1943 — North Africa
Col. John Kane was a rather gentle person, thoughtful ... he never asked a man to do something dangerous unless he had already done it first. He truly cared for the safety of his men and his responsibilities... and he led those men into Hell and back. 75% losses must have nearly killed him. After his retirement, John retired into the quiet of "country life"... out-door stuff. Hunting, camping and having his own farm.
19 July, 2010
Upon graduation from Balor University, in Waco, TEXAS, in 1928, Kane moved to Shreveport, Louisiana, and later joined the Army Air Corps in June 1931. He was a flying cadet at Randolph Field in San Antonio, Texas, and received his commission and wings in 1932. He was assigned to March Field in California in the Reserves. Kane returned to active duty in 1935 and to the Shreveport area at nearby Barksdale Field in Bossier City. He eventually became the base commander before being assigned to MacDill Field in Florida as an Operations officer and later to Lackland Field as a squadron commander.
By July 1942, Kane was a major and was assigned to the 98th Bomb Group, known by their nickname of the "Pyramiders", flying missions in Africa. While there, he flew 43 combat missions. He was promoted to full colonel and assumed command of the 98th. It was during this time that his nickname, Killer Kane, became cemented both among his men and the enemy. He had received the nickname originally from the fact that one of his friends had been named Rogers. Because they were always seen together, they became known as Buck Rogers and Killer Kane. The nickname stuck because of his tenacity and stubbornness.
Kane became well known in aviation circles when he led the 98th as part of Operation Tidal Wave, the August 1, 1943, attack on the Ploesti oil refineries in Romania. Flying a D-model B-24 "Hail Columbia" serial number 41-11825, Kane's group took off early in the morning for the 2400 mile round trip. (Hail, Columbia was the unofficial anthem of the United States until 1931, when the Star-Spangled Banner became official. Today it is the official entrance march of the Vice President, and has been renamed Hail to the Chief.) Enroute to the target, the 98th and the 44th Bomb Group became separated from the other three bomb groups due to dense cloud conditions over a mountain range. Once the 98th reached the refineries, it found that another group had already bombed its targets and that the defenses were fully prepared for the new wave of bombers. Despite the threat of anti-aircraft fire, unexploded ordnance, oil fires, and dense smoke, Colonel Kane led his formation on its attack run.
Following its briefed path, the 98th, flanked by the 44th Bomb Group, which was led by Colonel Leon W. Johnson, flew alongside the north/south railroad line, which led into the refineries. It was there that both groups were engaged by flak batteries that were hidden inside box cars on a moving train. The disguised train was the brainchild of General Gerstenberg, the German commander of the defenses around Ploesti. Colonel Kane personally engaged the enemy flak pieces with a fixed .50 caliber machine gun that he had mounted in the nose of his B-24. When he had exhausted the weapon's ammunition, he ordered his other gunners to destroy the train’s engine. Once they reached the target (White IV), his group released its bombs on the Asta Romana refinery, evaded heavy concentrations of German and Romanian fighter attacks, and then headed with a number of other crippled aircraft to Cyprus. It was there that the heavily damaged "Hail Columbia" would crash upon landing, 14 hours after takeoff. Colonel Kane would be awarded the Medal of Honor a few days later on a cricket field in Cairo.
After the war, he commanded various bases in the United States but never rose above the rank of Colonel, due mostly to his propensity to care more for his men than for his superiors and to his tendency for telling generals how he truly felt instead of what they wanted to hear.
Colonel Kane retired in 1956 and to a farm in Logan County, Arkansas, along with his wife Phyllis, where he built his house by himself. Upon his wife’s death in 1987, he moved to Pennsylvania to be near his son, John Franklin Kane. He died May 29, 1996, while living at a Veterans Administration nursing home.
In 1998, Kane's former command, Barksdale Air Force Base, named its simulator facility after him.