Lt. Colonel Charles “Charlie” Norman Kirk, age 88, of Oak Ridge, passed away July 19, 2021, at Methodist Medical Center after a brief illness. Charlie was a long-time resident of Oak Ridge and worked at the K-25 Gaseous Diffusion Plant for 20 years as an operations manager and engineer. Charlie had lived in Oak Ridge since 1975 and was a member of Saint Stephens Episcopal Church. He is the son of the late Clyde Norman & Anna Mae Taylor Kirk, of East Bend, NC. Charlie knew from the time he was five years old that he wanted to be a pilot. He grew up in the community of East Bend, North Carolina, “A Community of Friends”, among a good family of educators, master builders, engineers, and farmers, and had a large extended family. Charlie attended college at North Carolina State University and participated in the Reserved Officers Training Corp (ROTC) while working on and obtaining a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering in 1954. During his years at NC State, he was an active member of the Baptist Student Union.
He joined the US Air Force as a Commissioned Officer upon completion of his degree. While on assignment at Fort Campbell, Charles met Betty Ann Cravens of Hopkinsville, KY, and they married the following year. Charlie flew the world for over 20 years in the B-47E Stratojet and the C-141 Starlifter. One of his first assignments was to bring the newly formed Pease Air Force Base into combat readiness with a group of other young officers. Next, he was assigned at Fort Campbell as an officer. After receiving his flying commission, he flew the B-47 Stratojet 1958-1964 as an Air Craft Commander with the 380th Bomber Squadron of the 310th Bomb Wing at Schilling Air Force Base, KS. Charlie attended the Air Force Institute of Technology 1964-1966 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base receiving a Masters Degree in Aerospace-Mechanical Engineering.
Upon completion of his Masters Degree, Charles became an Aircraft Commander for the Military Airlift Command 60th Military Airlift Wing at Travis Air Force Base, CA in 1966, flying worldwide but with a focus on South East Asia. During this time period, Charlie liked to tell the story of having four consecutive Sunday night dinners on Wake Island in the South Pacific while he was making multiple trips around the world. In 1972, Charlie took a one-year tour of duty as the Base Commander of Operations in Saigon, Vietnam, where he also flew the C-47 SkyTrain. In 1973, he was part of the 436th Military Airlift Wing for the C-141 Starlifter in Dover AFB. From 1974 to 1975 he was a pilot and a flight examiner for the 437th Military Airlift Wing for C-141s at Charleston AFB. Charlie flew the world with living situations spent in Mendenhall, Maron, Nouasseur, and Saigon AFB. Charlie loved flying and identified first as part of the fraternity of pilots. His name has now been added to the Smithsonian Museum Wall of Honor for Pilots and Flight. Charlie was a leader and until the very end of his life read books on leadership and history. When asked once why he survived when so many he was surrounded by in the military did not, he responded that he was thoroughly prepared for each and every mission, as well as every contingency in the mission.
One of his favorite stories includes that as a young captain he went to two weeks of survival school training in the snows of Nevada and then he had to share a desk with the then Colonel Chuck Yeager while in class the following week. After retiring from the Air Force in 1975 with 20 years of service, Charlie moved with his family to Oak Ridge where he started his second career as an engineer for the K-25 Gaseous Diffusion Plant as part of the Union Carbide, then Martin-Marietta, a contract where he went on to become a mid-level manager. One of his favorite projects, which he could talk about, was working on the Navy’s scale model of the “Sea Wolf” and being part of the trials in a deep lake in Idaho. A favorite story while working at K-25 was people mailing him his lost corn cob pipes in internal mail. He took a lot of pride in his work at K-25 and established long-term friendships there. Charlie made multiple trips to Middlesboro, KY with a group from Oak Ridge that took an interest in a restoration project for a WWII P-38 that had been relocated from its crash site in the Arctic. He enjoyed attending Air Shows as well as trying to teach his children and grandchildren about flight, science, and engineering. After retiring from Martin-Marietta, with a group of other retirees, he participated for over 12 years in an active branch of Habitat for Humanity for the East Tennessee Area. Charles Kirk also helped his wife, Betty, during election season with her activities in Anderson County. The friendships Charlie made while working and as a retiree meant a lot to him. He enjoyed being a part of Oak Ridge life and had many friends in town. Only in the last year did he unwillingly slow down. His children, his family, and his friends will miss him. He was a good father and member of the community.
Charles was preceded in death by parents, his spouse and traveling companion of 56 years, Betty Ann Cravens Kirk, and his cousin, Martha Jane Matthews.
Survivors include children and spouses, Kathryn Elizabeth Kirk, Charles Norman Kirk, Jr. and wife, Rachel, Christopher Bingham Kirk and partner, Frankie McGinnis, and Suzannah Lacy Kirk Hacker and husband Charles Joseph; grandchildren, Chloe Rose Kirk, Chi Nicholas Kirk, Jonathan Taylor Hacker, and Charles Robert Hacker; brother, William Franklin Kirk, and wife, Jean Kirk of Winston Salem, NC; brother-in-law, Alfred Bingham Cravens of Hopkinsville, Kentucky; and many nieces, nephews, friends, and cousins, including Edward John Steed and Teresa Ann Lanham, and his beloved friends and neighbors on the Circle. In lieu of flowers, donations to the Anderson County Habitat for Humanity would be appreciated by his family.
The family will hold a memorial service at 11 am, August 13, 2021, at St. Stephens Episcopal Church. Weatherford Mortuary is in charge of arrangements. An online guestbook is available at weatherfordmortuary.com.
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