Last Crew Member of the B-29 Enola Gay Has Died

The last surviving crew member of the Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, to accelerate the end of World War II, has died. Theodore Van Kirk died July 28 at a nursing home in Stone Mountain, Ga. He was 93. Van Kirk, known as “Dutch,” was the navigator in the Enola Gay crew, led by Col. Paul Tibbets, who commanded the 509th Composite Bomb Group, which was formed to conduct the atomic bomb missions. Flying from an airfield on the captured Japanese Island of Tinian, the crew dropped the 9,000-pound weapon, called “Little Boy,” over Hiroshima early on Aug. 6, 1945. Three days later, another B-29 from the 509th dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki. Japan surrendered Aug. 15. The Enola Gay was snarled in controversy in 1994 when the Smithsonian Institution planned to use it in a display that would have depicted the Japanese as victims. A campaign led by Air Force Magazine forced the Smithsonian to cancel that exhibit, and the bomber became a popular attraction at Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. Van Kirk always supported the atomic bombings for avoiding an invasion of Japan that could have killed hundreds of thousands of allied troops and Japanese. (See also Atomic Mission from the October 2010 issue of Air Force Magazine.)