Under the same circumstances — and the key words are ‘the same circumstances’ — yes, I would do it again. We were in a war for five years. We were fighting an enemy that had a reputation for never surrendering, never accepting defeat. It’s really hard to talk about morality and war in the same sentence. In a war, there are so many questionable things done. Where was the morality in the bombing of Coventry, or the bombing of Dresden, or the Bataan death march, or the Rape of Nanking, or the bombing of Pearl Harbor? I believe that when you’re in a war, a nation must have the courage to do what it must to win the war with a minimum loss of lives.
Theodore Van Kirk, 1995 interview
Well, the last surviving member of the Enola Gay, the bomber that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima 69 years ago, has died at 93. Theodore Van Kirk was 24 when he served as navigator on that mission, and already a seasoned combat veteran, having flown 58 bombing missions in Europe. He attained the rank of major in the Army Air Corps and was decorated for valor with the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross and 15 Air Medals.
After the war he led a happy life with his wife and kids and earned a BS and an MS in Chemical Engineering, working for many years at DuPont.
He never had any doubts about the mission he flew:
Whether the United States should have used the atomic bomb has been debated endlessly. VanKirk told the AP he thought it was necessary because it shortened the war and eliminated the need for an Allied land invasion that could have cost more lives on both sides.
“The whole World War II experience shows that wars don’t settle anything. And atomic weapons don’t settle anything,” he said. “I personally think there shouldn’t be any atomic bombs in the world — I’d like to see them all abolished.