Last member of crew that dropped bomb on Hiroshima dies

Wednesday 30 July 2014 17.19
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'Little Boy' was dropped on Hiroshima at 8.15am on 6 August 1945, killing 140,000 people
'Little Boy' was dropped on Hiroshima at 8.15am on 6 August 1945, killing 140,000 people
The Atomic Bomb Dome in silhouette during sunset over the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima
The Atomic Bomb Dome in silhouette during sunset over the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima

The last surviving crewman of the Enola Gay, the US plane that dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan near the end of World War II, has died.

Theodore Van Kirk, also known as "Dutch," died on Monday of natural causes at the Park Springs Retirement Community in Stone Mountain, Georgia, NBC television reported. He was 93.

Mr Van Kirk was 24 when he served as navigator on the Enola Gay, a B-29 Superfortress.

He was one of a crew of 12 airmen.

The plane dropped "Little Boy" on Hiroshima at 8.15am on 6 August 1945, killing 140,000 people, more than half the population of the city.

It was the first time in history that an atomic bomb was used in combat.

The second was three days later at Nagasaki, where 70,000 people were killed.

"The plane jumped and made a sound like sheet metal snapping" after the explosion, Mr Van Kirk told The New York Times on the 50th anniversary of the raid.

"Shortly after the second wave, we turned to where we could look out and see the cloud, where the city of Hiroshima had been.

"The entire city was covered with smoke and dust and dirt. I describe it looking like a pot of black, boiling tar. You could see some fires burning on the edge of the city," he added at the time.

Mr Van Kirk recalled "a sense of relief," because he said he sensed the devastating bombing would be a turning point to finally bring the war to a close.

On 15 August, Japan surrendered.

Historians have long been at odds over whether the twin attacks brought a speedier end to the war by forcing Japan's surrender and preventing many more casualties in a planned land invasion.

Many atomic bomb survivors, known as "hibakusha", oppose both military and civilian use of nuclear power, pointing to the tens of thousands who were killed instantly in the Hiroshima blast and the many more who later died from radiation sickness and cancer.

In a 2005 column for Time Magazine, Mr Van Kirk stood behind the use of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima.

"It wasn't a matter of going up there and dropping it on the city and killing people," he wrote.

"It was destroying military targets in the city of Hiroshima - the most important of which was the army headquarters charged with the defence of Japan in event of invasion. That had to be destroyed."