Handout photo of Capt. Theodore Van Kirk, center, as he and the rest of the crew return from the mission over Hiroshima, Japan Aug. 6, 1945. He was the navigator. Next to the left is Col. Paul Tibbetts, flight commander.
Photo: HANDOUT
Photo: HANDOUT

Last surviving Enola Gay crewman dies in Stone Mountain

The last surviving crewman of the Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb over Hiroshima, died overnight at his Stone Mountain home.

Theodore “Dutch” Van Kirk, 93, was the navigator on the Aug. 6, 1945 flight that dropped the “Little Boy” atomic bomb.

With the 2010 death of Morris Jeppson, Van Kirk became the only one of the dozen crew members left.

For a number of years, he lived at a retirement community in Stone Mountain where by chance he found himself sharing the place with James Starnes, an Atlantan who had a front-row seat at history. Starnes was the navigator on the USS Missouri and the mighty battleship’s officer of the deck on Sept. 2, 1945 who greeted Japanese officials boarding to officially surrender.

“We were two individuals who happened to be at historic dates,” said Starnes, who said his friend died Monday after being hospitalized for a few weeks. “The passing always hurts so much. I told someone today that this was the first time I shed a tear for someone in a long time.”

Starnes learned that Van Kirk was living in Stone Mountain from a Time Magazine article. A mutual friend who also lived in the retirement community introduced them.

For more than a decade, the two men put on “dog-and-pony” talks around metro Atlanta about the two events that ended World War II. The two became close friends, Starnes told The Atlanta Journal Constitution Tuesday.

“I like to say Dutch ended the war, and I made it official — got them to sign on the dotted line,” Starnes told The AJC in 2010. “He was very responsible for the success of the bomb drop.”

A native of Pennsylvania, Van Kirk joined the Army Air Corps before Pearl Harbor, and became a navigator after washing out as a pilot.

After World War II, Van Kirk returned home and had a long career as an executive with DuPont.

Officials at the Park Springs Retirement Community in Stone Mountain Tuesday afternoon confirmed Van Kirk’s death.

Tom Wages Funeral Home in Snellville will be handling arrangements.

Please return to ajc.com for updates.

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