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Last crew member of Enola Gay dies at 93

  • In this Aug. 25, 2010, photo, Theodore "Dutch" VanKirk, navigator of the Enola Gay, talks about his experiences during World War II, at Park Springs, the retirement community where he was living in Stone Mountain, Ga. (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal Constitution, Bita Honarvar)

ATLANTA — The last surviving member of the crew that dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima once said he thought the bombing was necessary because it shortened the war and eliminated the need for an Allied land invasion that could have cost more lives on both sides.

But Theodore "Dutch" VanKirk also said it made him wary of war - and that he would like to see all of the world's atomic bombs abolished.

VanKirk died Monday at the retirement home where he lived in Stone Mountain, Georgia, his son Tom VanKirk said. He was 93.

Theodore VanKirk flew as navigator on the Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress that dropped the first atomic bomb deployed in wartime over the Japanese city of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945.

The bombing hastened the end of World War II. The blast and its aftereffects killed 140,000 in Hiroshima. Three days after Hiroshima, a second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. That blast and its aftermath claimed 80,000 lives. Six days after the Nagasaki bombing, Japan surrendered.

Whether the United States should have used the atomic bomb has been debated endlessly.

"I honestly believe the use of the atomic bomb saved lives in the long run," VanKirk told The Associated Press in a 2005 interview. "There were a lot of lives saved. Most of the lives saved were Japanese."

But VanKirk said the experience of World War II also showed him "that wars don't settle anything."

"And atomic weapons don't settle anything," he said. "I personally think there shouldn't be any atomic bombs in the world — I'd like to see them all abolished.

"But if anyone has one," he added, "I want to have one more than my enemy."


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