James H. Kasler
|James Helms Kasler|
May 2, 1926|
South Bend, Indiana
|Died||April 24, 2014
West Palm Beach, Florida
|Buried at||Crown Hill Cemetery|
|Service/branch||United States Air Force|
|Years of service||1944–1975|
|Unit||4th Fighter Interceptor Wing
355th Tactical Fighter Wing
|Commands held||366th Tactical Fighter Wing|
|Battles/wars||World War II
|Awards||Air Force Cross (3)
Silver Star (2)
Legion of Merit
Colonel James Helms Kasler (May 2, 1926 – April 24, 2014) was a senior officer in the United States Air Force and the only person to be awarded the Air Force Cross three times. The Air Force Cross ranks just below the Medal of Honor as an award for extraordinary heroism in combat.
Kasler was a combat veteran of World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. In Korea, as an F-86 Sabre pilot with the 4th Fighter-Interceptor Wing, he was recognized as an ace, credited with shooting down 6 MiG-15s. Kasler flew a combined 198 combat missions and was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam from August 1966 until March 1973.
- 1 Early Life
- 2 Military Career
- 3 Later Life
- 4 Awards and decorations
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
World War II
With the end of World War II nearing, Kasler flew seven missions as a B-29 Superfortress tail gunner With the 5th Bomb Squadron of the 9th Bomb Group on Tinian from June 1945 to May 1946, during which time he flew 6 combat missions during the closing months of World War II. He returned to the U.S. in early May 1946, and left active duty and joined the Air Force Reserve on May 21, 1946.
Following the war, Kasler attended Butler University in Indianapolis for three years. He entered the U.S. Air Force pilot training program in January 1950 and was commissioned a 2d Lt and awarded his pilot wings on 24 March 1951. Kasler next completed F-84 Thunderjet Combat Crew Training before serving as an F-86 Sabre pilot with the 74th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron at Presque Isle Air Force Base from July to November 1951.
Kasler was then deployed to Korea where he served as an F-86 pilot with the 335th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron of 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing from November 1951 to June 1952. South Korea, from November 1951 to June 1952. Kasler was credited with his first aerial victory on 1 April 1952, downing one MiG-15 near Wongsong-dong and damaging a second east of Sinuiju. He shot down another MiG near Okkang-dong on 21 April. Action picked up in May, and he was credited with four more MiG-15s - one on the 4th, two on the 15th and the fourth on the 25th. 
Service after Korean War
His next assignment was as a fighter gunnery instructor with the 3594th Fighter Training Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base from August 1952 to July 1954, followed by service as a Research and Development pilot with the 3525th Aircraft Gunnery Squadron at Nellis from July 1954 to July 1955.
Kasler served as an instructor pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force on the Central Coordinating Staff in Ottawa, Canada, from July 1955 to July 1957, and then as an F-100 Super Sabre pilot with the 308th Fighter Bomber Squadron at Turner Air Force Base from September 1957 to February 1959. His next assignment was as an F-105 Thunderchief pilot with the 334th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base from February 1959 to November 1962, when he received an assignment to the University of Omaha, where he earned his bachelor's degree in June 1963.
Kasler was deployed directly to Southeast Asia. Maj Kasler served as an F-105 pilot with the 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron of 335th Tactical Fighter Wing at Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base at Thailand, on February 1966.
On June 21, Kasler was invited to lead the mission against the POL storage facilities at Hanoi, much to his surprise, and to the discomfort of Colonel William H. Holt, the commander of 335th Tactical Fighter Wing, who otherwise would have led the large raid. The briefing focused on weather to be clear and winds to be light and variable, which are both perfect for fighter operations. Both wings, the 355th and the 338th Tactical Fighter Wing, would would approach the target from the south, to minimize the chances of a bomb ending up in the city of Hanoi. Each plane carried eight 750-pound bombs.
Take-off weight 51,000 pounds, near maximum for the F-105. Kasler rolled down the runway and lifted off at 235 knots. Airborne, he headed north for the rendezvous with the aerial tankers. They refueled uneventfully and were three minutes ahead of schedule. Kasler led the Thuds in a circle to kill the 180 seconds. Twenty minutes later, they were over the Red River and Kasler began to lose altitude, until they were 300 feet off the ground, at the base of "Thud Ridge," the landmark mountain range that ran east-west across North Vietnam's mid-section.
As they dropped tanks, they could see smoke rising up from the POL tanks, already hit by U.S Navy jets. Flak blossomed all around them, even at 300 feet. The NVA gunners had their 85mm and 100mm pieces at zero elevation. Amidst the smoke from the target and puffs of anti-aircraft fire, Kasler called for afterburners and went into his bomb run. Big fat oil tanks filled he dropped his bombs and rolled away to the right. Turning back, he saw the fuel tanks erupting into huge billowing fireballs, thousands of feet high.
