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This was sent out for Memorial Day by others who knew Marine Col. Reusser personally. When reading this, give a moments thought to today's TV civilian "reality shows." Dave



At the age of 89 Colonel Kenneth L. Reusser, USMC (Ret) died Saturday, June 20, 2009.

A native from the Oregon coastal farming community of Cloverdale, Ken Reusser learned to fly in Uncle Sam�s Civilian Pilot Training program (CPT). Because the government recognized pilots would most likely soon be needed, in August, 1941 the US Navy accepted him at Naval Air Station (NAS) Sand Point, Seattle, Washington, as a Seaman Recruit, flight student.

Navy training was arduous, but having both private and commercial pilot�s licenses eased some of the load and placed him, with others, in an accelerated class. In April of 1942 he graduated from Navy flight school at NAS Opelaka, Florida as a Naval Aviator, and because graduates were allowed a choice, Ken elected to enter the US Marine Corps as a Pilot, Second Lieutenant.

Transferred to VMF 122 shortly before deploying to Guadalcanal, along with his squadron mates he worked hard to perfect the varied skills it takes to be a successful fighter pilot.

After the debacle of Pearl Harbor and our failed defense of the Philippines, Guadalcanal was where the United States launched its first offensive response in the Pacific during WW II, and VMF 122 was about to be thrown into the middle of it.

On 2nd Lieutenant Reusser�s first flight into enemy infested skies he downed a Japanese Mitsubishi Betty bomber, but his Grumman F-4-F Wildcat was damaged by the bomber�s gunner. Ditching at sea, the bird sank immediately with Ken still inside, dazed and bleeding. At thirty or forty feet down he finally worked himself free from what had been holding him fast in the cockpit, then struggled valiantly toward the brighter light above.

At long last, coughing and sputtering, he reached the surface and some very refreshing air. After a few deep breaths Ken surveyed his situation and realized the rubber dinghy, as a part of his parachute pack, had gone down with the plane. This meant a leaky Mae West had become his only means of staying afloat.

After several hours in shark-filled waters he was rescued by island natives and taken ashore. Since that day Reusser claimed other than being the wrong blood type the sharks desired, his Christian beliefs taught from the pulpit of the Baptist Church where his father preached had to be the only reason circling sharks failed to strike.

There the village women bandaged a facial injury caused when he struck the gun-sight as his Wildcat hit the water. They kept the gauze bandage moist with warm sea-water for the next fourteen days, and the entire village of islanders cared for Ken very well. Hiding him well every time Japanese troops were patrolling the island, none of the natives informed the enemy a rescued American flier was concealed in their community.

Reported as MIA (missing in action) and presumed dead, the natives were finally able to contact one of the famed Australian Coast Watchers who advised our Navy where Reusser was awaiting rescue.

Aboard the Consolidated PBY-5-A Catalina sent to bring him back, his two-weeks-old bandage was cut free by a corpsman who was totally shocked to find an eyeball resting on the rescued pilot�s cheek, staring back at him from this rather unorthodox location. Returned to its socket in the sick bay of the seaplane tender USS Kittyhawk. Ever after Reusser claimed this to be his best eye.

Within a few short weeks 2nd Lieutenant Reusser returned to the air and continued flying around and over Guadalcanal for nearly two more months. As soon as the tide of battle changed in favor of US forces, Reusser was ordered back to the States for further corrective surgery.

Captain Reusser�s next combat tour was over Okinawa in an F4U-1D Corsair with VMF 312. They provided close-air support for our troops and flew interception missions against Kamikazes sent from Japan to the hit island facilities and ships of the US fleet.

It was here he earned his first Navy Cross by sharing in the destruction of a Kawasaki KI-45 �Nick� spy plane the hard way. Climbing far above a Corsair�s normal operating limits, Reusser got off a very few �Hail Mary� shots before his guns froze from the high altitude temperatures. Yet a few of Reusser�s .50cal rounds hit the Nick, and it began trailing a wisp of white smoke. Turning and dropping his nose, the Kawasaki started for his base in Japan, and this gave Reusser an opportunity to overtake him.

With now useless guns, the only weapon left to Reusser was the Corsair itself, so he began chewing on the Nick�s tail with his propeller. Seemingly out of control, the Nick dropped his nose, and began heading down. But then, surprisingly the pilot regained control and leveled off.

Meanwhile Reusser�s wingman, Lieutenant Robert Klingman, had caught up with this close formation. He tried to fire, but his guns were also frozen. Ken then placed his wingtip next to the Nick�s canopy to prevent more maneuvering and suggested Klingman might take a turn at the unorthodox method of downing a foe, however his first attempt only slightly increased the damage Reusser had already caused.

