ATLANTA – 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.
The above article was released by the AP and I have shown only a portion of it which goes on to debate whether or not we should have dropped the bombs on Hiroshima or Nagasaki. To the crewmen of the Enola Gay and most World War II veterans there was no debate. They knew what sacrifice that they would have made trying to invade Japan. World War II revisionist historians have tried to make the case that Japan was ready to surrender and had asked for terms. Some Japanese were ready but far too many wanted to fight to the death. Personally I think that the impact of the bombs on the Japanese military has been overrated by historians. We had caused far more damage and loss of life through conventional fire bombing of Tokyo and other Japanese cities since March of 1945. Atomic bombs had very little impact on the hard-liners in the Japanese military. The person that had the most influence on the Japanese military and the Japanese people was Emperor Hirohito and he was terrified by what the bombs represented. He was even more terrified by what the Soviet
invasion of Japanese territory in the last days of the war represented for Japan. The Allies had agreed at Yalta that they would accept no less than unconditional surrender from the Axis Powers. Germany had surrendered unconditionally in May 1945. Hirohito knew that if he didn't try to work out terms with the Allies he would be deposed and possibly hung as a war criminal. Between the power of the bombs, the American military, and the Soviet military, Japan would cease to exist. Quite possibly Japan would become like Eastern Europe, divided into democratic and communist sectors. Stopping the war now would mean that his fate would lie in the hands of the Americans and he liked his chances better with them. When the Japanese approached Washington with a peace proposal the Americans were smart enough to leave Hirohito as the figurehead power in Japan because they knew that most Japanese would obey the Emperor and lay down their arms. Even then when many Japanese officers heard that Hirohito was planning a surrender speech, on tape, to the Japanese people they attempted a coup that's primary goal was to destroy the tape before it could be broadcast. The only thing that prevented this was the last B-29 bomber raid over Tokyo, at the very moment that the Japanese rebels were trying to locate the tape in the royal palace. The raid happened at night and there was a blackout. The rebels could not find the tape in the dark. The next morning the tape was broadcast to the Japanese people calling on them to lay down their arms. The Japanese public was awestruck because they had never heard the Emperor's voice before and he was like a God to them. Without this intervention by the Emperor there is no doubt in my mind that the Japanese people would have fought to the death.