His flight crossed the Red River and the flak gunners switched to fighter-bombers behind him. Flying west, looking for targets of opportunity, he found a convoy of twenty-five trucks. The Thunderchiefs shot at them with 20mm cannon fire, destroying at least half of them. He glanced back at Hanoi, now 35 miles behind. A pillar of black smoke towered up, over six miles high.
The Hanoi POL strike was very successful. Over 90 percent of the facility was destroyed and the Vietnamese abandoned it altogether. For leading this mission Kasler earned his first Air Force Cross.By August 1966, an article in Time Magazine labeled him "the hottest pilot" in Vietnam and his wingmates called him "a one-man Air Force".
Prisoner of War
While flying F-105D-31-RE Thunderchief 62-4343 on his 91st combat mission, Kasler was awarded a second Air Force Cross as leader of a formation that was evaluating low-level delivery against a priority target. When his wingman was hit and ejected, Major Kasler located the downed pilot, flew cover at low altitude until his fuel was almost gone, rendezvous with a tanker, and returned to direct rescue operations. Flying at treetop level in an attempt to relocate his wingman, Kasler's F-105 was disabled by ground fire. He ejected, was captured and singled out for special attention by his captors and tortured repeatedly to get him to cooperate with their propaganda efforts.
He was captured and held as a prisoner of war. For more than a month in 1967 Kasler was the target of nearly continuous daily torture. He received his third award of the Air Force Cross for resisting torture inflicted on him over a two-month period during the summer of 1968 in an attempt to coerce his cooperation with visiting anti-war delegations and propaganda film makers.
Kasler described his worst treatment:
My worst session of torture began in late June 1968. The Vietnamese were attempting to force me to meet a delegation and appear before TV cameras on the occasion of the supposed 3,000th American airplane shot down over North Vietnam. I couldn't say the things they were trying to force me to say. I was tortured for six weeks. I went through the ropes and irons ten times. I was denied sleep for five days and during three of these was beaten every hour on the hour with a fan belt. During the entire period I was on a starvation diet. I was very sick during this period. I had contracted osteomyelitis in early 1967 and had a massive bone infection in my right leg. They would wrap my leg before each torture session so I wouldn't get pus or blood all over the floor of the interrogation room. During this time they beat my face to a pulp. I couldn't get my teeth apart for five days. My ear drum was ruptured, one of my ribs broken and the pin in my right leg was broken loose and driven up into my hip.
At one point, during the fall of 1967, Kasler's captors took his clothes and his mosquito net. For three days, they denied him food and water and they beat his back and buttocks with a truck fan belt, every hour on the hour, 6 a.m. until 10 or 11 p.m. His torturer asked if he surrendered. Kasler finally gasped yes.
The guard nicknamed "Fidel" by the POWs returned to Kasler's cell the next day and demanded that he surrender. Kasler refused and the beatings resumed and continued for another two days. Kasler suffered a fractured rib, a ruptured eardrum and broken teeth. He was left with the skin hanging off his rear end down to the floor. His face was so swollen, it hung like a bag, his eyes almost shut. Kasler's mangled and infected leg, which tormented him throughout his captivity and for years afterward, swelled to the point he feared it would explode.
Kasler shared the infamous Room 7 of the "Hanoi Hilton" with other POW's like Robinson Risner, James Stockdale, Bud Day, John McCain, Lawrence Guarino, and Jeremiah Denton. Like his fellow prisoners, he never cooperated with the North Vietnamese.
He was finally released on March 4, 1973, during Operation Homecoming, after spending 2,401 days in captivity.
Following his return to United States, He was briefly hospitalized to recover from his injuries at Wright Patterson Air Force Base and then attended Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base from August 1973 to July 1974. Kasler's final assignment was as an F-111 Aardvark pilot and Vice Commander of the 366th Tactical Fighter Wing at Mountain Home Air Force Base from August 1974 until his retirement from the Air Force on May 1, 1975, at the rank of Colonel.
Kasler was married to his wife, Martha (Rankin), for 65 years. She had moved to Indianapolis from Macomb, Illinois, as an eighth-grader. They had a daughter Suzanne and twins James and Nanette. Suzanne operates a nationally known interior design firm in Atlanta and Nanette is the owner of NKL Designs.
He spent the last 39 years of his life as a resident of Momence, Illinois, where he owned and developed South Shore Golf Course in Momence and had interests in banking and real estate, served on a number of boards and received a variety of civic and service awards.
