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First Name: Kenneth

Last Name: Reusser

Birthplace: Cloverdale, OR, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Marines (present)

Middle Name: L.

Date of Birth: 27 January 1920

Date of Death: 20 June 2009

Rank: Colonel

Years Served: 1941 - 1968
Kenneth L. Reusser

•  World War II (1941 - 1945)
•  Korean War (1950 - 1953)
•  Vietnam War (1960 - 1973)


Kenneth L. Reusser
Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps

Kenneth Reusser was born on 27 January 1920 in Cloverdale, OR, the son of a minister. He enjoyed racing motorcycles and his winnings helped him pay for college and eventually earn a pilot's license just prior to World War II.

Reusser joined the U.S. Navy Reserve on 23 August 1941 and was sent to flight school. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps in April 1942 and designated a Naval Aviator.

World War II

He first saw combat as part of VMF-122, assigned to Guadalcanal flying the F4F Wildcat fighter. While assigned to the Squadron, on his first mission he was forced to ditch his aircraft in the Pacific after an encounter with an enemy plane, which he shot down. Severely injured, he was rescued by local islanders who nursed him until a recovery was made; he was hospitalized for six months.

Reusser served as a Captain in Marine Fighting Squadron 314 (VMF-314) and earned his first Navy Cross in combat off Okinawa. While there, on 10 May 1945, he and co-pilot Robert R. Klingman flew stripped-down F4U-4 Corsair fighters to intercept a Japanese observation plane at a much higher altitude than usual (40,000 feet). When his guns seized up, he and Klingman flew their airplanes into the Japanese plane, destroying its tail with their planes' propeller.

Korean War

On 5 August 1950, Major Reusser became the first Marine aviator, and for that matter the first Marine, to be decorated for gallantry during the Korean War.

Flying from the aircraft carrier USS Sicily (CVE-118), Reusser led a four-plane flight of Vought F4U Corsairs from Marine Fighter Squadron (VMF) 214, which was Pappy Boyington's "Black Sheep" Squadron during WWII, in a low-level attack. They attacked a North Korean truck park and tank repair facility in the occupied port city of Inchon.

With his aircraft heavily damaged by ground fire, he returned to the USS Sicily for repairs and rearmament, then made his way back to Inchon. In the face of fierce ground fire, he destroyed an oil storage facility. With his bombs and rockets expended, Reusser next attacked a camouflaged oil tanker at anchor in the harbor, raking it with 20 mm gunfire until the ship exploded, almost blowing him out of the air. For his actions, Reusser was awarded for the second time in his career the Navy's second highest award for valor, the Navy Cross.


During the Vietnam War, Reusser served as commanding officer of Marine Aircraft Group 16. While leading a rescue mission, his Huey was shot down. Severely burned, he required skin grafts over 35 percent of his body.

Colonel Reusser took medical retirement from the Marine Corps in July 1968. During his career as a Marine, he flew 253 combat missions, was the only man to survive being "downed" in three wars, and is considered the most decorated pilot in Marine Corps history.

Medals and Awards

Navy Cross (2 Awards)
Legion of Merit (2 Awards)
Purple Heart (5 Awards)
Air Medal (18 Awards)

In Retirement

After retiring from the Marine Corps, Reusser resided in Milwaukie, OR. He worked for Lockheed Aircraft and the Piasecki Helicopter Corp. and was active in veterans' groups.

Death and Burial

Colonel Kenneth Reusser died on 20 June 2009 in Clackamas, OR. He is buried at Willamette National Cemetery in Portland, OR.

He was survived by his wife, Trudy; and sons, Richard C. and Kenneth L. Jr.

Honoree ID: 2993   Created by: MHOH




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