During the time both Reusser and Klingman were flying next to the Nick, its gunner in the rear of the greenhouse canopy was swinging his gun at first one and then the other Corsair while pounding on the breech and pulling on the charging handle. At the close range just one round from his weapon might even the odds, but it was not to be as his gun was frozen and inoperative as well.

Reusser now kept his wing over the Nick�s, nearly putting the tip into the enemy cockpit. This way any move by the Nick pilot was guaranteed to fail, even if Reusser went down with him. The Japanese pilot just stared at Ken�s wingtip as Klingman lined up to try once more.

The Nick pilot suddenly snapped to attention and slowed down to make the Corsair overshoot, but this only caused Klingman�s prop to climb up the fuselage into the gunner�s station, ripping the gun from the plane and killing the gunner. Finally, with control cables severed the Nick fell off into a graveyard spiral, breaking up in mid-air.

Both beat-up Corsairs made it back to Okinawa and landed straight in �on the fumes,� totally out of fuel. �Not enough gas left to fill a Zippo lighter� was a comment made by someone as they pulled the planes from the runway with a tractor.

For actions and valor �above and beyond� both Reusser and Klingman were awarded the Navy Cross.

Between wars came various assignments which helped the now �Major� Reusser improve as a pilot, officer, and gentleman. He could not know it at the time, but this schooling was also preparing him for the next fracas, a clash-of-arms President Truman declared was nothing more than a �Police Action.� Strangely, in the so-called �Land of The Morning Calm,� in Korea our troops being shot at always seemed to think of it as a full-fledged WAR, with no �morning calm� about it.

Major Reusser arrived with Marine aviation�s first response team, again flying F4U-4-B Corsairs, only this time as operations officer of VMF 214, the �Black Sheep� of WW II Major Greg Boyington fame. They were aboard the first �JEEP� aircraft carrier to arrive in Korean waters, CVE-118, the USS Sicily. The ship was skippered by another WW II �go-get-�em� type hero; Medal of Honor recipient, Captain Jimmy Thach.

Marine Corsairs from the Sicily began launching against this new foe, and this was the start of what would become a very productive combat tour with Reusser logging 113 combat missions before being relieved.

Three days later, Aug 5, 1950, about a month before the Inchon landing, for a busy morning�s work Major Reusser earned a medal for valor, the first Marine aviator to be so honored in the Korean War.

The event began when Reusser was flying down a street at zero altitude and below power lines, being shot at with everything the enemy could fire. He looked through the windows of a large building. Aided by the light from arc-welding flashes, on his second pass to confirm his first impression he identified this as one very valuable target, a tank assembly and repair facility.

Returning to the ship Reusser discussed what he had seen with Captain Thach and while busy discussing what should be done a different Corsair was fueled and armed.

He then led his flight back to the tank depot where the VMF-214 pilots completely destroyed the large complex, many tanks, �soft� vehicles, artillery pieces, and numerous anti-aircraft batteries.

On their way back to the Sicily the flight also destroyed a Standard Oil tank farm after which one pilot reported, over the radio Reusser jokingly seemed very concerned about what this might do to the Standard Oil stock in his portfolio.

From the corner of his eye Reusser noticed something not quite right in the port of Inchon. Leaving his flight beyond effective anti-aircraft range, he flew into very heavy flak at water-skimming altitude. While the shells hit or whizzed on past his Corsair he realized he was looking at a North Korean-built dock-like shelter constructed to hide fair-sized ships from prying eyes.

Bombs and rockets expended, and with only 20mm light cannons available, he tore into a ship tied to the pier. Unknown to Reusser it was a tanker filled with gasoline, and when the vessel violently erupted it inverted the Corsair, nearly knocking Ken out of the sky. Fighting the plane back upright, when he landed aboard the Sicily his terribly shot-up and thoroughly-bent plane was pushed over the side as �too damaged to economically repair.�

For this extreme example of dedication to the military needs of war, care of flight members, and disregard for his own safety, Navy Captain Jimmy Thach recommended Major Kenneth L. Reusser as a man who deserved the Nation�s highest award, The Medal of Honor.

Once in the hands of the awards council they downgraded Thach�s recommendation, but did extend to Major Reusser the Navy Cross, the second highest award available to our sea-going military. Of course this did place Major Reusser in a very elite �two Navy Cross� brotherhood.

While flying his many missions over Korea, during seven months he acquired hundreds more combat hours and was shot down three times; into the drink twice from enemy action, and once was forced to bail out into North Korean controlled territory.

