NORTHUMBERLAND — Even though Theodore “Dutch” Van Kirk’s funeral and graveside services were private, people in his hometown of Northumberland gathered around Riverview Cemetery, from a distance, to say goodbye.
“I wanted to pay my respects to him,” Audrey Simpson said.
During the graveside service, a B-17 flew over the cemetery to honor the man who was the navigator on the Enola Gay. After the service, the B-17, also known as the “Memphis Belle,” flew into the Sunbury Airport.
“It’s unique. I mean, I’ve never seen one like this close up,” Darren Troup said.
Even though Van Kirk’s funeral service was private, the people of Northumberland got to say goodbye to the man many refer to as their hometown hero by touring this plane. And they did, by the dozen.
“It shows that the community is gathering around to honor Dutch. So it’s nice to see that,” Troup said.
“It’s beautiful. Nice turnout. Real nice turnout,” Jack Hoffman said.
Jack Hoffman of Northumberland brought his granddaughter to see the B-17.
“It’s pretty awesome, pretty awesome. I saw them when I was in the service. I know what they’re all about but I wanted her to see it,” Hoffman said.
According to local historians, after World War II, Dutch Van Kirk was flown into this airport in a bomber similar to this one. That’s what makes this flyover so special.
“Dutch flew a lot of missions on the B-17 and they did a lot of training on it. It was very instrumental in his life in the service,” Northumberland Mayor Len Zboray said.
“I took lots of pictures because this is a chance of a lifetime to get this close,” Troup said.
Northumberland officials say it cost about $5,000 to get the plane here for the afternoon. Donations were collected at the entrance to the B-17.