Col. James Helms Kasler (USAF Retired)
One of the United States military's most decorated warriors, Colonel James Helms Kasler (USAF Retired) passed away in West Palm Beach, Florida on April 24. Born May 2, 1926 in South Bend, Indiana, James Kasler, husband, father, and quintessential American patriot, is the only person to be awarded the Air Force Cross three times. Colonel Kasler was a combat veteran of World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Enlisting in the United States Army Air Forces toward the end of World War II, Kasler flew eight missions as a B-29 Superfortress tail gunner. With the end of the war, James Kasler used his veteran's 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 the world's fifteenth jet "ace." After subsequent tours at Seymour Johnson Airbase, Goldsboro, North Carolina, and Bitburg Air Force Base, Germany, the war in Vietnam was escalating and he received his orders. By August 1966, an article in Time Magazine labeled him "the hottest pilot" in Vietnam and said his wingmates called him "a one-man Air Force". The same week, on his 91st bombing mission in South Vietnam and against Laos and North Vietnam, he was shot down near Hanoi while trying to provide cover for his wingman, who had been shot down ahead of him. When he ejected, his right leg shattered, he was captured and subsequently spent from August 1966 until March 1973 as a guest at the infamous Hanoi Hilton, where he suffered unimaginable torture.
Colonel Kasler flew a combined 198 combat missions. With a total of 76 awards for valor and service, Kasler received the aforementioned three awards of the Air Force Cross, 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. Colonel Kasler's exploits were captured in "Tempered Steel," a biography written by Perry D. Luckett and Charles L. Byler. Colonel Kasler's Korean aerial battles were highlighted in the History Channel series Dog Fights. Colonel Kasler is the subject of numerous books about air warriors.
After Colonel Kasler's retirement from the Air Force, he bought and redeveloped the South Shore Golf Course in Momence, Illinois. Colonel Kasler and his wife Martha built a home on the golf course and became valued members of the Kankakee community. A bronze statue was dedicated to Colonel James Kasler by the people of Momence and Kankakee County on September 15, 2007 at the Kasler-Momence Veteran's Park.
He is survived by his wife of 65 years Martha Lee Kasler and their three children, James F. Kasler of Pensacola, FL, Suzanne Kasler Morris and her Husband John Morris of Atlanta, GA and Nanette Kasler of Carmel, IN. His grandchildren are James R., Jacqueline, Alexandra, Kane, Ryan, and Ashley. Colonel Kasler is also survived by his brother Tom Kasler, who resides in Scottsdale, Arizona.
A memorial service was held at the Centennial Chapel # 1 University Ave, Bourbonnais, IL 60914 located on the Olivet Nazarene University Campus on Sunday, May 4 at 4 p.m. Funeral services will be held at Crown Hill Funeral Home & Cemetery , 700 W 38th St, Indianapolis, IN 46208 on Friday, May 16, at 11 a.m.
In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting that donations be made to one of the following charities: the James and Martha Kasler Scholarship Fund for Nursing Excellence at Riverside Hospital 350 N Wall St, Kankakee, IL 60901; the Indiana War Memorial Foundation 431 N Meridian St, Indianapolis, IN 46204; the Salvation Army; Folds of Honor Foundation, 5800 N Patriot Drive, Owasso, OK 74055.