ATLANTA — The last surviving member of the crew that dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, hastening the end of World War II, 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, 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.
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 crew mates hoped to escape with their lives.
They didn't know whether the bomb would actually work and, if it did, whether its shock waves would rip their plane to shreds.
Then came a bright flash. Then a shock wave. And another.
The blast and its aftereffects killed 140,000. Three days later, a second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. It killed 80,000. Six days later, Japan surrendered.