In 2007, Kasler appeared on an episode of the The History Channel series Dogfights. In the episode, titled 'No Room for Error', Kasler's "May 15, 1952 mission", where he shot down two MiG-15s, action is depicted. The episode was the eighth episode of the second season of the series, which recreated historical air combat campaigns using modern computer graphics.
On 15 September 2007 the United States Air Force dedicated a monument to him. He and his wife Martha resided in Illinois. Kasler died April 24, 2014 in West Palm Beach, Florida and is buried with full military honors at Crown Hill Cemetery.
Awards and decorations
Included among his 76 awards for valor and service, in addition to receiving three awards of the Air Force Cross, Kasler was decorated twice with the Silver Star and awarded a Legion of Merit, nine Distinguished Flying Crosses, two Bronze Star Medals, two Purple Hearts, and eleven Air Medals.
|US Air Force Command Pilot Badge|
Air Force Cross citation (1st Award)
- Kasler, James Helms
- Major, U.S Air Force
- 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, Tuy Hoa Air Base
- Date of Action: June 29, 1966
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, takes pleasure in presenting the Air Force Cross to Major James Helms Kasler, United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force as Pilot of an F-105 Thunderchief with the 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, Tuy Hoa Air Base, Vietnam, in action over Hanoi, North Vietnam, on 29 June 1966. On that date, Major Kasler was Mission Commander of the second and largest wave of fighter-bombers to strike the heavily defended Hanoi petroleum products storage complex. Despite a seemingly impenetrable canopy of bursting projectiles thrown up by hostile defenses of this key facility, Major Kasler determinedly and precisely led his striking force to the exact release point where he and his followers placed their ordnance directly on target, causing it to erupt in a huge fireball of burning petroleum. Performing armed reconnaissance during his withdrawal, Major Kasler, with total disregard for his personal safety, personally destroyed five trucks before low fuel reserves forced him to terminate his attack. Through his extraordinary heroism superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of hostile forces, Major Kasler reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.
Air Force Cross citation (2nd Award)
- Kasler, James Helms
- Major, U.S Air Force
- 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, Tuy Hoa Air Base
- Date of Action: August 6, 1966
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, takes pleasure in presenting a Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster in lieu of a Second Award of the Air Force Cross to Major James Helms Kasler, United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force as an F-105 Thunderchief pilot with the 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, Tuy Hoa Air Base, Vietnam, in action near Yen Bay, North Vietnam, on 6 August 1966. On that date, Major Kasler led a flight of fighter-bombers against a heavily defended target in evaluating a low level ordnance delivery tactic. While carrying out this hazardous mission, a wingman was forced to eject over unfriendly territory. Major Kasler located the downed airman and flew cover until perilously low fuel compelled him to leave. Refueling aerially, Major Kasler returned to relocate the downed pilot so he could direct rescue operations. At great risk to his own life, he explored the gun infested countryside at tree-top level, valiantly searching, but was unable to locate his fellow American. Major Kasler's Thunderchief was hit by destructive ground fire during his valorous search, and he too ejected into unfriendly hands. Through his extraordinary heroism superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of hostile forces, Major Kasler reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.
Air Force Cross citation (3rd Award)
- Kasler, James Helms
- Lieutenant Colonel, U.S Air Force
- Prisoner of War, North Vietnam
- Date of Action: June 1968 to July 1968
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, takes pleasure in presenting a Second Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster in lieu of a Third Award of the Air Force Cross to Lieutenant Colonel James Helms Kasler, United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force while a Prisoner of War in North Vietnam from June 1968 through July 1968. During this period, Colonel Kasler accomplished an amazing feat of resistance against the North Vietnamese when they attempted to force him to meet a visiting delegation and appear before television and news cameras. Through personal fortitude and absolute heroism, he completely withstood the most brutal of Vietnamese tortures and caused his captors extreme embarrassment in their failure to gain useful propaganda statements. Through extraordinary heroism, staunch display of courage, and willpower in the face of the enemy, Colonel Kasler reflected the highest credit on himself and the United States Air Force.
- Names and Citations of Recipients of the Air Force Cross
- Frisbee, John L.(1986). AIR FORCE Magazine, November 1986, Vol. 69, "Valor: Valor In Three Wars"
- Perry D. Luckett, Charles L. Byler (2005). 'Tempered Steel: The Three Wars of Triple Air Force Cross Winner Jim Kasler'
- POW network Biography, Kasler, James H
- POW Bio Page Of Scope Systems
- As recounted in his 2005 book, "Tempered Steel: The Three Wars of Triple Air Force Cross Winner Jim Kasler.
- The Daily Journal, http://www.daily-journal.com/news/local/decorated-pow-pilot-james-h-kasler-dies-at/article_66e6d821-262c-58ad-8fc9-3878fb98b02f.html