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Theodore VanKirk

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VANKIRK, Theodore Theodore VanKirk, the last surviving crew member of the Enola Gay which dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, passed away peacefully on Monday, July 28, 2014 in Atlanta GA with family members present. VanKirk was born on February 27, 1921 in Northumberland, PA and graduated from Northumberland High School. Following high school, VanKirk attended Susquehanna University but dropped out to join the Army Air Force Aviation Cadet Program in October 1941. In 1942 he received his commission and navigator wings and transferred to the first navigational B-17 Flying Fortress unit in England. While with that unit, he teamed with pilot Paul Tibbets and bombardier Tom Ferebee and participated in 57 bombing missions primarily over Germany in the B-17; the same crew also ferried General Eisenhower to Gibraltar to command the North African invasion forces. VanKirk returned to the States in June, 1943 and married his high school sweetheart, Mary Jane Young, in Louisiana that same year. In 1944, he was reunited with Tibbets and Ferebee and joined the 509th Composite Group at Wendover Field, Utah from November 1944 to June 1945 where they trained continually for the first atomic bomb drop which occurred August 6, 1945. In August 1946 VanKirk completed his service with the rank of Major having received declarations including the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross and 15 Air Medals. He attended Bucknell University and received his Bachelor and Master of Science degrees in Chemical Engineering cum laude in 1949 and 1950. Following college, he joined the DuPont company where, for the next 35 years, he held various technical and managerial positions in both research and marketing. He retired from the company as the head of DuPont's west coast sales in 1985. Following his retirement, VanKirk participated in numerous military air shows and was a frequent lecturer to high school and student groups talking about his war experiences. His military career is further documented in a book entitled "My True Course", authored by Suzanne Dietz, which was first published in 2012. VanKirk was preceded in death by his first wife, Mary Jane, who passed away in 1975. He is survived by four children - Thomas (Bonnie) VanKirk of Pittsburgh, PA, Larry (Kim) VanKirk of Charlotte, NC, Vicki (Dan) Triplett of Atlanta, GA and Joanne (John) Gotelli of Sacramento, CA. He is also survived by seven grandchildren and two great grandchildren. Funeral arrangements will be handled jointly by the Tom M. Wages Funeral Home in Snellville, GA and the Joseph W. Epler Funeral Home in Northumberland, PA. Visitation will be held on Monday, August 4th from 2-4 and 6-8 p.m. at the Joseph W. Epler Funeral Home, 210 King Street, Northumberland, PA with a service to be held on Tuesday, August 5th at 10:00 a.m. at St. John's Lutheran Church, 300 Queen Street, Northumberland, PA. The interment will be private. The family requests that, in lieu of flowers, contributions may be made in memory of Theodore VanKirk to the Wounded Warrior Project P.O. Box 758517, Topeka, Kansas 66675. Condolences may be viewed or sent to www.wagesfuneralhome.com. Tom M. Wages Funeral Service, LLC, "A Family Company" Snellville Chapel 770-979-3200, has been entrusted with the funeral arrangements.


Published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on July 31, 2014
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