Theodore Van Kirk, Enola Gay Navigator, Passes Away

  • Published
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Theodore Van Kirk, the last surviving crew member of the Enola Gay, and the navigator on the famous B-29 Superfortress that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, during World War II, died Monday in Stone Mountain, Georgia.

Van Kirk was 93.

"Team Whiteman and the nation have lost a great patriot," said Brig. Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, 509th Bomb Wing commander. "Maj. Theodore Van Kirk was a vital member of a historic unit, the unit from which the 509th Bomb Wing was born, and his contributions to American military history and to Allied victory in World War II will forever be remembered."

A veteran of 58 World War II combat missions, Van Kirk was selected to be a member of the 509th Composite Group by the 509th's commander, Col. Paul Tibbets. The 509th Composite Group was the predecessor to the 509th Bomb Wing, which is stationed at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri.

Before the mission over Japan, Tibbets told Van Kirk the group had been chosen for a top-secret bombing mission that might end the war.

On Aug. 6, the Enola Gay, crewed by Van Kirk, Tibbets and 10 others, dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima; Van Kirk, a captain at the time, was only 24 years old. His skill and professionalism ensured the Enola Gay arrived at the drop point a mere 15 seconds after the initially planned time, quite an accomplishment given technological and logistical limitations during WWII.

Van Kirk completed his military service in August 1946 with the rank of major. His decorations include the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross and 15 Air Medals.