Capt. James M. Kirk
Recipient of the Purple Heart & the Air Medal with nine Oak Leaf Clusters
Class of 2018
One man who enlisted at the age of nineteen right after the attack on Pearl Harbor was James Murray Kirk. James was the son of a coal miner, who was raised in Gary, Indiana, and graduated from Horace Mann High School in 1940. While a student there, he was a sergeant in ROTC. He has the distinction of being the first non-commissioned officer in World War II who participated in 50 bombing missions. He was assigned a three-year tour of duty with Headquarters of the 20th Fighter Bomber Group. As he manned the tail gun position, he saw the tail of his plane shot off while participating in his first mission.
His 50 missions earned him the Purple Heart for wounds received in action. He was awarded the Air Medal with nine Oak Leaf Clusters and he was recommended for the Distinguished Flying Cross. After completing his missions, he served in England as an instructor. The original 1943 film, “Memphis Belle,” was a documentary film with actual footage of American air combat over Europe. Captain Kirk, who was then a tail gunner, was featured in a scene when his plane - with part of its tail missing - landed safely. He served as a technical adviser on the 1990 remake of the film, “Memphis Belle.”