Theodore "Dutch" Van Kirk died Tuesday at 93.
The northeastern Pennsylvania man was like many of the Greatest Generation, called to duty in service to his country during World War II.
But Van Kirk's assignment stood out.
He trained as a navigator for the U.S. Army Air Forces and was tapped to be part of the flight team of the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, killing upward of 166,000 citizens and devastating the city.
He was the last surviving crew member of that mission.
The young man from Northumberland was only 24 when he took part in the world-changing event on Aug. 6, 1945. But he understood the importance.
After the war, Van Kirk became a celebrity of sorts.
He wrote books about his experience and was asked to make appearances, give talks and sign autographs.
In October 2007, he auctioned off his flight log, the one he kept on board the Enola Gay during the historic flight.
It sold to a private collector for $358,500.
When all is said and done, the use of the atomic bomb continues to be a source of controversy.
Some say it was immoral and unjust due to the enormity of civilian deaths both in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Others claim it was no different from the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Empire of Japan and actually helped to save lives because it hastened the war's end.
When asked if he would do it again, Van Kirk said this:
"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 ... 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."
The passing of Van Kirk, the final crew member of the famous Enola Gay, should give us pause.
We should take time to reflect on the horrors of war, its hard-fought gains, and the shocking carnage and death toll of atomic warfare.
Van Kirk was a small-town boy tapped to do a big-time task, one that history will forever debate and never forget.
By DONALD R. SERFASS