Last Known Activity
Virgil Paul Kirkham was born on November 27, 1924 in Troutdale, Oregon. He was the son of William Cory and Mary Elizabeth Rayburn Kirkham.
No records concerning his early life have been located to date; however, there is a brief notation in one article that states "while he was at the University." There is no mention of the name of the institution.
The date of his entry into service can only be speculated on, however; with a birthdate of late 1924, it is doubtful he could have joined the Aviation Cadet program until possibly 1942. The length of most basic and primary training, plus the familiarization flights for the P-47 fighter, would see him commissioned and assigned to an operational unit not much before late 1943.
Kirkham was assigned to the 377th Fighter Squadron of the 362nd Fighter Group of the 9th Air Force. The primary mission of the unit was bomber escort and fighter sweeps, but after D-Day, the P-47s were utilized in ground attack mode as fighter bombers. As a result of the mission change, the 377th Fighter Squadron moved from RAF Headon to Lignvulles, France, and to Illeschaim, Germany.
On April 30, 1945, Lt. Virgil Paul Kirkham took-off on his 82nd combat mission. The targets were German armored stock in Czeckoslavakia. Near the city of Pilsen, Kirkham and his flight were positioning themselves for an attack on a column of armored cars and tanks when they came under intense anti-aircraft fire. In attempting to evade the low-altitude flak, Kirkham swerved his aircraft, and the wing tip hit a tree. The aircraft cartwheeled into the ground, exploded, and burned.
His body was retrieved by local citizens and buried near the crash site just outside Klencin. He was later moved to the Lorraine American Cemetery and Memorial where he lies today.
Lt. Virgil Paul Kirkham was 20 years old, and the last fighter pilot killed in Europe in World War II.
A 14 year-old Czech girl, Zdebky Sladkova, was so impressed by the young American's sacrifice to liberate her country that she has tended a small memorial at the crash site for 65 years. At the age of 79 (2010) she still tends it.
Lt. Virgil Paul Kirkham was flying his assigned aircraft, P-47D #44-89700. nicknamed "Lady Jo-Ann II" when he was killed in action.Missing Air Crew Report 14219 applies.
Lt. Kirkham was credited with one aerial victory in combat.
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