In the end, President Harry “the buck stops here” Truman gave the go-ahead to drop the bombs, accepting responsibility for the consequences. Theodore “Dutch” Van Kirk, the navigator of the Enola Gay (the B-29 Superfortress that carried the nuclear bomb “Little Boy,”) told me personally that he had no qualms whatsoever, then or now, dropping the weapon on Hiroshima on that fatal day, which killed immediately upwards of 66,000 Japanese, mostly civilians, mostly women and children. Probably more than 20,000 more died lingering deaths from the nuclear fallout. His rationale was that it saved many more American lives by preventing the necessity of invading mainland Japan, a sentiment shared by every World War II veteran I have ever met. Nonetheless, the “pragmatic” decision has become, over the years, one of the most controversial in all military history.
The Enola Gay and some of her crew—Theodore “Dutch” Van Kirk is third from left
After the second bomb was delivered on Nagasaki, Japan agreed to the American terms of surrender. The President, a Missouri native, chose the USS Missouri, one of the newest American battleships, as the site for the formal signing of the surrender documents. Lieutenant Commander James Starnes—at age 24, the youngest navigator of a capitol ship in the U.S. Navy—through a series of providential circumstances held that position when the Missouri entered Tokyo Bay. He discovered that among his duties was Officer of the Deck, responsible for ceremonial occasions from 8:00 to 12:00 Noon! He told me in an interview in 2007 that he searched out the tallest and biggest men in the Missouri crew to form an honorary guard gauntlet for the Japanese dignitaries (typically slight in stature), generals and diplomats, to walk between as they were piped on deck; a not-so-subtle message for the former enemies to witness. A flyover by hundreds of bombers and fighter planes “that darkened the sky at three hundred feet,” reinforced the impression of American military might.
A Japanese delegation arrives aboard the USS Missouri as her crew looks on.