The Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionThe last surviving crewman of the Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb over Hiroshima, died overnight at his Stone Mountain home.
Theodore “Dutch” Van Kirk, 93, was the navigator on the Aug. 6, 1945 flight that dropped the “Little Boy” atomic bomb.
With the 2010 death of Morris Jeppson, Van Kirk became the only one of the dozen crew members left.
For a number of years, he lived at a retirement community in Stone Mountain where by chance he found himself sharing the place with James Starnes, an Atlantan who had a front-row seat at history. Starnes was the navigator on the USS Missouri and the mighty battleship’s officer of the deck on Sept. 2, 1945 who greeted Japanese officials boarding to officially surrender.
“We were two individuals who happened to be at historic dates,” said Starnes, who said his friend died Monday after being hospitalized for a few weeks. “The passing always hurts so much. I told someone today that this was the first time I shed a tear for someone in a long time.”
It has been estimated that over a million lives would have been lost if we would have had to attack the Japanese mainland.
Certainly ushering in the Atomic Age was a historic moment but the results were indiscriminate and horrifying. Even when faced with that horror, the Japanese refused to surrender and another Nuclear Warhead had to be detonated over a Japanese city before they finally threw in the towel.
Those men were heroes then and now for putting their lives on the line, all the while knowing they might never even make it to the target.