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Theodore Van Kirk, known as Dutch, was born in Pennsylvania. He grew up in a very small town and he described himself as a river rat because they lived so close to two rivers. His childhood was idyllic. He became interested in aviation and flying when he visited a county fair during his childhood. He went on a ride in a biplane and was fascinated from that moment on. When it became apparent to him that the United States would have to join the war at some point, he applied for aviation cadet school because he would rather fly than walk on the ground in the mud. He attended college for a year before attending aviation school. He had to pass an exam to get into the school and has no idea how he passed it. Van Kirk did not hear back from aviation school for over a year. He almost did not pass his final physical for training because he lost four teeth playing football. Initially, he wanted to be a pilot. He started his training in a civilian facility in Missouri. He learned to fly in a PT-13 within two days. He transferred to Enid, Oklahoma for basic training. He washed out of pilot training and he planned to join the RAF [Annotator's Note: British Royal Air Force]. A captain convinced him to go to navigation school instead. He truly enjoyed navigation training, until they doubled his training at Kelly Field, Texas. After training he joined the 97th Bombardment Group in Sarasota, Florida. He was assigned to 340th Bombardment Squadron, his commanding officer was Paul Tibbets [Annotator's Note: USAAF then USAF Brigadier General Paul W. Tibbets, Jr., pilot of the Enola Gay]. This is where he met Tom Ferebee [Annotator's Note: USAAF then USAF Colonel Thomas W. Ferebee, bombardier aboard the Enola Gay]. He was in a pilot named Rocket's crew. Rocket was eventually court marshaled when they reached England. Paul Tibbets took over Rocket's crew which included Van Kirk.

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Theodore Van Kirk recalls his first combat mission in Europe in B-17s [Annotator's note: Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bombers]. They did not go on the first mission out of England due to a mixup. On their first mission, they flew to Rouen, France. They made it back unscathed from the first mission, but they came under heavy fire during their third mission and received a new airplane. The same thing happened on their fifth mission. They flew to Rotterdam, Netherlands on his sixth mission. They had 100 airplanes on this mission, including B-24s [Annotator's note: Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bombers] . They made it back to England safe, but the mission was confusing and disorganized. They received a new shipment of airplanes at one point and Tibbets [Annotator's Note: USAAF then USAF Brigadier General Paul W. Tibbets, Jr., pilot of the Enola Gay] told him and Tom [Annotator's Note: USAAF then USAF Colonel Thomas W. Ferebee, bombardier aboard the Enola Gay] to pick one out for their crew. They picked one with the tail number 924444. They thought it was a lucky airplane and it was, they were never shot down. They flew 14 missions in England before flying General Clark [Annotator's note: General Mark Clark], to North Africa. Van Kirk had a Tommy gun [Annotator's Note: Thompson submachine gun], a carbine, and a .45 caliber [Annotator's Note: Colt M1911 .45 caliber semiautomatic pistol] on that mission. They were called to Hurn, England, given civilian clothes and passports, and ordered to take General Eisenhower and his staff to North Africa. General Eisenhower was on Van Kirk's B-17. They flew to Gibralter and stayed with the 12th Air Force. Van Kirk flew 58 missions out of North Africa. Tibbets flew with them the entire time they were in North Africa. Shortly after the invasion of North Africa started, they wanted to help. They had to load their own bombs and refuel the plane with five gallon gas cans. Van Kirk was given a standard road map to navigate with during their first mission in North Africa. They were extremely lucky during their first mission. They flew at 6,000 feet in their B-17. They bombed a German airfield and actually hit the mess hall when most of the German pilots were eating.

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Theodore Van Kirk completed his tour of duty and was sent home because he flew over 50 missions. At first they could not send him home, so he toured North Africa in command cars. On his way home, he stopped in Algiers, Algeria and had to find his own transportation. He hitchhiked back. He knew almost all of the pilots on the bases in North Africa, so he was able to bum rides off of them. He made it to Oran from Algiers. From Oran he made it to Casablanca, Morocco where he stayed for a month. They tried to get him to take a boat but he refused. From Casablanca they made it to Marrakesh, Morocco with a pilot delivering mail, who was not going to Marrakesh originally. Van Kirk made it to Scotland and from there he landed in New York. He reported to Patrick Air Force Base on Long Island, New York, but they had nothing for him to do. They gave him an additional 15 day furlough to go home. He received another 15 day furlough after that and then he reported to the training command. Tibbets [Annotator's Note: USAAF then USAF Brigadier General Paul W. Tibbets, Jr.] had already come back. He was doing testing on the B-29s [Annotator's Note: Boeing B-29 Superfortress very heavy bombers]. Van Kirk was sent to a retraining facility for navigators in California. After he retrained, Van Kirk transferred to a navigation school in Monroe, Louisiana. He was in Monroe when Tibbets requested him for the 509th Bombardment Group [Annotator's Note: 509th Composite Group], for B-29 testing and group navigator. He signed on immeadiately, he was bored in the United States. Van Kirk remembers Paul Tibbets as a crusty individual. He was among the most daring commanders of the time, he never backed down from an argument, he was an outstanding pilot and he had a certain feel for his airplanes. He knew things about flying that no one else knew and he taught his men well. He saved Van Kirk's life a number of times.

