Colonel James Helms Kasler

Colonel James Helms Kasler
(May 2, 1926 – April 24, 2014)

James Kasler was born in South Bend and was a graduate of Shortridge High School in Indianapolis, where he also attended Butler University.

Credit: Maine Military Museum

As a combat veteran of World War II, the Korean War, and the War in Vietnam, Colonel Kasler is the only person to have been awarded the Air Force Cross three times. The Air Force Cross is an award for conspicuous gallantry in combat. It is second only to the Medal of Honor among American military decorations and equivalent to the Army’s Distinguished Service Cross and the Navy Cross.

Enlisting in the US Army Air Force near the end of WWII, he flew eight missions as a B-29 Superfortress tail gunner over Japan. After the war, he used his veteran benefits to earn a college degree before joining the newly formed United States Air Force, serving in the Korean War. He flew 100 combat missions in his F-86E Sabre, scoring six air-to-air victories against MiG-15s, becoming the fifteenth jet “ace.” He later learned that one of the enemy planes had been piloted by the son of Mao Zedong, the Chinese leader.

Credit: United Press

Kasler continued to serve in the Air Force and eventually returned to combat duty during the war in Vietnam. He was highlighted in an August 1966 Time Magazine article that called him “the hottest pilot” in Vietnam and a “one-man Air Force.” But that same week, on his 91st bombing mission, he was shot down in his F-105 Thunderchief near Hanoi. With his right leg shattered, Colonel Kasler began an imprisonment in the “Hanoi Hilton” that lasted until March 1973, almost seven years. As a POW, Kasler was routinely and brutally tortured, yet never gave the enemy information. After his release, he rejoined his family at their home near 38th St. and Post Rd., where hundreds of POW bracelets had been left by their front door. He also served as grand marshal of the 500 Festival Parade that year.

Throughout his extraordinary career Colonel Kasler flew 198 combat missions he earned a total of seventy-six awards and medals for valor and service. In addition to his three Air Force Crosses, he received eleven Air Medals, nine Distinguished Flying Crosses, two Purple Hearts, two Silver Stars, two Bronze Stars and a Legion of Merit, among other decorations.

He was the subject of a biography, Tempered Steel, and his aerial battles were highlighted in the History Channel series, Dog Fights.

After his retirement from the Air Force, he and his wife, Martha, bought and redeveloped a golf course in Kankakee County, Illinois. In recognition of both his military service and his service to that community, a bronze statue of Colonel Kasler was dedicated at the Kasler-Momence Veteran’s Park there in 2007.

The funeral service for Colonel Kasler on May 16, 2014, including a “Missing Man” flyover of Crown Hill, can be watched here.

Here are some of Colonel Kasler’s reflections on his time as a prisoner of war.

Here are some highlights from his memorial service.

Here is an Indianapolis Star article regarding his life and memorial service.

Buried in Section 61, Lot 13; GPS (39.8194058, -86.1763645)