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Friday, August 1, 2014 - 8:49am

Remembering Theodore ‘Dutch” Van Kirk, The Last Survivor Of The Enola Gay

Updated: 1 year ago.
Captain Theodore J. Van Kirk (second from right) was the navigator in the Enola Gray crew, the plane that made the flight over Hiroshima to drop the atomic bomb.

The final surviving crew member of the first plane to drop the atomic bomb died at his home this week in Stone Mountain. Theodore Van Kirk was 93 years old.

The navigator of the Enola Gay, the Boeing B-29 Superfortress that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima during World War II, talked to GPB 's oral history project about the war. He said he’ll never forget what he saw.

"All we could see of the city of Hiroshima was black smoke…dust. It looked like a pot of boiling oil covering the city. The mushroom cloud you've seen pictures of had already formed. It was up well above our altitude already, up to about 40 thousand feet or so and still going. But you could still see that cloud 267 miles away."

Van Kirk was just 24 years old during that mission. He said the crew knew it was going to be a deadly run.

"Found out later a lot of the scientists when we left were sorry to see us go because they didn't think we were coming back,’ he said. “I expected to come back, I'll tell you that. As much as they could tell us, we knew. In what to expect, and how to handle it and everything else."

Before the crew dropped the bomb on August 6, VanKirk says, they had a briefing with officials.

“Then they told us to go back and get some sleep. How they expected to tell you you're going to drop an atomic bomb, then go get some sleep, I have absolutely no idea."

He says the crew of the Enola Gay stayed up playing poker instead. During that interview, Van Kirk told GPB he still got thanks for helping end World War II.

Next week is the 79th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.

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