In the latter incident, hit hard, the plane was a goner, so Reusser dove over the side, far from any friendly forces. His parachute operated as the manufacturer promised (and the pilot and parachute rigger hoped), lowering him at a safe speed. However, he landed in a rice paddy and completely disappeared from sight in the ooze. After getting free of his harness and reaching the dikes, he had to race away from the bad guys who were after him, wildly firing rifles, Chinese Tommy-Guns, and anything else available.

A rescue helicopter had been alerted, and as his squadron mates kept North Korean heads down with their Corsair�s 20mm guns the chopper swooped in and dropped a line. Ken was not yet truly safe though because upon reaching the cockpit the whirly-bird pilot threatened to throw him back to the NKPA because of the rice-paddy �night-soil� fertilizer stench.

Even before leaving the States, and certainly by the time it arrived on station, the Sicily had been operating with what sailors call a �fouled bottom.� Barnacles galore and sea-grasses growing many feet long had robbed the ship of a fair turn of speed, so VMF 214 flew off to operate from one of the hastily built airfields on Korean soil and the Sicily turned east towards the States..

Before the ship reached its first stop in Japan, fighting around the Chosin Reservoir heated up as the Chinese �Peoples Army� descended from the snow covered hills and hit our Marines and soldiers hard.

The Sicily rushed back from near Japan, and once it reached Korean waters VMF 214 dropped out of the clouds and landed back aboard for an intense session of take-off, fly to the reservoir, drop bombs and Napalm, fire rockets and guns, then land back aboard.

Over and over, as fast as the planes could be serviced and launched, VMF 214 gave the ground-pounding Marines as much cover as possible. Even on snowy days when the weather was so bad they couldn�t see the ship�s bow from the stern, the pilots and men of VMF 214 and the Sicily did everything anyone could to help the Marines marching out to the sea.

During this period the Navy finally acquired enough exposure suits so they could give the Marines a few. These suits allowed a man in the water enough protection so hopefully a crash survivor might last long enough to be rescued. Normally four minutes in the drink was considered the longest a man could survive the intense cold of the wintry seas, but when dressed in a �Poopy-Suit� lasting for more than an hour was not unusual.

It was almost impossible to get into these custom-fit outfits, and getting out was no picnic either. One thing about wearing such gear is it keeps water from coming in, consequently not much gets out either; hence the nickname, �Poopy-Suit.� Reusser�s fitting-out one evening seemed to take forever with the cut-and-gluing, but when done he was able get some shut-eye before the following morning�s flight.

Flying low over the Chinese front line Reusser unloaded his ordinance, and as he did the Corsair was hit by light anti-aircraft fire. His elbow stung, but more importantly smoke trailing behind indicated he was in another enemy-crippled bird.

Reusser resisted his wingman�s call to �Bail Out!� because parachuting into a group of men armed with guns so soon after dropping Napalm in their midst might just jeopardize one�s plans for a long life.

Skimming a mountain-top Ken turned towards the sea, trading altitude for distance. Providentially, before his engine seized, out over the slate-grey-icy waters he located a destroyer circling the area for just such rescue needs.

The Corsair splashed and went under fast, but Reusser got out before following it down. It took longer than planned for the ship to pick him up, but this experience certainly made a �Poopy-Suit� believer out of him. The suit ended up with a hole in the elbow, and so did Ken�s arm; however, the water�s deep icy chill stopped his bleeding.

When he returned to the States Lt. Col. Reusser was assigned to a squadron flying Douglas AD Devastators, and he commanded them on a Mediterranean tour. Soon after returning he was transferred to helicopters where, as with all else aeronautical, he mastered the whirlybird.

Appointed Chief of Staff of MEB-4 (Marine Expeditionary Battalion) he earned a Legion of Merit during deployment to quell an uprising in the Dominican Republic.

Early in the Vietnam War Colonel Reusser was commander of the Marine Air Group, MAG-16. On his final combat flight, as was usual for him, he was �leading from the front� in a HUEY, overseeing another mission into harm�s way.

Flying into a �hot� zone, Reusser was acting as the coordinator of a recovery mission to retrieve a CH-46 brought down a day before. The HUEY he was aboard stumbled into a perfectly executed ambush prepared by the North Vietnamese, one previously undiscovered by gun-ship scouts and Marines on the ground.

Heavy fire hit them and instantly killed the �copter pilot. Reusser was hit in the leg with a large caliber round, and the chopper�s controls were shattered. This meant there was but one direction to go --- down.

Slamming into a Vietnamese rice-paddy the chopper was explosively engulfed in flames. The fuel-fed fire swirled into the cockpit from behind, but Reusser found his safety belt�s quick release refused to function. Because the Huey was broken and crushed, men in the rear compartment were also trapped and screaming. Knowing if another sunset was to be seen he had to rescue himself, Colonel Reusser began leaning back into the fire, attempting to burn through his unyielding harness.

