John Riley Kane – Colonel, United States Air Force

Colonel John Riley “Killer” Kane won the Congressional Medal of Honor for heroism in combat above the lead-filled skies of Rumania, over the Nazi-controlled oil fields at Ploesti.

Kane, son of a Baptist preacher, came to Shreveport in 1933, the same year Barksdale Field was opened by the Army in nearby Bossier Parish. Kane continued to call Shreveport his home, and was later stationed at Barksdale Field after he joined the air service.

Kane led the third element of an August 1, 1943 B-24 attack against the Rumanian oil fields and refineries at Ploesti. It was one of the most heavily defended sites in Nazi-controlled Europe.

By accident, Kane's element in the attack, the 98th Bombardment Group, also known as the Pyramiders, reached its target out of sequence and after another group had attacked, fully alerting its defenses. Kane assumed the duty of attack commander and, risking his own life, circled the target in his own plane to direct the bombers that attacked the target from treetop level — and sometimes lower.

By the time Kane's bomber left the target, it had lost an engine, been struck more than 20 times by heavy anti-aircraft artillery fire and had uncountable bullet holes. Kane's decision to circle as the command aircraft also had used up any reserve of fuel the plane had for its return to base in North Africa. Kane's airplane, “Hail Columbia,” crash-landed in Cyprus on the return leg.

Of 178 airplanes that left on the raid, 54 never returned.

In one of his last public statements, a foreword to air historian Michael Hill's book The Desert Rats, the colonel summed up his feelings about the historic mission.

“I still recall the smoke, fire and B-24s going down, like it was yesterday… Even now, I get a lump in my throat when I think about what we went through … I didn't get the Medal of Honor. The 98th did.”

The citation for Colonel Kane's Medal of Honor is as follows:

KANE, JOHN R. (Air Mission)”
Rank and organization: Colonel, U.S. Army Air Corps, 9th Air Force.
Place  and date: Ploesti Raid, Rumania, 1 August 1943.
Entered service at: Shreveport, Louisiana.
Birth: McGregor, Texas.

G.O. No.: 54, 9 August 1943:

For conspicuous gallantry in action and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty on 1 August 1943. On this date he led the third element of heavy bombardment aircraft in a mass low-level bombing attack against the vitally important enemy target of the Ploesti oil refineries. En route to the target, which necessitated a  round-trip flight of over 2,400 miles, Col. Kane's element became separated from the leading portion of the massed formation in avoiding dense and dangerous cumulous cloud conditions over mountainous terrain. Rather than turn back from such a vital mission he elected to proceed to his target. Upon arrival at the target area it was discovered that another group had apparently missed its target and had previously attacked and damaged the target assigned to Colonel Kane's element. Despite the thoroughly warned defenses, the intensive antiaircraft fire, enemy fighter airplanes, extreme hazards on a low-level attack of exploding delayed action bombs from the previous element, of oil fires and explosions and dense smoke over the target area, Colonel Kane elected to lead his formation into the attack. By his gallant courage, brilliant leadership, and superior flying skill, he and the formation under his command successfully attacked this vast refinery so essential to our enemies' war effort. Through his conspicuous gallantry in this most hazardous action against the enemy, and by his intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty, Colonel Kane personally contributed vitally to the success of this daring mission and thereby rendered most distinguished service in the furtherance of the defeat of our enemies.”

The Medal of Honor presented to Colonel Kane was one of five presented for that day's mission, the most ever awarded for a single combat enterprise. Three of the awards were posthumous: Lieutenant Colonel Addison Baker; Second Lieutenant Lloyd H. Hughes; and Major John L. Jerstad.

The other Medal of Honor presented to a living recipient for that day's battle was to Colonel Leon W. Johnson.

Colonel John Riley “Killer” Kane retired from service in 1956. He settled onto a farm in Logan County, Arkansas. But upon the death of his second wife, Phyllis, in 1987, he moved to Pennsylvania to be near his only child, son John Franklin Kane, and John's wife, Donna. It was while living at at Veterans Administration Nursing Home in Pennsylvania that Colonel Kane, one of the true but understated heroes of World War II, died on May 29, 1996. He was 89 years old.

On June 18, 1996, Colonel John Riley “Killer” Kane was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

Effective 2 February 1998, Barksdale Air Force Base recently named its B-52 combat crew training school after Colonel Kane. This is an especially fitting tribute, since the Ploesti raid, undertaken in a day long before mid-air refueling was perfected and made part of standard military practice, demonstrated that strategic bombing was not only possible, but was inevitable in the context of modern war. Barksdale's B-52 bombers have proven that, deploying to Guam in the Vietnam War, and then again in 1991 flying a 34-hour, 14,000-mile, non-stop mission to Iraq and back to launch conventional cruise missiles in the first military attack launched as part of Operation Desert Storm. The operation, unofficially code-named “Secret Squirrel” by its crews, involved seven B-52G bombers with augmented crews. It was kept secret for a full year afterward, which probably would have put a smile on the face of Colonel Kane. “Secret Squirrel,” and similar higher-profile missions against Irag in late 1996 and 1997, continue to underscore the need for strategic bombers and men of the caliber of Colonel Kane.


Biographical Information And Photo Courtesy
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