Colonel John Riley Kane was born in McGregor, Texas on January 5, 1907. He was the son of a Baptist minister. After high school, he enrolled at Baylor University where he was a member of the football team and graduated in 1928 with a Bachelor of Arts degree.
In 1931, he enlisted in the Aviation Cadet program, and took flying training at Brooks, Randolph, and Kelly Fields, Texas. He was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant and awarded pilot's wings in 1932. He then served at Rockwell and March Army Air Fields before his transfer to the Reserve Component in 1934.
Kane returned to active duty in 1935, and became the Commanding Officer of Barksdale Field, Louisiana. Shortly afterward, he was placed in command of a squadron at Lackland AAFB, Texas. He was promoted to Major, and in 1942 was deployed to the Mediterranean area where he flew 43 combat missions, racking up a total of 250 combat hours. He became the Commanding Officer of the 98th Bomb Group based in England.
He flew with an element of his command to Benghazi, Libya to join the raid on the Ploesti oil fields. As the bomber stream approached the target area, most of the units took a wrong turn, one that led away from the target. Kane knew this, and was determined to press on with his mission.
Reaching his designated target area, he successfully bombed the Astro Romano refinery that also was hit by another group. Taking numerous flak hits in his aircraft, Kane circled the area, directing late arriving units into bombing positions. Only after declaring an in-flight emergency with one engine stopped and one burning, he left the area, only to crash-land in Cypress. For actions taken during the Ploesti mission, Colonel John R. Kane was awarded the Medal of Honor.
In February 1944 he was promoted to the rank of Colonel and assigned as Base Commander at Gowen Field. In 1947, he attended the National War College, then was assigned as Director of Technical Studies at Lowery Field, Colorado. He also commanded the 3415th Maintenance and Supply Group.
He was assigned as Base Commander to Ladd AAFB, Alaska in 1949. This marked the start of a series of Base Commander positions, namely Mountain Home AFB, Idaho while he was also Commanding Officer of the 580th Air Base Wing of the Military Transport Command. Other assignments were Base Commander in Libya, and then to Morocco, where he was in charge of the 549th AC&W Group under 316th Air Division.
Returning to the U.S. in 1953, he was Base Commander at Smoky Hill AFB, Kansas until his retirement in May, 1954.
During the war, he was known as "Killer" Kane. Reports were that he was called this by German intelligence agents because of his aggressive nature. The truth is, when he was in Air Cadet status, his best friend was a cadet named Buck Rogers. So, as in the comic strip, Buck Rogers had a friend named "Killer" Kane.
Colonel John R. Kane passed away in a VA Nursing Hospital in Haverston, Pennsylvania on May 29, 1996. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. He lies in Plot Section 7A, Grave 47.
The B-52 Combat Crew Training Center at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana is named for him, and he was entered into the Louisiana Military Hall of Fame on November 13, 2010.
Colonel John R. Kane was assigned B-24D #41-11825, "Hail Columbia" from the 334th Bomb Squadron. When he became Commanding Officer of the 98th Bomb Group, the aircraft was assigned to Herman "Big Dog" Lewis who left the "Hail Columbia" nose art on the right side, but added "Little Chief- Big Dog" on the left.
When Lewis was killed, the aircraft was transferred to the 343rd Bomb Squadron where it became "Grumpy" according to the Snow White Protocol. When assigned back to the 334th Bomb Squadron, Kane deleted the "Grumpy" designation and renamed it "Hail Columbia."
While on the August 1, 1943 mission to Ploesti, the aircraft took numerous flak hits with 20 areas of major damage and uncounted bullet holes. Because of fuel shortage caused by lingering over the target at Ploesti, the aircraft was crash-landed on Cyprus and later recovered.
The Mission Crew loading List for "Hail Columbia" has not been found as of yet, but through alternate sources, the only crew member known beside Kane is 2nd Lieutenant Harold Korger, the bombardier.
