Monday, November 14, 2016

The USAF had some BadA$$es back in the day (and still does)

Every once in a while, when doing some research (which is blog speak for "searching madly for something, anything, to write about") I come upon something interesting.  Which is unusual, as most of the time it's just something to get Capt Bligh Sarge off my back.  Rides me like Secretariat, that man does!  (Yes, writing like Yoda speaks is also required.)

So....where was I?  Oh yeah, interesting content.

So....There I was* At the top of a loop, hanging by my prop, Huns below, Fockers above (the Fockers were in Messerschmits).   No, No, No.  There I was, Googling a classmate of Mrs. Juvat from her Army Command and Staff class who'd received the Silver Star in Desert Storm for a Close Air Support mission he'd flown.  (No, he wasn't in an A-10, he was in an F-16 which, apparently, was good enough.)

In ANY case, I stumbled upon this site, and by stumbled upon, I mean I spent a couple of hours on the site, clicking around.

Turns out, there wasn't anything about the F-16 pilot there, but there was a plethora of information about recipients of each military branch's top 3 awards for Valor.  Those three awards are the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross (Army), the Navy Cross (Navy and Marines) and the Air Force Cross (Air Force) and finally the Silver Star.

The list of Air Force Recipients of the Medal of Honor is correct with 18 names, instead of the 60 I've been writing about.  The Air Force has only been the Air Force since 1947 and so far the Air Force Medal of Honor has only been awarded in Korea and Vietnam (more to follow below).  However, the site is more correct than the National Museum of the United States Air Force's exhibit on the Medal.  CMSGT Etchberger is included in the site's list.

Part of the stumbling around was cycling through the lists to find people I actually knew.  Unfortunately, the Silver Star list only has names from 9/11 and later, so most of the people I knew were not listed.  The list of Air Force Cross recipients starts with Vietnam.

Apparently, even though the Air Force was a separate service during the Korean War, Air Force members received the Army's Distinguished Service Cross instead during that war. The Air Force Cross was not authorized until 1960.

However, while reading through that list, I recognized several names.  A couple in particular jumped out.  Olds, Ritchie, DeBellevue, Feinstein and others received it under auspicious circumstances. Others, such as  Lt Col Atterbury, Capt Dramesi, Col Cherry and others were awarded the medal, some posthumous, for  actions taken while a POW.

While I was transitioning to the F-4, my IPs and IWSOs were all Vietnam Vets.  I remember being on a Tanker ride with an IWSO in my pit. (Tanker rides tended to have LONG boring periods with about 5-10 minutes of knuckle whitening tension followed by long periods of boredom. Followed by the mission.) He asked me if I was going to be at the O'Club that evening.  I was a bachelor, wannabe fighter pilot, there were girls and other fighter pilots there, where else was I gonna be?  I said sure! Why?
USAF Photo

He told me there was going to be somebody famous in the fighter pilot world there that evening, a holder of the Air Force Cross.  At the time, I wasn't sure what the Air Force Cross was awarded for.  So, I asked.

The IWSO was somewhat Salty and his response to my lack of knowledge was interesting, lengthy and full of curse words I'd never heard before.  The only thing I remember about it was his belief that the only difference between an Air Force Cross and the Medal of Honor was the Air Force Cross was awarded if the guy writing the citation wasn't as talented a writer as he could have been.

As I've gotten older, I realize there's some truth in that statement, although politics plays a role also.

In any case, I went to the bar, and there's a guy in a flight suit with Thud Pilot patches on.  He's shooting his watch and hooting and hollering.  I get introduced to him and start listening to his stories.

Very entertaining stories they were.

So, as I said, I'm looking through the Air Force Cross list and come across his name.  Yep, I know him!

I look down to the next name,  must be a typo as it's the same name.  But, it's worth looking into.

So, I google "James H. Kasler".
Larger than life people deserve large photos!
Source


There is a typo, just not the one I thought.  Turns out, Major Kasler should have been on the list three times.

He received the first award for action on June 29th 1966 where he leads a strike against a petroleum facility near Hanoi and then on egress, leads his flight in low altitude armed recce.  During the egress, he strafes and destroys 5 trucks before having to climb to altitude due to low fuel.
More ordnance shown than could be carried by a B-17
Source

His second award is for actions on August 6th 1966, his 91st mission.  During the mission, his wingman ejects.  Major Kasler flies cover for him while a rescue attempt is organized.  Running low on fuel, he hits the tanker then returns to again fly cover for his wingman.  During this period, he is hit by ground fire and forced to eject.

