Kenneth L. Reusser

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Kenneth L. Reusser
Born (1920-01-27)January 27, 1920
Cloverdale, Oregon, USA
Died June 20, 2009(2009-06-20) (aged 89)
Clackamas, Oregon, USA
Buried at

Willamette National Cemetery

Happy Valley, Oregon, USA
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Marine Corps
Years of service 1941-1968
Rank Colonel
Unit VMA 214
"Black Sheep" Squadron
Commands held Marine Aircraft Group 16
Battles/wars World War II, Korean War, Vietnam
Awards Navy Cross (2)
Legion of Merit (2)
Distinguished Flying Cross (2)
Bronze Star (V Device)
Purple Heart (5)
Air Medal (18)
Other work Lockheed Aircraft
Piasecki Helicopter Corp

Kenneth L. Reusser ((1920-01-27)January 27, 1920 – June 20, 2009(2009-06-20) (aged 89)) was a United States Marine Corps aviator who was considered the most decorated Marine Aviator, having flown 253 combat missions, earning 59 medals, including two Navy Crosses while flying in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. He is the only aviator to survive being shot down in all three wars.

Early years[edit]

Reusser was born in 1920, the son of a minister. He enjoyed racing motorcycles, the winnings from which helped him to pay for college and eventually earn a pilot's license just prior to World War II.

World War II[edit]

Reusser first saw combat as part of VMF-122, assigned to Guadalcanal flying the F4F Wildcat. While assigned to the squadron, he was forced to ditch his aircraft in the Pacific after an encounter with the enemy. Injured severely, he was rescued by local islanders who nursed him until word could be passed and a recovery made.

Reusser served as a Captain in Marine Fighting Squadron 312 (VMF-312), and earned his first Navy Cross in combat off Okinawa. While there, on May 10, 1945, he and a squadronmate, Robert R. Klingman, flew F4U Corsair fighters to intercept a Japanese observation plane at a much higher altitude than usual. When his guns seized up, he and Klingman flew their airplanes into the Japanese plane, destroying its tail with their planes' propeller.

Korean War[edit]

On August 5, 1950, Major Kenneth L. Reusser became the first Marine aviator, and for that matter the first Marine, to be decorated for gallantry during the Korean War.

Flying from the aircraft carrier USS Sicily (CVE-118), Maj Reusser led a four-plane flight of Vought F4U Corsairs from Marine Fighter Squadron (VMF) 214, the "Black Sheep," in a low-level attack. They attacked a North Korean truck park and tank repair facility in the occupied port city of Inchon.

With his aircraft heavily damaged by ground fire, he returned to the USS Sicily for repairs and rearmament, then made his way back to Inchon. In the face of fierce ground fire, he destroyed an oil storage facility. With his bombs and rockets expended, Maj Reusser next attacked a camouflaged oil tanker at anchor in the harbor, raking it with 20 mm gunfire until the ship exploded, almost blowing him out of the air. For his actions Reusser was awarded for the second time in his career the naval service's second highest award for gallantry, the Navy Cross.


During the war Reusser served as commanding officer of Marine Aircraft Group 16. While leading a rescue mission, his Huey was shot down. He needed skin grafts over 35 percent of his body.


After retiring as a Colonel from the Marine Corps, Reusser resided in Milwaukie, Oregon. He worked for Lockheed Aircraft and the Piasecki Helicopter Corp. and was active in veterans' groups. Reusser died on June 20, 2009. He is survived by his wife, Trudy; and sons, Richard C. and Kenneth L. Jr.

Military decorations and awards[edit]

Reusser received the Navy Cross, the Navy and Marine Corps second highest military award, Twice.

He also received five purple hearts, having been shot down at least once in each of the three wars he flew combat missions in

Naval Aviator Badge.jpg
Gold star
Gold star
Gold star
Gold star
Gold star
Gold star
Gold star
Silver star
Silver star
Silver star
Gold star
Gold star
Gold star
Bronze star
Naval Aviator Badge
1st row Navy Cross w/ one gold 5/16 inch star Legion of Merit w/ Combat "V" and one gold 5/16 inch star Distinguished Flying Cross and one gold 5/16 inch star
2nd row Bronze Star Medal w/ Combat "V" Purple Heart Medal w/ 4 gold 5/16 inch stars Air Medal w/ 3 silver 5/16 inch stars and two gold 5/16 inch stars Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal w/ one gold 5/16 inch stars
3rd row Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal American Defense Service Medal American Campaign Medal Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal
4th row World War II Victory Medal Navy Occupation Service Medal National Defense Service Medal w/ one bronze service star Korean Service Medal
5th row Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal Vietnam Service Medal United Nations Korea Medal Vietnam Campaign Medal