- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 27, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - An Indiana native who is one of the most decorated servicemen in U.S. history is being remembered for his bravery.

Col. James Helms Kasle, nicknamed “Destroyer,” was characterized by Time magazine in 1966 as “fast becoming the most famous pilot over North Vietnam” and received 76 decorations for valor and service, including three times being awarded the Air Force Cross, the military’s second-highest honor for valor in combat.

“The colonel was my mentor and my hero, the most courageous man I’ve ever known,” John Brodak, a retired colonel, told The Indianapolis Star (https://indy.st/1tFcDyv ). “He was a fierce warrior and a patriot and I’m proud he called me his friend.”

Kasler, a South Bend native, was remembered over the Memorial Day weekend because he died April 24 at age 87 and was buried at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis on May 16 with full military honors.

Kasler flew 198 missions, the first seven over Japan as a tail gunner on a B-29 bomber during World War II while he was still a teenager. He flew 100 more as an F-86 Sabre pilot in Korea, where he shot down six MiG-15s and became one of America’s early jet aces. He planned and led the first bombing mission of Hanoi in June 1966, resulting in 90 percent destruction of Hanoi’s massive petroleum complex and earning Kasler his first Air Force Cross.



He earned his second when he was shot down in his F-105 Thunderchief fighter-bomber during his 91st mission over North Vietnam while trying to help a wingman who had been shot down. He earned his third Air Force Cross for refusing to yield to beatings inflicted by his captors while he was a prisoner of war for six years and seven months.

“He was a true patriot. He loved his country as much as he loved his family. That really defined who Jim was,” said Lewis Shattuck, a close friend and retired colonel who was shot down and captured three days after Kasler.

Kasler returned home on March 8, 1973, to find a pile of hundreds of POW bracelets in front of the door. The city held a parade in Kasler’s honor and he served as grand marshal of the 500 Festival Parade. He spent the past 39 years as a resident of Momence, Illinois, where he owned South Shore Golf Course.

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Information from: The Indianapolis Star, https://www.indystar.com

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