The last member of the U.S. crew that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima during World War II has died. Theodore Van Kirk was 93-years-old.
As a 24-year-old, Van Kirk was the navigator of the Enola Gay, a B-29 Superfortress that dropped the world’s first atomic bomb over the Japanese city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.
The bomb killed 140,000, and history tells us that the decision to drop the bomb was a game changer, ending the war and starting a big debate about the future use of nuclear bombs.
Suzanne Dietz, Van Kirk's biographer who chronicled his military life in the book, "My True Course," says Van Kirk saw the mission as simply part of his service in World War II.
"He believed it was the right thing to do—he had no regrets," says Dietz. "He believed it helped to shorten the war and it helped to save lives."
According to Dietz, the U.S. Surgeon General had ordered 470,000 body bags for the planned land invasion of Kyushu, which was known to be fraught with danger.
"It was not only saving American lives, but it saved Japanese lives," Dietz says.
If the Kyushu land invasion had gone forward, American POWs would have been executed, another reason why Van Kirk had no regrets about dropping the bomb.
"It was something that he did as part of serving in World War II," says Dietz. "He was a father, a contributor to society, working for DuPont for over 30 years. I don't think it was a focus of his life, but it was obviously part of who he was."
When Japan surrendered in 1945, Van Kirk returned to the country to meet with scientists and survey the damage. While he was there, he met a Japanese soldier who, upon returning from war, was devastated to find his home destroyed.
"It made him think: What if he were to come home and find his home in that kind of condition?" says Dietz. "It gave him empathy for who he looked at as the enemy."