Col. Thomas H. Kirk Jr. ’50B: Most Decorated Living VMI Alumnus

On Oct. 28, 1967, 38-year-old Thomas H. Kirk Jr. ’50B left Takhli Air Base in Thailand flying an F-105 Thunderchief aircraft. He was heading for Hanoi, the most heavily defended city in the world. Kirk led 48 bombers, plus supporting aircraft, in the largest air attack on Hanoi during the Vietnam War. His target: The Paul Doumer Bridge (now called Long Bien Bridge). A seasoned pilot, Kirk had flown 50 missions in the Korean War. In Vietnam, the heavy flak, enemy fighters, and Russian-made surface-to-air missiles were, in his words, “terrifying.” The mission was his 67th.

Over the target at 14,000 feet, he called, “Roll-in,” and all planes dove for the bridge. Approximately halfway down on his dive bomb run, he felt an explosion in the rear of his aircraft. His fire warning light was on, but he stayed on task and dropped two 3,000-pound bombs on target. The bombs knocked down the bridge’s span—but Kirk’s aircraft was damaged severely, and he was losing his hydraulics. He needed to get to the jungle 40 miles south of Hanoi to be rescued by helicopter. He made it to around 27 miles.

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