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Theodore Van Kirk was the group navigator for the 509th Bombardment Group [Annotator's Note: 509th Composite Group]. When he joined the group, Tibbets [Annotator's Note: USAAF then USAF Brigadier Beneral Paul W. Tibbets, Jr., pilot of the Enola Gay] told Van Kirk that they were going to be doing something special that would shorten or end the war. That was all they were told until the mission. Most of the men knew what the mission was going to be because there were many atomic physicists working around them, but they did not talk about it. Tibbets had no qualms about sending people away that talked too much. Van Kirk recalls the modifications made to the B-29s [Annotator's Note: Boeing B-29 Superfortress very heavy bombers] before the mission. The first thing they did was strip the airplanes. Anything they did not need, they took out and threw away. The airplane was 6,000 pounds lighter. After speaking with one of the atomic physicists, everything was aimed at the plane being nine miles away from the bomb when it exploded. That is why they made the airplane lighter. Fortunately for the Air Force, the Japanese had no defenses against high flying aircraft by that point in the war. Other modifications were snap open bomb doors, fuel injected engines, and reversible pitch props. As a navigator, Van Kirk trained the men in Batista, Cuba to get them accustomed to navigating over the water. There were 15 B-29s and six C-54s [Annotator's Note: Douglas C-54 Skymaster cargo or transport aircraft] in the 509th. Every airplane and crew trained to drop an atomic bomb. Van Kirk was not in the desert when they tested the bomb. He recalls meeting Oppenheimer [Annotator's Note: J. Robert Oppenheimer was a theoretical physicist who was one of the top scientists responsible for the creation of the atomic bomb] before shipping out overseas.

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Theodore Van Kirk remembers what he was told about the bomb. All they knew was they had to get away from the area as quickly as possible after they dropped it. They were told it could destroy an entire city, and told not to fly in the white cloud because they would die of radiation poisoning. He arrived on Tinian on 25 June 1945 and completed more training with dummy bombs. Each crew practiced dropping the dummy bombs over Japan under the same conditions that they would drop the atomic bomb. These were risky missions, but they had to train. Only five of the men in the 509th had combat experience. Van Kirk says it was a given that he would navigate the first mission to drop the atomic bomb. Their bomb, nicknamed Little Boy was dropped first because it was a uranium U-235 bomb, less likely to be a dud. After the testing of the bomb in New Mexico on 16 July 1945 [Annotator's Note: the Trinity nuclear test], physicists arrived on Tinian to give them more scientific instructions on the bomb. They were given their targets, Hiroshima first because it was the headquarters for the defense of Japan in case of an invasion. Originally, Kokura, the Detroit of Japan, was the second target and Nagasaki was the third. They were given instructions to drop the bomb visually, if they could not see a target they were told to drop it in the ocean. Under no circumstances were they allowed to bring the bomb back to the base. They also had to drop instruments to measure the force of the bomb and get pictures of the blast. Before the mission, they sent out three airplanes to test the weather over each city to determine where they should drop the bomb. They had three airplanes over Hiroshima; Van Kirk's airplane, the Enola Gay, dropped the bomb, another plane dropped the instruments to measure the blast, and the last plane was tasked with taking photographs.

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Theodore Van Kirk remembers receiving word that President Harry Truman had approved the plans to drop the bomb and to drop it on the first opportunity they had. It was a lot of hard work. There was nothing Hollywood about it. They decided to drop the bomb at quarter after eight on the morning of 6 August 1945. The day before the mission they called all the men together for the briefing. At ten that night they had their final briefing and breakfast. When they went out to the Enola Gay they were surprised to see all of the cameras and lights to capture the Manhattan Project. They took off at quarter to three in the morning on 6 August 1945. The Enola Gay had a difficult time taking off because of the plane's weight. Tibbets [Annotator's Note: USAAF then USAF Brigadier General Paul W. Tibbets, Jr., the pilot of the Enola Gay] was able to get control of the airplane. He would not let anyone else help him. Their B-29 [Annotator's Note: Boeing B-29 Superfortress very heavy bomber] was about 15,000 pounds over the weight of a normal B-29. The flight from Tinian to Hiroshima took six hours and 15 minutes. Van Kirk was constantly working. He had no down time on the flight. The fact that they were transporting an atomic bomb did not bother Van Kirk. What bothered him was Captain William Parsons [Annotator's Note: US Navy Rear Admiral William S. Parsons, the weaponeer aboard the Enola Gay] and Morris Jeppson [Annotator's Note: USAAF 2nd Lieutenant Morris R. Jeppson, assistant weaponeer aboard the Enola Gay] looking over the bomb during the flight.

