Theodore Van Kirk was a U.S.Army Air Corps navigator who served during World War II. Known as the Dutch, Van Kirk flew 58 B17 Flying Fortress combat missions with the 97th Bomb Group over occupied France and Germany. But he became famous for his B29 mission on board the Enola Gay, which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.
Theodore J. Van Kirk was born on February 27, 1921, in Northumberland, Pennsylvania. He attended Susquehanna University and worked in a grocery store before joining the Air Cadet program of the Army Air Corps in October 1941. Having graduated from navigation school, Kirk was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant at Kelly Field, Texas, in April 1942. He was then assigned to the 97th Bomb Group, flying B17 missions out of England as a navigator with the crew of pilot, Paul Tibbets and bombardier, Tom Ferebee. The Dutch flew most of those missions in the lead aircraft.
After returning to the United States, Van Kirk was assigned to navigation training and in November 1944 became group navigator of the 509th Composite Group, training for atom bomb delivery. Quietly, in June 1945, the group started moving overseas to the Pacific Island of Tinian in the Marianas chain. Their familiar arrowhead tail markings were changed on both sides to the letter "R" in a circle, standard identification for the Sixth Bomb Group.
After the war, in August 1946, Van Kirk completed his service in the Air Corps as a major. His decorations include the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross and 15 Air Medals. Van Kirk went on to receive his Bachelor and Master of Science degrees in Chemical Engineering from Bucknell University in 1949 and 1950. For the next 35 years he held various technical and managerial positions in research and marketing with DuPont, a major US company.
Theodore Van Kirk auctioned off the flight log which he kept on board the Enola Gay during the atomic bombing of Hiroshima for $US358,500 in a public auction in October 2007. Van Kirk stated he decided to sell the log because he wants it to be kept at a museum. The auction house did not reveal the name of the successful bidder, although admitted it was a U.S. citizen.