Only two atomic bombs have ever been used in battle. Both were dropped by the USA, one on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 and the other on Nagasaki three days later
The bomb which was dropped on Hiroshima was dropped by the Enola Gay aircraft and killed 140,000 people.
This week the last surviving member of the Enola Gay crew passed away.
Crewmembers from airplanes in past wars die all the time. There are probably many thousands of planes whose entire crews are now dead, so why is it so notable that Theodore Van Kirk, known as “Dutch”, died in Georgia age 93, having been the navigator on the Enola Gay 69 years ago, and why does it sadden me?
By the time I started school at the beginning of the 1980’s, World War I and World War II long over yet, in England at least, their influence over the country was still strong. Most of us had grandparents who were alive during “the war” (World War 2) and some even in World War 1.
Many of them had served in the Armed Forces – and these were people we could talk to. Real people. Not people confined to the pages of a book somewhere, whose names are all but forgotten and whose lives were barely even noted, no these were our direct ancestors. These were people who took us to play at the park and gave us too many sweets before sending us home to our parents.
They made history real for us – they made history come alive. My grandmother is still alive and, at the age of 88, will still tell you stories of the war, if you take the time listen. But at 88 years old time is running out before she too is gone and then I’ll have no family left were there.
I hate that events which were so momentous in our lives and in the lives of our families are slowly disappearing into the pages of books. There are now no survivors of the Titanic left, only one or two people left who served in the first world war – and the numbers of those who served in the second world war are beginning to dwindle too.
How long will it be before there are no men left alive who have stepped foot on the moon? How long before there is nobody who remembers living in the shadow of the Berlin wall? How long before there is no one who remembers where they were when JFK was shot? One day there will even be no one left alive who ever saw the World Trade Center with their own eyes.
There is a phrase used when talking about those who have paid the ultimate price in war: “We will never forget”.
It is often used, but the truth is, one day we will forget.
We Will Forget
I’m sure that after every one of the thousands of wars that have raged across this planet throughout the centuries, people knelt by gravesites and promised,”We will make sure you never forgotten. What you sacrificed to keep us free will be talked about for all time.”
I’m sure they did – and I’m equally as sure most of them have passed from all remembrance.
We can store memories of events in video and in audio and in writing, but the world moves on and what seems so significant to us today may become but a blip on the radar of future generations as they look back on what has happened between now and then.
So I wish to mark the passing of Theodore Van Kirk today.
I cannot be certain that the names or even the events he and his crew members were involved in will be remembered in 50 years or 100 years. I want to ensure though that we remember today that the world is the way it is because men and women all took action. They saw something they believe needed to be put right and they found a way to right it.
As the crew of the Enola Gay retire to the history books, we remember that it took real people who lived real lives, had families and friends, hobbies, dreams and aspirations. It took real people courage and determination to build the bombs and to drop the bombs and we remember that, in an instant, 140,000 real lives were snuffed out. Real people, just like us, trying to live normal lives who got caught in the crossfire of war. People whose actions and whose deaths have shaped the world as it is today.
I cannot promise that we will never forget, but, for today at least, we remember.