A week ago, the most decorated Marine aviator in American history died of natural causes. Col. Kenneth L. Reusser’s service spanned three wars and resulted in 59 medals, including two Navy Crosses and four Purple Hearts. He was shot down three times and survived to live a long and fulfilling life. His exploits as a Marine fighter pilot are legendary.
His story is awe inspiring (read the Marine Corps Times article), but in my mind, he symbolizes the grit of every Marine aviator. Many Marines have told me when they need air support, they want Marines in the pilot seat because they fly lower and stay longer. The affection goes both ways. Marine aviators have told me that they fly into harm’s way because, “There are Marines down there.”
Following in the hallowed footsteps of Col. Reusser is Lt. Col. Brian M. Kennedy.
In the opening days of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Lt. Col. Kennedy flew more than 71 combat missions in his AH-1W Cobra helicopter. As a primary flight leader, his team of Cobras was among the first to fire on day one of OIF (March 20, 2003). During the ensuing days, he and his flight flew tirelessly in extremely hazardous conditions to support ground forces heading north. On April 5th alone, he and his flight were credited with destroying, “…eight Iraqi artillery positions and an enormous artillery stash, which was critical to the Special Republican Guardâ€™s ability to sustain their fight.” (DefenseLink) He did all that while flying at 300 feet.
He was there on the first night of hostilities, and he was still there when organized Iraqi resistance crumbled.
In an inteview with the Department of Defense he said, â€œI am an ordinary Marine who served in extraordinary circumstances supporting extraordinary Marines on the ground who were often nose to nose with the enemy.â€
His squadron’s motto: Calm, like panic, is contagious. So be calm.
Col. Reusser would be proud.
Lt. Col. Kennedy was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor for his actions in OIF, and is our hero of the week.
(To read the complete DefenseLink article and listen to interviews, click here.)