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Northumberland Remembers “Dutch”, Flight Navigator of the Enola Gay

NORTHUMBERLAND — A man who many people in Northumberland refer to as a hero has died. Theodore “Dutch” Van Kirk was the last member of the flight crew that dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan during World War II, and he was born and raised in Norry.

To the rest of the world, Theodore “Dutch” Van Kirk is known as the flight navigator of the Enola Gay who dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan during World War II.

“That was our biggest worry, getting away from the bomb,” Van Kirk said in an interview he gave in 2012.

But to the people of Northumberland, he is known as “TD”… a friend and a hero.

“Definitely was proud of his accomplishments, but at the same token as I said, he was very humble,” Dick Simpson said.

“He was a quiet man,” Ruth Eleanor said.

Ruth Eleanor grew up with Van Kirk. They were friends since fifth grade. She says she cried for hours when she found out he died.

“I was just crushed. I was crushed,” Eleanor said.

Van Kirk even included a letter Eleanor wrote him in his book, something she says she is proud of.

“It is terribly interesting to hear about your flying,” Eleanor read.

This display at the library in Northumberland shows just how proud Dutch was of his hometown. He donated a lot of signed memorabilia to the library, including this reproduction of the navigator’s log of that historic flight.

“I don’t think there was, especially in grade school, a teacher that didn’t at least mention it that Dutch Van Kirk was originally from Northumberland,” Simpson said.

Dick Simpson is the former commander of the American Legion in Northumberland.

He says he met Van Kirk in the early 1970s but got to know him two years ago when Van Kirk came back to Northumberland for a book signing and parade.

“Somebody who grew up in little Northumberland ended up being the navigator of the situation. It’s big news in town,” Simpson said.

Van Kirk died of natural causes at a retirement home in Georgia, surrounded by family.

But friends say they will never forget “TD”, who graduated from Northumberland High School in 1938, and spent time at Susquehanna and Bucknell Universities.

“It’s a big loss when you lose a hero, especially for a small town area like this, it’s a great big loss,” Simpson said.

“At our cemetery we have a day of remembrance in August when you can release a balloon in memory of somebody. So I’ll have a balloon in memory of TD,” Eleanor said.

A viewing for Dutch Van Kirk will be held Monday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Joseph W. Epler Funeral Home in Northumberland. The funeral will be held Tuesday at 10 a.m. at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Northumberland.

There will be a flyover of a World War II B-17 at the cemetery after the funeral on Tuesday.

It will land at the Sunbury airport, which is where Van Kirk landed after the war was over.

It will happen between 12:30 -1p.m.

The vintage military plane will be on display from 1 p.m.to 6 p.m.

The local American Legion is still looking for money to fund this. Checks can be sent to:

Riverview Cemetery,
Dutch Van Kirk fund,
c/oDee Zboray,
305 Susquehanna Rd.
Northumberland, PA 17857

7 comments

    • crackers81

      I’m sorry if I’m the first to inform you of one of life’s most horrible little truths and would remind you not to shoot the messenger, but the sad fact is that there is no such thing as “good guys” in war. Practicality may occasionally require you to support your side, but never let ANYONE, not financeer, not politician, not clergy, nor elders of any variety convince you that you are on the JUST side. There is no justice in throwing our nations’ youth into the human sacrificial bone grinder of war. There are occasionally just causes, but there’s never good guys. Just those who profit and those who die.

      War decides who is left, not who is right. “To the victors go the spoils”, no argument. but then some people have claimed for themselves the right to whitewash their roles in the violence, to falsely justify murder instead of owning up to the tragedy of it all. This is not an easy nation to be honest in. I commend you for your objectivity in a region of the US absolutely rife with thoughtless nationalism.

  • Proud American

    The tone of the last comment must be from a progressive liberal who never learned history only how to distort it.

  • Me

    So the last guy responsible for the largest state sponsored terrorist attack in history is dead. Heaven help you when you meet those school children you incinerated.

    • crackers81

      I would just like to commend WNEP for being fair in letting us express our opinions about this matter. I know my opinion is a minority view and that some would find it offensive. Frankly, I find the murder of innocent children FAR more offensive than any combination of words that can leave the mouths of fools like us. It would have been easy for them to simply silence any meaningful discourse about this event, yet they’ve chosen to honor the better traditions of the United States by allowing contrary view points.

      You’ve earned my respect and my thanks.

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