His third award is for actions taken as a POW, specifically June-July of 1968.  During this time, the North Vietnamese were attempting to get POWs to appear on camera and say that the war was wrong etc.  Major Kasler refused and spent the entire time "in Irons".  Basically, his ankles where manacled to a wooden board, his arms manacled behind him and then raised until he was bent in half.  Then left there.  The only time he was allowed out of this position was to be taken to interrogation torture.  For 60 days.  Have I mentioned, Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden will forever be on my S4!7 list?

If what my IWSO said about the quality of writing being the determinant, I'd have fired the writer.

I discovered some other interesting information about Col Kasler (He retired as an O-6).  Vietnam was his third war.  He'd been a tailgunner in B-29s in WWII.  He'd also been an F-86 pilot in Korea.

As such, he'd shot down 6 Mig-15s making him an ace.  Numbers 4, 5 and 6 occurred under some interesting circumstances.  Over China and at such low altitude that when he returned to base after #6, there was mud on the bottom of the plane thrown up by his target's impact with the ground.

Here's the History Channel's Dogfight's version of it.  Col Kasler's segment starts at 18:37.  The other ones are worth watching also.


Over his career, Col Kasler flew 198 combat missions in three wars, was awarded 76 medals for Valor and service.  In additon to the three Air Force Crosses, he received 2 Silver Stars, 9 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 2 Purple Hearts, 2 Bronze Stars, and 11 Air Medals.

Col Kasler retired from the Air Force in 1975 and passed away in 2014.

Rest in Peace, Warrior!

Air Force Cross Citations:


KASLER, JAMES HELMS (POW) (First Award) Major, U.S. Air Force 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, Tuy Hoa Air Base, Vietnam, 7th Air Force Date of Action: June 29, 1966 Citation: The Air Force Cross is presented to James Helms Kasler, Major, U.S. Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force as Pilot of an F-105 Thunderchief at 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. 


KASLER, JAMES HELMS (POW) (Second Award) Major, U.S. Air Force 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, Tuy Hoa Air Base, Vietnam, 7th Air Force Date of Action: August 6, 1966 Citation: The Air Force Cross is presented to James Helms Kasler, Major, U.S. Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force as an F-105 Thunderchief pilot 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. 


KASLER, JAMES HELMS (POW) (Third Award) Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Air Force 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, Tuy Hoa Air Base, Vietnam, 7th Air Force Date of Action: June – July, 1968 Citation: The Air Force Cross is presented to James Helms Kasler, Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. 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. 

Speaking of Badasses!. Another interesting article I found while "researching" talks about some USAF Members with Air Force Crosses who may become the first USAF Medal of Honor recipients since Vietnam.

*SJC

14 comments:

  1. Another excellent post Juvat, chock full of "I had no ideer" information. That site you reference, I can see myself spending a lot of time over there.

    Colonel Kasler was something else. B-29 gunner, F-86 ace, Thud driver, tormentor of North Vietnamese prison guards, that's a warrior.

    Now back on your head...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks,
      Mud splattered airplane, brought back a memory or two.
      Coffee break over, aye!

      Delete
  2. Good to see he kept himself occupied. That's a full bowl of fruit salad!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah it is.
      OT, but I asked a question over at PA's site about your comment about Popular Vote. Not a challenge, just something to have when asked "Sez who?"

      Delete
  3. Thanks, another outlovingstanding post.

    Paul L. Quandt

    ReplyDelete
  4. Yep, he should have gotten the MOH... Helluva set of stories!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Certainly after three, IMHO.

      It was a "formative" night at the O'Club. I got an education on what MIGHT be required.

      Delete
  5. Damn. It's rare that men like that walk the earth today. And today's military does it's best to get rid of them, it seems.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's certainly rarer. And yes the AF does try to get rid of them. However....
      Seems that shoe clerks are easier to remove than heroes.
      There may be more of them, but, like a row of dominoes,the topple easily.
      Never give up, never surrender!

      Delete
  6. There's a movement out there to do away with Veterans Day and Memorial Day because they aren't inclusive. That story gets wide play on tee-vee and in the papers. Real stories about real people doing real things? Not so much. Have you punched a "journalist" today?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not inclusive?

      That's rather the point, innit?

      Delete
    2. Yeah, except for that peculiar mental pathology afflicting so many folks these days.

      Delete

Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)