More and more aggressive, the fire soon caused the Styrofoam lining in his helmet to melt and ignite. This burned his scalp to the bone, burned off his left ear, and ate down his neck and shoulder, yet he still wasn�t free. Over and over he lunged against the burning harness, until with a final heave the straps parted, allowing him to escape from the cockpit inferno and flop into cooling rice-paddy waters.

Though his flight suit was still smoldering, instead of helping himself Reusser began pulling and tugging on the men caught in back, all the time being shot at and again was hit by the North Vietnamese from their hidden positions.

From across the paddy a Corpsman with the ground Marines saw what was happening, ran through the hail of gunfire, and knocked Col. Reusser down. After rolling him about in the paddy water to extinguish the remaining fire, he picked Reusser up and carried him, while still under fire, to another helicopter, a CH-46, which evacuated the Colonel to the nearest medical unit.

With little scalp remaining, other very extensive burns, and bullet wounds, this man was in critical condition. Not expected to live, that night Colonel Reusser overheard some evacuation-orderlies discussing how soon �that Colonel in there� would take his last breath. It was then this hard-to-kill Marine decided he absolutely would not give these medics the satisfaction of dying on their predicted schedule.

Skin grafts over 35% of his body along with other reconstructive surgery was performed, and after more than a year of care at Bethesda Naval Hospital he was at last released, ready to return to work. Because of his injuries the Marine Corps decided it was time to turn Colonel Kenneth L. Reusser out to pasture, so after twenty-eight years in uniform he was retired with a permanent 90% disability due to combat sustained injuries.

During his service to our country this gentleman earned; two Navy Cross, four Purple Heart, two Legion of Merit with Combat �V,� and fifty-two other medals and ribbons. Also, he was shot down five times in three wars by enemy action, suffering grievous wounds in several of these gut-wrenching episodes. At eighty nine years of age, until June 20, 2009, it is believed he was the most decorated three-war (WW II, Korea, & Vietnam) former Marine Corps pilot living in Oregon.

Aviation being his life, after retirement the US Marine Colonel Reusser worked for private aviation companies.

He worked with the famed Kelley Johnson in the equally famous �Skunk Works� at Lockheed Aircraft. Aspects of the U-2, SR-71, and Cheyenne Helicopter project benefited from Ken�s knowledge of both aircraft and people.

At Piasecki he worked on a �heavy-lift� project which mandated he become a proficient Blimp pilot. To Reusser however, even handling the big awkward gas-bag was just another day of flying.

As Chief Pilot for this innovative experimental project Reusser was on the cutting edge of an aeronautical revolution. All flights of the unit were uneventful until the twenty-fifth ascension. Due to a mechanical failure the heavy-lifter crashed, killing one person. Discouraged because of the death, Piasecki retired and cancelled the project. However, the concept is in use elsewhere in the world today.

Eventually retiring to Beaverton, Oregon, Ken and his Wife Trudy were enjoying a quiet existence until a complete change in their lives occurred. They were badly scammed by an investor, bookkeeper, a very large bank, and the Washington County court system. The latter occurred when a circuit court judge, in open session, flatly denied this gentleman his requested constitutional right to a trial by jury when fighting this oversized and over-zealous bank, which has now failed.

Ken and his wife continued battling for their financial lives until an even more immediate problem dropped into their laps.

Ken suffered a severe stroke on his right side, but during recovery he was allowed to dehydrate to the point of death, but fought back, once again blessing us with his presence.

After five months of hospital and care facilities he returned home to intensively pursue the job of regaining a more normal life, whatever �normal� might happen to be in this instance.

He did extremely well with his speech, and regained rather limited use of his right arm, and better use of his right leg.

To this point in the story you may have wondered what more might befall this gentleman who really deserved better. Ken found the answer to this in February of 2007 when he was diagnosed and informed he had a very aggressive prostate cancer. He fought this to remission after an earlier bout of the same malady, but after about a year it returned with a vengeance, causing the doctors to suggest he had only a few months to live. Still,Ken fought his cancer with all means at his disposal and it worked for quite a while.

As the material for this short biography was being collected the author was reminded by Col. Reusser to be sure to include the subject�s certainty his many brushes with death have been warded off by a generous God to whom all credit is due.

Unfortunately for those of us left behind, as of June 20, 2009, he has left this earth to be with the Lord no doubt to receive his �well done, good and faithful servant� reward.

Submitted by Alan H Barbour, Historian, Historian, USMC Combat Helicopter Association

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