Kenneth L Reusser
June 20, 2009
- 3 Wars
WWII, Korean War and Vietnam War - Two Navy
Crosses, four Purple Hears, two Legion of Merit with Combat
"V", and fifty-two other medals. Most decorated 3 War Marine.
Memorial Service Snapshots, Click Photo Below
Friends mourn Milwaukie fighter pilot who served in three wars
by Rick Bella, The Oregonian
Friday June 26, 2009, 9:17 PM
CLACKAMAS -- They came by ones and twos Friday, quietly slipping into the pews at New Hope Community Church. They smiled at the words honoring a man whose faith made him an inspiration and whose exploits in three wars made him a hero.
And when the last mournful drone of the bagpipes faded, they said goodbye to Col. Kenneth L. Reusser of Milwaukie, the most decorated U.S. Marine Corps aviator in history.
"He was the finest gentleman I've ever met," said Harley Wedel of Fairview, a fellow Korean War veteran. "I'm really going to miss him."
Reusser flew an amazing 253 combat missions in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. He was shot down in all three wars -- five times in all. He earned two Navy Crosses, four Purple Hearts and two Legions of Merit among his 59 medals.
In 1945, while based in Okinawa, he stripped down his F4U-4 Corsair fighter and intercepted a Japanese observation plane at an altitude much higher than usual. When his guns froze, he flew his fighter into the observation plane, hacking off its tail with his propeller.
In 1950, while serving in the storied "Black Sheep Squadron," he led an attack on a North Korean tank-repair facility at Inchon, then destroyed an oil tanker -- almost blowing himself out of the sky in the process.
During the Vietnam War, Reusser flew helicopters. He was leading a Marine Air Group in a rescue mission, when his own "Huey" was shot down. He needed skin grafts over 35 percent of his badly burned body.
Reusser was born Jan. 27, 1920, the son of a Cloverdale minister. While still a teenager, he became a committed Christian, which remained a big part of his life.
Reusser lived a "Tom Sawyer-ish" existence, Wedel said, jumping off a barn roof to test a parachute, racing motorcycles to help pay for college and earning a pilot's license before WWII broke out.
After retiring from the Marine Corps, he worked for Lockheed Aircraft and the Piasecki Helicopter Corp.
In recent years, he remained active in veterans groups.
"He had a great sense of humor," said friend Jesse Lott of Milwaukie. "One time, when the great Gen. Chuck Yeager was visiting, we told him about Ken's war record. Yeager just sniffed that he never saw any Marines in Europe.
"Well, when Ken arrived, we told him what Yeager had said," Lott said. "So Ken said, 'Well, if we had been there, it wouldn't have taken you so long to win the war.' Even Yeager laughed."
Reusser, who died June 20 of natural causes at 89, is survived by his wife, Trudy; and sons, Richard C. and Kenneth L. Jr. Interment was in Willamette National Cemetery.
Col. Kenneth L. Reusser
Posted by wshartung, June 26, 2009 3:35PM
A wonderful tribute honoring a truly remarkable man took place today, and I sincerely hope someone in the Governor's office takes the moment it will take to look Col. Kenneth L. Reusser up on the internet.
Here today, in Willamette National Cemetery we laid to rest the most decorated Marine Aviator in our state's history. Serving in World War II, Korea, and Viet Nam, the Colonel earned 59 medals of distinction, including two Navy Crosses and four Purple Hearts.
The Marines were here in full dress blues, and their salute and honors went appreciated by the family as well as the crowd of veteran's from WWII, Korea and Viet Nam, and appreciative citizens such as me.
The Patriot Guard Riders were there allowing for a dignified and honored memorial with a parade route colors presentation. Their presence on short notice lent an air of unparalleled respect to a fallen comrade.
His numerous friends and comrades in arms were there to shed some humanity into the stories that have grown larger than life over time. The true stories were told as well. The ones that make you look upwards and give quiet thanks for men of the caliber of Kenneth Reusser.
What was missing was an appreciative word from any elected official. A military fly over at the very least for such a decorated and respected aviator.
The muttering assembly gave vocal disapproval.
I believe we owe our heroes, fallen in battle or the ones who make the long haul to a natural end, a debt of gratitude.
I believe the Governor's office did a great disservice by not informing the Governor of this milestone event.
Missed is the unique opportunity to align the Governor's Office with a man of honor, integrity, dedication, service, loyalty, and patriotism, a man who was humble by nature and heroic in deed.
The outrage felt was genuine. This should not have been allowed to happen to this man, this family, this gathering on this memorable day.
|From Oregonlive.com 03/31/04:
Wednesday, March 31, 2004
By Jerry Boone, The Oregonian
WAR HERO'S LAST BATTLE FOR HOME, RESPECT
Exactly who is Ken Reusser? Simply one more senior citizen suffering from bad decisions, or an epic hero who refuses to quit?
The decorated Marine colonel and his wife have been told to leave their Cooper Mountain home on land his grandfather settled because they are unable to make payments. Already evicted, they returned during the weekend and changed the locks, making themselves among Oregon's most well-known squatters.