1942-1943, AAF MOS 1092, 98th Bombardment Group, Heavy
Previously served with both the Ninth and Twelfth Air Forces before
being assigned to the Fifteenth Air Force in 11/43.
Based at Herglia, Tunisia from 9/43 to 11/43.
Moved to Brindisi, Italy from 11/43 to12/43.
Moved to Manduria, Italy 12/43 to 1/44.
Moved to Lecee Italy 1/44 until end of the war. Inactivated 11/45.
Probably their most famous mission was the Low Level raid to Ploesti on 1 August 1943, exactly one year after the first mission was flown. On this raid, of 47 B-24s launched, only 21 returned safely. One crashed on takeoff with the loss of all crewmembers except two. Six aborted before reaching the target. Seventeen went down in enemy territory. Two went down at sea. The Group Commander, Col. John R. (Killer) Kane was awarded the Medal of Honor for his leadership.
On another raid on Ploesti on 9 July 1944, Lt. Donald Pucket sacrificed his life trying to save three of his crewmembers who could not or would not bail out of their doomed B-24. Donald Pucket was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for his sacrifice.
The 98th continued fighting the Nazi for the rest of the war. Flying a total of 417 missions and earning a total of 15 battle streamers as well as two Presidential Unit Citations. As cited above, two members of the 98th earned the Medal of Honor..
The 98th returned to the U.S. in April-May 1945 and was re-designated the 98th Bombardment Group (Very Heavy). the 98th was deactivated as a group on 10 November 1945. However, the 343rd, 344th, and 345th Squadrons were reassigned to B-29 groups and re-designated as Very Heavy bomb squadrons. The 343re Squadron was assigned to the 40th Bomb Group at March AFB, CA. and deactivated 27 November 1946. The 344th was assigned to the 444th Bomb Group at Davis-Monthan Field, AZ and deactivated on 1 October 1946. The 345th was assigned to the 462nd Bomb Group at McDill Field, FL and deactivated on 31 March 1946.
'The Vulgar Virgin''
Unit: 98th BG, 9th AF, USAAF
Serial: 1/V (31766)
Early 1944. Desert Sand and Azure Blue finish. Note faded portion of national insignia.
B-24D-CO "The Witch"
Unit: 343rd BS, 98th BG, USAAF
Serial: P (41-11840)
This aircraft was shot down by Bulgarian fighter pilot por.Stoyan Stoyanov during the Ploesti raid Rumania on August 1st, 1943. It crash landed at Bulgaria-Yugoslavia border. 6 POW, 4 evaded.
Unit: 343rd BS, 98th BG, 9th AF, USAAF
The plane was originally with the 345th BS, 98th BG. It was used as a radar equipped sea search plane. When it was transferred to the 343rd BS the Dopey nose art was applied. It was painted by Crew Chief Amos Nicholson. The starboard side of the aircraft had the nose art Arkansas Traveler. The plane was destroyed by fire on April 11, 1943. There is some question as to what happed. Some say it was destroyed by enemy agents or enemy paratroopers. Some say it was accidentally set ablaze by American soldiers who had washed it with gasoline.
B-24D-53-CO "Prince Charming"
Unit: 343rd BS, 98th BG, USAAF
Serial: Y (42-40364)
ex 'Snow White'. This B-24D painted Desert Pink over Neutral Gray. This aircraft was lost in Ploesti, Romania raid on August 1st, 1943. 8 crewmen KIA, 1 POW.
B-24D-140-CO "Snake Hips"
Unit: 98th BG, USAAF
Serial: FA (4125221 ?)
Western Desert, North Africa, 1943. Note: the serial number is speculative because it is hard to read on the photo.
B-24J-1-NT "Delectable Doris"
Unit: 343rd BS, 98th BG, 47th BW, 15th AF, USAAF
Serial: AL (42-78600)
This aircraft was shot down by AAA on 8th April 1945 over North Africa. According some other report this plane having been interned in Switzerland on 8th April 1945