Last crew mem­ber of Enola Gay dies in Ge­or­gia

The Covington News - - THE WIRE -

AT­LANTA (AP) — The last sur­viv­ing mem­ber of the crew that dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, has­ten­ing the end of World War II and forc­ing the world into the atomic age, has died in Ge­or­gia.

Theodore VanKirk, also known as “Dutch,” died Mon­day of nat­u­ral causes at the re­tire­ment home where he lived in Stone Moun­tain, Ge­or­gia, his son Tom VanKirk said. He was 93.

VanKirk flew nearly 60 bomb­ing mis­sions, but it was a sin­gle mis­sion in the Pa­cific that se­cured him a place in his­tory. He was 24 years old when he served as nav­i­ga­tor on the Enola Gay, the B-29 Su­per­fortress that dropped the first atomic bomb de­ployed in wartime over the Ja­panese city of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945.

He was teamed with pilot Paul Tib­bets and bom­bardier Tom Fere­bee in Tib­bets’ fledg­ling 509th Com­pos­ite Bomb Group for Spe­cial Mis­sion No. 13.

The mis­sion went per­fectly, VanKirk told The As­so­ci­ated Press in a 2005 in­ter­view. He guided the bomber through the night sky, just 15 sec­onds be­hind sched­ule, he said. As the 9,000-pound bomb nick­named “Lit­tle Boy” fell to­ward the sleep­ing city, he and his crew­mates hoped to es­cape with their lives.

They didn’t know whether the bomb would ac­tu­ally work and, if it did, whether its shock­waves would rip their plane to shreds. They counted — one thou­sand one, one thou­sand two — reach­ing the 43 sec­onds they’d been told it would take for det­o­na­tion and heard noth­ing.

“I think ev­ery­body in the plane con­cluded it was a dud. It seemed a lot longer than 43 sec­onds,” VanKirk re­called.

Then came a bright flash. Then a shock­wave. Then another shock­wave.

The blast and its af­ter­ef­fects killed 140,000 in Hiroshima.

Three days af­ter Hiroshima, a sec­ond atomic bomb was dropped on Na­gasaki. The blast and its af­ter­math claimed 80,000 lives. Six days af­ter the Na­gasaki bomb­ing, Ja­pan sur­ren­dered.

Whether the United States should have used the atomic bomb has been de­bated end­lessly. VanKirk told the AP he thought it was nec­es­sary be­cause it short­ened the war and elim­i­nated the need for an Al­lied land in­va­sion that could have cost more lives on both sides.

“I hon­estly be­lieve the use of the atomic bomb saved lives in the long run. There were a lot of lives saved. Most of the lives saved were Ja­panese,” VanKirk said.

But it also made him wary of war.

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