Right or wrong, Reusser's stubborn refusal to give up on what's important to him is a telling chapter in a real-life screenplay about yesterday's heroes.
1945: Marine Capt. Reusser, flying a Corsair F4U-4 fighter over the Pacific, spots a Japanese Kawasaki "Dragon Killer" at about 40,000 feet. The enemy camera plane is recording preparations for the U.S. invasion of Japan.
Reusser and his wingman climb high enough to hit the plane with machine gun fire, forcing it to lose altitude.
As the enemy drops to 38,000 feet, Reusser gets ready to put an end to this 150-mile chase, but he discovers the cold has jammed his guns.
Gently, he closes on the tail of the fleeing Kawasaki and uses the Corsair's giant propeller to chew away the trailing edge of the enemy plane's tail. He moves next to the limping plane as his wingman finishes the job, sending the plane to the ocean.
They limp back to Okinawa, landing on the dregs in their fuel tanks, with damaged propellers.
Reusser, 84, says he lost $262,500 in a bad investment three years ago. It wasn't his last bad decision.
He hired Robert E. Thomas to handle his finances, but Reusser says Thomas stole more than $80,000. Thomas was convicted and ordered to repay $200 a month. Reusser will have to live to be nearly 120 to get all his money back.
The couple filed for bankruptcy in August. Broke, they are acting as their own attorney to sue the bank for $1 million, saying it should not have cashed bad checks. The bank says Reusser should be more careful about who he allows in his checkbook.
But Reusser seldom plays it safe.
1950: He's a major now, still flying the Corsair, but in a different war, leading a division from the famous "Black Sheep," flying over Inchon, Korea, from the deck of USS Sicily.
Reusser leads an attack against a North Korean vehicle park and factory, but the ferocity of the defense arouses his suspicions.
According to "Leatherneck Magazine," he "set his Corsair snarling past the large factory building barely above the ground and close enough to actually look in the windows." It was packed with Soviet-made tanks.
He flies to the Sicily to rearm and refuel, then returns, setting the factory ablaze with rockets and napalm.
He leads a low-level strike on oil storage tanks until all of his rockets and napalm are gone, then sets his sights on a camouflaged oil tanker at Inchon harbor, diving to mast height and raking the tanker with 20 mm gunfire. The tanker explodes, almost blowing Reusser's Corsair out of the air.
He retired as a Marine colonel after 28 years, with two Navy Crosses for valor -- second only to the Medal of Honor -- plus five Purple Hearts for injuries in battle, and 42 other decorations.
The veteran of three wars -- he also flew in Vietnam -- remains one of the most decorated pilots in the history of the Marine Corps. In a world simply tired of violence and war, Reusser's heroics continue to inspire awe more than a half-century later.
For those who don't know who he is and what he has done, it would be all too easy to point to his mistakes and consider the colonel just another crusty, troublesome senior citizen who can't take care of himself.
But he deserves better than to be left impoverished, homeless and humbled.
|From The Stars & Stripes stripes.com
Marine Corps pilot, decorated for heroic efforts in 3 wars, dies in Oregon at 89
Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Marine Corps Capt. Kenneth Reusser and his wingman were flying a mission in the Pacific region during World War II when they came upon a Japanese surveillance plane.
The cold air had frozen the fightersí guns, so Reusser tipped his F4U-4 Corsair toward the aircraft, allowing his wingman to rake his propeller across the planeís tail. The move downed the enemy plane and would have been a heroic highlight of any military career. But it was just a start for Reusser.
Known as one of the most decorated Marine Corps aviators ever, he died June 20 of natural causes at age 89 in Oregon.
Reusser was awarded 59 medals during his career, including two Navy Crosses, four Purple Hearts and two Legions of Merit. He retired from the service a colonel, The Associated Press and Oregon media reported.
He was shot down five times during 259 combat missions in World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam ó at least once in each conflict.
In 1950, Reusser led an attack on a North Korean factory. Despite heavy anti-aircraft fire, he dipped down to window level of the facility and saw that it was being used to repair enemy tanks, according to the citation for his second Navy Cross.
He flew to his aircraft carrier to re-arm with rockets and napalm and then returned to destroy the facility, again braving the anti-aircraft fire.
Reusserís plane had been damaged and his heavy ordnance was gone, but before returning from the mission, he flew low and pumped his machine guns into a North Korean oil tanker, the citation said.
The tanker exploded, knocking his plane momentarily out of control, but he managed to right it and return to the carrier.
In Vietnam, Reusser flew helicopters and was leading a rescue mission when his Huey was shot down. He was badly wounded and needed skin grafts over 35 percent of his burned body, the AP reported.
Reusser lived in the Portland suburb of Milwaukie. He was born Jan. 27, 1920, the son of a minister, and raced motorcycles to help pay for college and earn a pilotís license before WWII.
After retiring from the Marine Corps, he worked for Lockheed Aircraft and the Piasecki Helicopter Corp. and was active in veterans groups.