Eagle Profile

James H. Kasler is the only person ever to be decorated with three Air Force Crosses. Born in South Bend, Indiana, in 1926, he completed high school in Indianapolis. He then enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) in May 1944. He flew combat missions over Japan as a tail-gunner in the Boeing B-29 Superfortress until released from the USAAF in mid-1946. He returned home, attended Butler University, and then entered the USAF as a student pilot in 1950. He received his wings and a commission fourteen months later at Williams AFB, Arizona. Kasler then attended gunnery training across town at Luke AFB and was almost immediately shipped overseas to the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing, Korea.

Kasler scored his first aerial victory on 1 April 1952 after five months of missions in “MiG Alley” flying the North American F-86 Sabre. In the next eight weeks, he destroyed 5 more Russian-built Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15s, becoming the USAF’s 15th jet ace. With 100 combat missions, Kasler returned to the United States in July 1953. After a three-year tour at Nellis AFB, Nevada, he was sent on exchange duty to the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). He flew Canadian-built Sabres in the 1st Overseas Training Unit at RCAF Chatham, New Brunswick. Next, Kasler flew the North American F-100 Super Sabre, known as the “Hun,” both at Turner AFB, Georgia and Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina where he later transitioned to the Republic F-105 Thunderchief. He flew the “Thud” at Seymour Johnson AFB and Bitburg AB, Germany. In early 1966, Kasler was reassigned to Southeast Asia to fly combat in his third war as Operations Officer of the 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Takhli AB, Thailand. On 29 June, he led the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing in one of the most successful strikes of the war. For his role in the virtual destruction of the heavily defended Hanoi petroleum storage complex, Kasler received his first Air Force Cross. Five weeks later on his 91st mission, after leading a low-level strike against another priority target, he was shot down during an attempt to help rescue a downed wingman. Captured, he endured over six years as a prisoner-of-war. Kasler was tortured dozens of times, including two sustained periods lasting over one month each. Released on 4 March 1973, he returned home and was decorated with a second Air Force Cross for his actions on his 91st mission. He received a third Air Force Cross for his heroic resistance and leadership under torture while a POW. After Vietnam, Colonel Kasler became Vice Commander of the fighter wing at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho. He passed away on 24 April 2014 in West Palm Beach, FL. He is interned at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis Indiana.

Colonel (ret) Kasler was first selected as an Eagle by the Air Command and Staff College’s Gather of Eagles in 1993 and subsequently honored in 2012.

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1993 Lithograph
2012 Lithograph

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In a classic pursuit pilot pattern, Captain Kasler's 4th and 5th aerial victories came in one engagement on 15 May 1952. Near the Yalu River, he spotted three MiG-15s below at about 1000 feet altitude. He " split-essed," opening fire on the lead MiG from 1,200 feet. As he closed to 100 feet on the enemy fighter's wing, he could see the pilot sitting in a ball of flame. Looking right, he saw a MiG firing on the F-86 of Albert Smiley, his wingman. Kasler chased the MiG on the deck for 50 miles and then, firing a burst, saw the MiG splash spectacularly into the flats.

Colonel Kasler's extraordinary aviation career spanned World War II as a B-29 tail-gunner, the Korean War as an F-86 "Ace," and the Vietnam War where he became the only man in history to receive three Air Force Crosses (AFC). He received two AFCs for heroism in the F-105 and a third for heroism under 6.5 years of torture at the infamous "Hanoi Hilton."