Enola Gay navigator passes away

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WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. – The navigator on the famous B-29 Superfortress that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, during World War II, died July 28 in Stone Mountain, Ga. 

Theodore Van Kirk was 93.

“Whiteman (Air Force Base) and the nation have lost a great patriot,” said Brig. Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, the 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 Col. Paul Tibbets, the commander of the 509th CG. The group was the predecessor to the 509th Bomb Wing, which is stationed here.

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, 1945, 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 the accomplishment given technological and logistical limitations during World War II. 

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.