James H. Kasler became the Most Decorated Air Force Pilot during a remarkable three-decade military career. Born in South Bend, he enlisted in the Army Reserve at 17 entering active service six months later launching a distinguished career spanning three wars. He served as a B-29 Superfortress tail gunner in World War II then earned Air Force pilot wings and was assigned to fly the F-86 Sabre in the Korean War. There he became a jet ace with significant combat in 101 combat missions.
Colonel Kasler continued his service in Southeast Asia as an F-105 Thunderchief fighter pilot. Fellow pilots called him "a one-man Air Force.” Six months into his Vietnam service, Colonel Kasler was captured after ejecting from his heavily damaged aircraft, spending six and one-half years as a Prisoner of War. He was tortured but refused to cooperate or surrender before being released on March 4, 1973, during "Operation Homecoming.”
Colonel Kasler was awarded three Air Force Crosses for his bravery and skill, making him the only person to receive that honor three times. His other awards include two Silver Stars, the Legion of Merit, nine Distinguished Flying Crosses, two Bronze Star Medals, two Purple Hearts, and eleven Air Medals.