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When they reached 10,000 feet, Jeppson [Annotator's Note: USAAF 2nd Lieutenant Morris R. Jeppson, the assistant weaponeer aboard the Enola Gay] took out the green plugs on the bomb and put in the red to activate it. Parsons [Annotator's Note: US Navy Rear Admiral William S. Parsons, weaponeer and bomb commander aboard teh Enola Gay] and Jeppson monitored the circuits on the bomb at a console next to Theodore Van Kirk. Tom [Annotator's Note: USAAF then USAF Colonel Thomas Ferebee, bombardier aboard the Enola Gay] slept on the flight, he had nothing to do until they got to the target. Tibbets [Annotator's Note: USAAF then USAF Brigadier General Paul W. Tibbets, Jr., pilot of the Enola Gay] and Bob Lewis [Annotator's Note: USAAF Captain Robert Lewis, copilot aboard the Enola Gay] were flying the airplane. Some of the men read. There was not much conversation. To them it was a regular mission and everything went according to plan. They continued to climb in altitude to 30,000 feet. The weather was perfect. They passed their initial point east of Hiroshima with ease. The bomb run took a long time. They felt the airplane surge immeadiately after they dropped the bomb and pushed forward to get away from the area as quickly as possible. It took 43 seconds for the bomb to reach the altitude at which it exploded. Everyone was counting. They thought it was a dud at first until they saw the bright flash of light in the airplane. Shortly after, they felt the first shockwave. The sound was worse than the shockwave. Then the second shockwave hit them. It was not as bad as the first one. After the second shockwave, everyone in the airplane looked back at the city. There was a large white cloud and the city was covered in black dust and smoke. They could not make any visual observations, so they went back to Tinian. There are several myths concerning the mission that Van Kirk would like to put to rest. Many people believed that before they reached the city they put on flack vests. They did not have flack vests because they weighed too much. Second, they had no fighter planes with them.

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They were just over 33,000 feet when they dropped the bomb. It was as high as they could get. When they made it back to Tinian, Theodore Van Kirk saw more admirals and generals than he had ever seen in one place in his life. The Nagasaki mission was more eventful than the Hiroshima mission from what Van Kirk heard afterwards. When he saw the cloud over Hiroshima, everyone in the Enola Gay thought the war was over. The Japanese also had an atomic program and were trying to make U-235 bombs [Annotator's Note: atomic bombs fueled by uranium]. Van Kirk thinks that the Japanese thought the United States was only trying to produce the U-235. They had no idea we had a plutonium bomb and we were planning to drop a second bomb. Van Kirk was not scheduled to participate in the Nagasaki mission. The crew was ordered to follow the same procedure as the Hiroshima mission, but they had more complications. There were many conversations concerning if they had a third bomb and where would it would be dropped. Many people said Tokyo, Japan, but Van Kirk remembers General Jimmy Doolittle arguing against that. That made sense to Van Kirk. The largest air mission over Japan occurred after Nagasaki. Van Kirk remembers hearing that the war was over. He was still on Tinian at the time. Van Kirk thinks it was the right decision to drop the bomb. Anybody that understands the history of the time knows that dropping the bombs saved lives in the long run. There were about 6,000 people dying in the Pacific and China every week during the war. Japan had no navy or air power left. If they had to invade, it would have been a slaughter. Van Kirk feels that there should never be any more atomic weapons used. Tibbets [Annotator's Note: USAAF then USAF Brigadier General Paul W. Tibbets, Jr., pilot of the Enola Gay], Ferebee [Annotator's Note: USAAF then USAF Colonel Thomas W. Ferebee, bombardier aboard the Enola Gay], and Van Kirk agreed on the subject. Van Kirk sat in the cockpit of the Enola Gay while it was on display at the Smithsonian. They recounted the mission for an interview and it felt as natural as the day the mission took place. When asked, he recalls that Bob Lewis [Annotator's Note: USAAF Captain Robert A. Lewis, copilot of the Enola Gay] made the statement, My god what have we done. It was written in the log after they reached Tinian.

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