STONE MOUNTAIN, Ga. -- The last member of the Enola Gay crew, a Georgia man who lived in Stone Mountain, passed away Tuesday
The manager at the Park Springs Retirement Community confirmed Theodore "Dutch" VanKirk passed away Tuesday. He was 93 years old.
VanKirk was the navigator aboard the Enola Gay, the B-29 bomber that dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
Maj. VanKirk had no second thoughts about one of the seminal moments of American history. Back in 2010 he sat down exclusively with 11Alive's Jeff Hullinger.
Van Kirk said, "You have to understand the Japan we fought was significantly different from the Japan in later years. I don't know how they did it."
A funeral guest book in honor of VanKirk is currently in the lobby of Snellville City Hall for visitors to sign. It will be there until Tuesday afternoon.
VanKirk was born on Feb. 27, 1921 in Northumberland, Pa. He attended Susquehanna University but dropped out to join the Army Air Force Aviation Cadet Program in October 1941. In 1942, he received his commission and navigator wings and transferred to the first navigational B-17 Flying Fortress unit in England. While with that unit, he teamed with pilot Paul Tibbets and bombardier Tom Ferebee and participated in 57 bombing missions primarily over Germany in the B-17; the same crew also ferried Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower to Gibraltar to command the North African invasion forces.
VanKirk returned to the U.S. in June 1943 and married his high school sweetheart, Mary Jane Young. In 1944, he was reunited with Tibbets and Ferebee and joined the 509th Composite Group at Wendover Field, Utah from November 1944 to June 1945 where they trained continually for the first atomic bomb drop which occurred Aug. 6, 1945.
In August 1946, VanKirk completed his service with the rank of Major having received declarations including the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross and 15 Air Medals. He attended Bucknell University and received his Bachelor and Master of Science degrees in Chemical Engineering cum laude in 1949 and 1950. Following college, he joined the DuPont Company where, for the next 35 years, he held various technical and managerial positions in both research and marketing. He retired from the company as the head of DuPont's West Coast sales in 1985.
Following his retirement, VanKirk participated in numerous military air shows and was a frequent lecturer to high school and student groups talking about his war experiences. His military career is further documented in a book entitled "My True Course", authored by Suzanne Dietz, which was first published in 2012.
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