Enola Gay: Navigator to speak in Buchanan for Veterans’ Day program

Published 10:56 am Thursday, November 8, 2007

By By ERIKA PICKLES / Niles Daily Star
NILES – The Enola Gay was the B-29 bomber that dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. The bomber, which was named after pilot Paul Tibbets' mother, had a crew of 13. When the five-ton "Little Boy" bomb was dropped, it killed or injured around 140,000 people.
On Thursday, Nov. 1, Tibbets, 92, passed away at his home in Columbus, Ohio. However, some of the crew members are still alive and enjoy telling the story of the B-29 bomber.
Theodore J. "Dutch" Van Kirk, navigator of the Enola Gay, will be a special guest speaker at the Buchanan American Legion on Veteran's Day, Sunday, Nov. 11 at 2 and 7 p.m. Van Kirk will also be at the Buchanan High School Auditorium on Monday, Nov. 12 at 7 p.m.
"Buchanan is a very important town, especially when it comes to veterans. I contacted someone about getting Van Kirk to come and he agreed. This is a real treat to the town," Robert Krauss, author of the book The 509th Remembered and a Buchanan resident said.
Van Kirk was born on Feb. 27, 1921, in Northumberland, Penn. He joined the Air Cadet program of the Army Air Corps in October 1941. He graduated from navigation school and in April 1942 was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant at Kelly Field, Texas. "Dutch" was then assigned to the 97th Bomb Group, flying B17 missions out of England as a navigator with the crew of pilot Tibbets and bombardier Tom Ferebee, flying most of those missions in the lead aircraft.
At 2:30 a.m. on Aug. 6, 1945, "Dutch" navigating the first bombing mission on the Enola Gay. The bomber lifted off North Field en route to Hiroshima, Japan. At exactly 9:15 a.m., the world's first atomic bomb exploded.
"I knew when we hit the coast of Japan we were well on the way to completing a successful mission and the new bomb we carried would be a great help in shortening the war," Van Kirk said in a statement.
Van Kirk also flew 58 missions in England and North Africa before returning to the United States. He was assigned to navigation training and in November 1944, he became group navigator of the 509th Composite Group, training for atom bomb delivery.
These are just a few of the many missions Van Kirk completed during his time in the service.
"In the 1980s, I started reading books about World War II and became very interested in it. My wife and I went to a reunion for the men of the atomic group and I learned that nobody had done any research on what actually happened when the bombs were dropped on Japan. We knew something had to be done so we went to work, did a lot of research, dug up old pictures and talked to many of the veterans and privately published the book," Krauss said.
Krauss and his wife, Amelia, were responsible for editing the stories and putting everything together. The book was then self-published in 2005 and revised just this year.
"It's important for people to come and hear the story of what actually happened during this time. There are so many misconceptions. People really should learn about the history and what took place," Krauss added.