-29.

Godspeed, Major.


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12 thoughts on “Major Theodore Van Kirk, Navigator Of The Enola Gay And The Last Remaining Crewmember, Has Passed On

  1. Gary

    We used to raise men and women. Quite often today, all we have is old children. We should not let our kids live one day more than necessary as children, but raise them to be adults.
    They may well have been the greatest generation we’ll ever see.

    1. Turbo Regal

      Agreed. The thing that has always baffled me is that it took dropping 2 atom bombs on Japan before they would finally give up. You would think after seeing the awful destruction that 1 would have been enough.

      1. Scott Liggett

        It was always dishonorable for a Japanese officer to surrender. They lost more 100,000 men during the battle for Okinawa. Everyone was sure it would take years to take the mainland at the loss of more than 1,000,000 men.

  2. Jim Amos

    I went to a seminar in 2006 where the Major and General Tibbets talked about their story of preparing for the mission. It was very moving. I was able to record it on video and consider it a valuable part of my video library. RIP Major.

  3. Scott Liggett

    When moving to Cali in 1988, I stopped at Bonneville. Was out on the salt alone after running my car where the track was marked. I saw a C-130 come in and turn left to land from the north right at sunset. It was definitely like being on another planet alone.

    My father was a navigator during the cold war, B-47’s, RB-47’s and RC-135’s. No GPS to use back then. He tried showing me how they navigated with wind direction, wind speed, air speed, compass headings and some freaking dial thing (Which I still have). I didn’t have a clue on how they did it.

  4. crazy canuck

    A generation of Doer’s . They didn’t ask whats in it for me ? they just went and did the job . Thanks to all those WW2 Doer’s.

  5. Joe R. Weinberger

    My dads infantry division in Europe after VE day was one of the first units to be shipped out to the Pacific for the invasion of Japan. If it wasn’t for the bravery and determination of the 509th Composite Group and the atomic bombardment, the likelihood of me being on this earth today would have been nil. Godspeed Major and thank you for a job well done. R.I.P.

  6. Powerstroke

    Great words everybody for a great man. “There are those who do and those who think of doing”. They knew what had to be done and did it but what a weight to bare for so many years. God speed and Thank You Major Theodore “Dutch” Van Kirk. R.I.P.

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