KASLER James H
James H. Kasler
Colonel James Helm Kasler (May 2, 1926 - April 24, 2014) was 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. 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, a Legion of Merit, nine awards of the Distinguished Flying Cross, two Bronze Star Medals, two Purple Hearts, and eleven awards of the Air Medal.
Enlisting in the United States Army Air Forces toward the end of World War II, Kasler flew seven missions as a B-29 Superfortress tail gunner. With the end of the war Kasler used his veteranís benefits to complete his college degree before returning to the newly formed United States Air Force in time to serve in the Korean War. During that war he flew 100 combat missions in an F-86E Sabre while assigned to the 335th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron of the 4th Fighter-Interceptor Wing and scored 6 confirmed air-to-air victories against MiG-15s, becoming among the first jet "aces".
On August 8, 1966, while flying F-105D-31-RE Thunderchief 62-4343 on his 91st combat mission over North Vietnam while with the 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, then Major Kasler was searching for his downed wingman at treetop level when he was shot down by intense North Vietnamese ground fire. He was captured and held as a prisoner of war for 6Ĺ years until March 4, 1973. For more than a month in 1967 Kasler was the target of nearly continuous daily torture. He received his third award of the AFC 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 contacted 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."
On 15 September 2007 the United States Air Force dedicated a monument to him. James Kasler retired from the United States Air Force as a colonel. He and his wife Martha resided in Illinois. Kasler died April 24, 2014 in West Palm Beach, Florida.
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. Birth: 5/2/1926 - South Bend, IN Home Town: Zanesville, IN Other Award: Air Force Cross w/OLC (Vietnam), Air Force Cross w/2nd OLC (Vietnam)
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. Birth: 5/2/1926 - South Bend, IN Home Town: Zanesville, IN Other Award: Air Force Cross (Vietnam), Air Force Cross w/2nd OLC (Vietnam)
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. Birth: 5/2/1926 - South Bend, IN Home Town: Zanesville, IN Other Award: Air Force Cross (Vietnam), Air Force Cross w/OLC (Vietnam)
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