Kenneth L. Reusser

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

Willamette National Cemetery

Happy Valley, Oregon, USA
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch  United States Marine Corps
Years of service 1941-1968
Rank US-O6 insignia.svg Colonel
Unit VMA 214 "Black Sheep" Squadron
VMFA 312 "Checkerboards" Squadron
Commands held Marine Aircraft Group 16
Battles/wars World War II
Korean War
Vietnam War
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) where he earned his first Navy Cross:

  • The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Captain Kenneth L. Reusser (MCSN: 0-11066), United States Marine Corps Reserve, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession as Division Leader and Pilot of a Fighter Plane in Marine Fighting Squadron THREE HUNDRED TWELVE (VMF-312), Marine Air Group THIRTY-THREE (MAG-33), FOURTH Marine Aircraft Wing, in aerial combat against enemy Japanese forces on Okinawa, Ryukyu Islands, on 10 May 1945. After expending his ammunition on an enemy reconnaissance plane while flying on combat air patrol, Captain Reusser skillfully maneuvered his plane to enable a friendly aircraft to make a close-range attack. When the guns of his wingman failed, he flew with his wingtip obstructing the Japanese pilot's evasionary tactics and, by allowing the wingman the opportunity of running his propeller over the tail surface of the hostile ship, contributed in large measure to the eventual crash of the enemy craft. His superb airmanship, perseverance and courageous devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.[1]

His wingman was Robert R. Klingman "Story of Bob; drummer, pilot, legend" Defense Media Activity

Korean War[edit]

On August 5, 1950, Major Kenneth L. Reusser became the first Marine to be decorated for gallantry during the Korean War when he was awarded a Gold Star in lieu of a second award of the Navy Cross for while serving serving as Pilot of a Fighter Plane in Marine Fighter Squadron TWO HUNDRED FOURTEEN (VMF-214), attached to the U.S.S. SICILY (CVE-118), during an aerial attack on enemy targets in the Inch'on:

  • As Flight Leader of a Combat Air Patrol assigned the mission of seeking targets of opportunity, Major Reusser led his flight in a strafing attack against a hostile factory, destroying several vehicles and 30 of the enemy in a truck despite intense and accurate hostile anti-aircraft fire. Suspecting that the strong defenses protected vehicles of war, he ordered his flight to orbit the target at 3000 feet while he investigated the factory at window-level and, on his second pass made in the face of automatic fire coming from the windows, discovered that the factory was a vehicle and tank assembly plant. With both wings of his plane damaged by anti-aircraft fire, he flew back to the U.S.S. SICILY and returned to the target with napalm and rockets, destroying the plant with napalm and blasting six completed enemy tanks and four trucks in the factory courtyard in spite of accurate anti-aircraft fire. This mission completed, he led his flight into the heavily fortified Inch'on Harbor and destroyed a large oil storage tank. Determined to inflict the greatest possible damage on the enemy even though his heavy ordinance was expended, he dived to within ten feet of a camouflaged oil tanker and raked the hull with his 20-mm guns, causing an explosion which not only destroyed the enemy ship, but also damaged his own craft and blew it out of control. Successful in returning his crippled plane to carrier base, Major Reusser, by his gallant fighting spirit, courage and devotion to duty, upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.[2]


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 first wife, Patricia, and his second wife, Gertrude; and sons, Richard C. and Kenneth L. Jr., and was preceded in death by his daughter Patty Jo.

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 insignia
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


  1. ^ Military Times Valor Awards. Military Times Retrieved 26 October 2015.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  2. ^ Military Times Valor Awards. Military Times Retrieved 26 October 2015.  Missing or empty |title= (help)