John Riley “Killer” Kane MOH

b. 05/01/1907 McGregor, Texas. d. 29/05/1996 Coatsville, Pennsylvania.

DATE OF MOH ACTION: 01/08/1943 Ploesti, Romania.

John R Kane MOH

Born in January 1907 in McGregor, Texas, Kane grew up in Wichita Falls. His father, John Franklin Kane, was a Baptist minister. He then moved to Munich, Germany.

Kane attended Baylor University in Waco, Texas, where he played basketball and football. On January 22, 1927, he was traveling with the basketball team to a game when their bus was struck by a train in Round Rock, Texas, killing 10 of the 22 people aboard; Kane escaped with minor injuries. Those killed became known as the “Immortal Ten”, and a homecoming ceremony in their memory has become a Baylor tradition. Kane graduated in 1928 with a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Kane married Pansy Inabnett of Shreveport; the couple had one child, John Franklin Kane II. The marriage ended in divorce. Kane met his second wife, a British nurse, in Morocco after the Ploesti raid, named Phyllis. Phyllis Kane died in 1987.

Kane moved to Shreveport, Louisiana, and joined the United States Army Air Corps (later the United States Army Air Forces) as an aviation cadet in June 1931. After training in Brooks, Randolph, and Kelly Fields in Texas, he received his commission in 1932. He was stationed at Rockwell and March Fields in southern California before transferring to the reserves in 1934. Re-entering active duty in late 1935, he returned to the Shreveport, Louisiana, area to serve at Barksdale Field, eventually becoming the base commander. By April 1940, he was assigned to MacDill Field in Florida as an operations officer and then commanded a squadron at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.

In July 1942, he was sent to the Mediterranean Theater of Operations, where he flew 43 combat missions for a total of 250 combat hours in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Kane commanded the 98th Bombardment Group, a B-24 Liberator unit nicknamed the “Pyramiders”, and his daring operations caused German intelligence reports to dub him “Killer Kane.”

In December 1942, for leading a raid on Naples, Italy that sank an enemy cruiser and a battleship, he received the Distinguished Flying Cross. Kane earned the Silver Star during a mission in the Middle East when his plane became separated from the formation and was attacked from the rear by an enemy fighter. Although the tail and top turrets of his bomber became inoperative, he successfully outmaneuvered the pursuing Bf 110 through eight different attacks. The fighter eventually exhausted its ammunition and was forced to break off the attack without causing any appreciable damage to Kane’s aircraft.

On August 1, 1943, Kane, by then a colonel, led the 98th in Operation Tidal Wave, a low-altitude bombing mission against oil refineries in Ploieşti, Romania. The 98th was one of five bomb groups taking part in the attack. En route to the target, which called for a round-trip flight of over 2,400 miles, his element became separated from the leading portion of the massed formation while avoiding dense cloud conditions over mountainous terrain. Rather than turn back from such a vital mission, he elected to proceed to the target. Upon arrival it was discovered that another group had missed its target and then bombed the area assigned to the 98th. Despite the fully warned defenses, intensive anti-aircraft fire, enemy fighter planes, and hazards from delayed-action bombs dropped by the earlier element, oil fires, and dense smoke over the target area, he elected to lead his formation against the oil refineries.

By the time Kane’s bomber, “Hail Columbia”, left the target, it had lost an engine and been struck more than 20 times by anti-aircraft fire. His decision to circle as the command aircraft used up the plane’s reserve fuel; the aircraft crash landed in Cyprus before reaching its base in North Africa.

For his part in the mission, Kane was awarded the Medal of Honor eight days later, on August 9, 1943. He is one of two Baylor alumni to receive the medal, the other being Jack Lummus. He received his Medal on the cricket pitch at Gezira Sporting Club in Cairo, Egypt on September 7, 1943 from Major General Lewis H. Brereton. After the War, he remained in the Air Force, holding several base command positions. He resigned from the Air Force on on May 10, 1954. 

He retired to a farm in Logan County, Arkansas, but moved to Pennsylvania in 1987 to be near his son. He died in 1996 whilst leaving in a Veterans Administration nursing home in Pennsylvania. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.



For conspicuous gallantry in action and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty, 1 August 1943. On this date he led the third element of heavy bombardment aircraft in a mass low-level bombing attack against the vitally important enemy target of the Ploesti oil refineries. En route to the target, which necessitated a round-trip flight of over 2,400 miles, Col. Kane’s element became separated from the leading portion of the massed formation in avoiding dense and dangerous cumulus cloud conditions over mountainous terrain. Rather than turn back from such a vital mission he elected to proceed to his target. Upon arrival at the target area it was discovered that another group had apparently missed its target and had previously attacked and damaged the target assigned to Col. Kane’s element. Despite the thoroughly warned defenses, the intensive antiaircraft fire, enemy fighter airplanes, extreme hazards on a low-level attack of exploding delayed-action bombs from the previous element, of oil fire and explosions and dense smoke over the target area, Col. Kane elected to lead his formation into the attack. By his gallant courage, brilliant leadership, and superior flying skill, he and the formation under his command successfully attacked this vast refinery so essential to our enemies’ war effort. Through his conspicuous gallantry in this most hazardous action against the enemy, and by his intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty, Col. Kane personally contributed vitally to the success of this daring mission and thereby rendered most distinguished service in the furtherance of the defeat of our enemies.