Theodore Van Kirk

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Theodore Van Kirk
Van Kirk Tibbets, and Ferebee.jpg
Van Kirk (left) with Tibbets, and Ferebee[when?]
Nickname(s) 'Dutch'
Born (1921-02-27)February 27, 1921
Northumberland, Pennsylvania
Died July 28, 2014(2014-07-28) (aged 93)
Stone Mountain, Georgia
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Army Air Forces
Years of service 1941–1946
Rank Major
Battles/wars World War II

Theodore "Dutch" Van Kirk (February 27, 1921 – July 28, 2014) was a navigator of the United States Army Air Forces, best known as the navigator of the Enola Gay when it dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. With the death of fellow crewman Morris Jeppson (who died on March 30, 2010), Van Kirk became the last surviving member of the Enola Gay crew.[1] He died four years later on July 28, 2014.

Early US Army career[edit]

Van Kirk was born in Northumberland, Pennsylvania, and joined the Army Air Force Aviation Cadet Program October 1941. On 1 April 1942, he received both his commission and navigator wings and transferred to the 97th Bomb Group, the first operational B-17 Flying Fortress unit in England. The crew of the "Red Gremlin" also included pilot Paul Tibbets and bombardier Tom Ferebee. Van Kirk would later fly with these men on the Hiroshima mission.

From August to October 1942, the crew flew 11 missions out of England. They were the lead aircraft, responsible for group navigation and bombing. In October 1942, they flew General Mark Clark to Gibraltar for his secret North African rendezvous with the French prior to Operation Torch. In November, they ferried General Eisenhower to Gibraltar to command the North African invasion forces. After German reinforcements began pouring into the port of Bizerte, Tunisia, posing a serious threat to Allied strategy, a new mission emerged. On 16 November 1942, the crew led their group in an attack that took the Germans by surprise at Sidi Ahmed Air Base at Bizerte.

Atomic bombing of Japan[edit]

Van Kirk (center) and the rest of the Enola Gay flight crew upon return from their mission over Hiroshima (6 Aug 1945)

Van Kirk returned to the States in June 1943 after flying a total of 58 missions overseas.[2] He served as an instructor navigator until reuniting with Tibbets and Ferebee in the 509th Composite Group at Wendover Field, Utah, in late 1944. The group flew the Boeing B-29 Superfortress, with Tibbets as commander and Van Kirk as the group navigator. From November 1944 to June 1945 they trained continually for the first atomic bomb drop, which occurred 6 August 1945.

The thirteen-hour mission to Hiroshima began at 02.45 hrs in the morning Tinian time. By the time they rendezvoused with their accompanying B-29s at 0607 hrs over Iwo Jima, the group was three hours from the target area. As they approached the target Van Kirk worked closely with the bombardier, Tom Ferebee, to confirm the winds and aimpoint. The bomb fell away from the aircraft at 09:15:17 Tinian time. Van Kirk later participated in Operation Crossroads, the first Bikini Atoll atomic bomb tests. According to the 1995 New York Times interview by Gustav Niebuhr Mr. Van Kirk told he was often asked, "given a choice about his role in the Hiroshima bombing, would he do it again?":[3]

Under the same circumstances – and the key words are "the same circumstances" – yes, I would do it again. We were in a war for five years. We were fighting an enemy that had a reputation for never surrendering, never accepting defeat. It's really hard to talk about morality and war in the same sentence. In a war, there are so many questionable things done. Where was the morality in the bombing of Coventry, or the bombing of Dresden, or the Bataan death march, or the Rape of Nanking, or the bombing of Pearl Harbor? I believe that when you're in a war, a nation must have the courage to do what it must to win the war with a minimum loss of lives.

In October 2007, Van Kirk auctioned off the flight log he kept on board the Enola Gay during the atomic bombing of Hiroshima for $US358,500 in a public auction. Van Kirk stated he decided to sell the log because he wants it to be kept at a museum. The auction house did not reveal the name of the successful bidder, although it said it was a U.S. citizen.[4]

Later life[edit]

In August 1946 Van Kirk completed his service in the Army Air Forces as a Major. His decorations include the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and 15 Air Medals. Van Kirk went on to receive his Bachelor and Master of Science degrees in Chemical Engineering from Bucknell University in 1949 and 1950. For the next 35 years, he held various technical and managerial positions in research and marketing with DuPont. Van Kirk was present at the 2008 Thunder over Michigan Air Show.


On Friday, April 9, 2010 Van Kirk spoke at the University of West Georgia in the Biology Building Lecture Hall. It was billed as "Lone Survivor of Enola Gay Visits UWG".

On August 21, 2010 Van Kirk appeared at a gun and knife collector's show in Dallas, TX where his autograph was obtained dedicated "To Wikipedia".

On September 3, 2010 Major Van Kirk, accompanied by his wife, appeared at the model air show "Warbirds Over Atlanta 2010" in Ball Ground, Georgia where he signed his books and photographs as a replica of the B-29 flew overhead.

Major Van Kirk appeared and signed books at Vectren Dayton Air Show Dayton Air Show on July 8, 2012.

Major Van Kirk appeared at the Marietta Museum of History on August 11–12, 2012. He signed his book, "My True Course", from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday at the museum's Aviation Wing. On Saturday, August 11 at 4 p.m., he gave a rare lecture back at the main wing of the Marietta Museum of History.

On September 14, 2013, Major Van Kirk visited and spoke at the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas, TX. He spoke for about an hour about his experience in the service, and afterwards, he signed copies of his book, My True Course. During this event, Mr. Van Kirk relayed stories about both his practice bombing runs in America and his real bombing missions abroad. He was asked to describe the difference between the practice and real missions, and he replied, "In America, they're not shooting at you!"

On September 15, 2013, he spoke for approximately an hour and answered questions about his military service and specifically his role as the navigator on the Enola Gay at the Cavanaugh Flight Museum in Addison, TX. Afterwards, he signed copies of his book My True Course.[5]

He died on July 28, 2014. He was survived by his four children.[1][6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Theodore Van Kirk, 93, Enola Gay Navigator, Dies". New York Times. July 29, 2014. Retrieved 2014-07-30. Theodore (Dutch) Van Kirk, the navigator and last surviving crew member of the Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in the last days of World War II, died on Monday at his home in Stone Mountain, Ga. He was 93. ... 
  2. '^ Theodore "Dutch" J. Van Kirk, 84, Time.
  3. ^ HIROSHIMA - HIROSHIMA - Enola Gay's Crew Recalls The Flight Into a New Era -
  4. ^ Japan Times Accessed 31-October-2007
  5. ^ "Dutch Van Kirk Interview and Book Signing". 15 September 2013.
  6. ^ "Last surviving Enola Gay crewman dies in Stone Mountain". Retrieved 2014-07-30. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Dietz, Suzanne Simon; Van Kirk, Theodore Jerome (2012). My True Course: Dutch Van Kirk, Northumberland to Hiroshima. Red Gremlin Press LLC. ISBN 9780692016763. OCLC 797975707. 

External links[edit]