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.
WWII - European Theater of Operations/Egypt-Libya Campaign (1942-43)
June / 1942
February / 1943
Description (Egypt-Libya Campaign 11 June 1942 to 12 February 1943) When the United States entered World War II in December 1941, the British had been fighting German and Italian armies in the Western Desert of Egypt and Libya for over a year. In countering an Italian offensive in 1940, the British had at first enjoyed great success. In 1941, however, when German forces entered the theater in support of their Italian ally, the British suffered severe reversals, eventually losing nearly all their hard-won gains in North Africa.
Even though the United States had not yet entered the war as an active combatant, by the time General Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, commander of the German Army’s Afrika Korps, began his offensive against the British Eighth Army in Libya in March 1941, the American and British air chiefs were already discussing American support for the British Eighth Army. Rommel’s rapid and unexpected success in the Libyan desert forced British and American staff officers
in London to accelerate their planning. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his advisers also agreed that the British might need American support in the Middle East. Overall theater responsibility would continue to be British, but the President recognized that a British collapse in Egypt would have far-reaching implications and approved contingency measures to prepare for American support to the theater at a future date.