Fascinating Insights into a Monumental Time inUnited StatesHistory- Circa World War II
Dutch Van Kirk came from a small town inPennsylvaniawhere his early years were spent living as a child of the Depression. Raised near theSusquehanna River, he was an adventurous kid, as well as a river rat.
In the summer of 1940, now a young man, Dutch saw signs around town about becoming an aviation cadet. Knowing the war had started inEurope, he applied to take the “Aviation Cadet Exam.”
Van Kirk passed the exam, as well as the physical. This was surprising, as he had only one kidney. But from that time on, it seems his life course was set.
On December 29th, 1940, with theUnited States facing the advance of Hitlerism, President Roosevelt declared “I want to make it clear that it is the purpose of the nation to build now with all possible speed every machine and arsenal and factory that we need to manufacture our defense material.”
And so it was that Van Kirk, by then an Army aviation cadet, was sent to Sikeston, Missouri, at the end of September 1941, to begin flight training. Three days later, he was up in an airplane. By October 25th, he’d made 44 landings; 25 of them solo. But by December, Dutch had washed out as a pilot and was steered toward navigation.
On December 7th, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and on December 8th, theUnited States declared war onJapan. This turn of events would eventually lead the young navigator to be a part of the first atomic strike mission in the history of civilization.
It was an early morning, August 6 of 1945, when Special Mission No.13, flying in a Boeing Silver-plate B-29 Super fortress named the Enola Gay, took off from Tinian Airfield, with Dutch Van Kirk plotting the course across a vast expanse of thePacific Ocean. The mission’s purpose was to drop an atomic bomb onHiroshima,Japan, in the hopes of shortening the war.
While the horrific destruction and death that befell onHiroshimathat day was tragic, it led to the beginning of the end of the war. Dutch notes (p.487) that after Hiroshima, the Air Force dropped several million leaflets over about a dozen cities before telling them what was going to happen if they didn’t surrender. But nothing happened until the second bomb was dropped days later onNagasaki.
Finally, on August 15, Emperor Hirohito announced the surrender of the Empire of Japan to the Allies.
Today, Dutch is the last living crewman of that mission. The book contains a huge amount of personal correspondence back and forth between Dutch and family members. These letters provide great insight into day-to-day life, both home and abroad, during those difficult times.
This is an important book that adds Van Kirk’s personal footnote to WWII. It also highlights the bravery of the millions who fought and served to bring an end to the Second World War, as well as showing the sacrifices made by those left to “stand and wait” at home.
Reviewed by: Charlen Rubush (2012)
He looked like the boy next door, a Depression-era kid. The now ninety-year-old gentleman with a remarkable memory and a sharp wit became in 2011 the only living crewman from the Silverplate Boeing B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, on August 6, 1945.
A debate continued for more than half a century with his former commanding officer, Paul Tibbets, until his death about how Dutch Van Kirk came to navigate the Enola Gay from Tinian to Hiroshima. The answer is part of Dutch's biographical chronicle.
The navigator of the Enola Gay's biography is an authentic "greatest generation" story told through his unedited letters to and from home, Van Kirk's vignettes from his Army Air Corps training through Europe, Africa, and the Pacific to the first atomic strike in history.