Kentucky Colonel authors Congressional Gold Medal legislation

RCAF Sergeant pilot ed Tracey. Photo: courtesy of Tim Tracey.

31 March 2017 | Lakeland, Florida. The Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels takes the honoring of veterans seriously, as does a member who resides in Florida. This Kentucky Colonel, who is also a Colonel in the Commemorative Air Force, is a licensed pilot and aircraft mechanic who recently voluntarily served as the principal author of Congressional Gold Medal legislation (HR 1553) and an associated “Dear Colleague” letter.

The Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels website states the following: “Kentucky Colonels are unwavering in devotion to faith, family, commonwealth and country.” Colonels are described as follows: “Passionate about being compassionate” and “Proud leaders who are gentle but strong in will and commitment.” Notably, the Louisville-based nonprofit is, as is stated, a “voluntary philanthropic organization.” One of the Good Works programs undertaken by the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels is partnering with the Bluegrass Honor Flight, a nonprofit group, to provide “veterans with an opportunity to visit Washington, D.C., and see the monuments dedicated to the men and women who served our country in times of war.”

An American RCAF Flight Sergeant preparing to fly his Curtiss Kittyhawk fighter in Alaska circa 1942-1943. Photo from wartime book First Steps West.

H.R. 1553 was introduced earlier this month into the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill seeks to rectify an oversight of history and provide belated but deserved recognition for the thousands of Americans who volunteered for service with the Canadian and British armed forces and associated organizations during the Second World War. The official title of the act is the “American Patriots of WWII through Service with the Canadian and British Armed Forces Gold Medal Act of 2017.’’

The purpose, as spelled out on the first page of the document, is, “To award a Congressional Gold Medal to all United States nationals who voluntarily joined the Canadian and British armed forces and their supporting entities during World War Two, in recognition of their dedicated service.” The referenced supporting entities include the Air Transport Auxiliary, Royal Air Force Ferry Command and British Home Guard.

Captains of the Clouds poster.

In the 1942 film Captains of the Clouds Air Marshal William Avery “Billy” Bishop, an organizer and promoter of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan and Director of the Royal Canadian Air Force, was filmed as he thanked the “gallant lads from the United States who have come up here to help and serve with us” during a Wings Parade. Unfortunately, most Americans, and Canadians and Britons as well, are unaware of the substantial and critical contributions these American men and women played in the Allied victory.

The colonel explained about the legislation: “A large number of Americans served before the United States officially entered the Second World War and hundreds died.” He added, “Bomber Command Museum of Canada maintains listings of the RCAF personnel who perished during their enlistments.”

DAYTON, Ohio — “High Flight” exhibit at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

One well known example is John G. Magee, Jr., who authored the famous sonnet High Flight before being killed in his RAF Spitfire fighter.

Mr. Karl Kjarsgaard, one of the referenced facility’s directors, is passionate about publicizing the history of these valiant “Yanks” who left their friends and families.”

Mr. Kjarsgaard points out that at least seven individuals, who were born in Kentucky, joined the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and were killed in the defense of liberty.” Jeff Robinson, a museum member in British Columbia, found in an out of print publication that one Kentuckian, who hailed Mount Sterling, died during Royal Air Force (RAF) service.

Karl Kjarsgaard and Canadian Senator at the Virginia War Memorial on Oct 22, 2013.

Another Kentuckian, who was from Harrodsburg, perished sometime after transferring to the U.S. Army Air Forces from the RAF.

The overall numbers relating to Canada alone are telling. In his 1995 book Cross-Border Warriors: Canadians in American Forces; Americans in Canadian Forces From the Civil War to the Gulf, Fred Gaffen, on page 49 states: “At the time of Pearl Harbor over 6,000 American citizens were serving in the RCAF and several thousand in the RAF.”

American Don Gentile with his Spitfire Vb while serving with 133 Squadron, RAF at Biggin Hill in 1942. Photo via Imperial War Museum.

Gaffen’s expounds on page 50 by stating that approximately 30,000 Americans joined the Canadian air force, army and navy during the Second World War. Exactly 18,848 American citizens served in the Canadian Army and about 9,000 joined the RCAF. Mr. Gaffen reports, on page 51, that, “Of the 8,864 Americans who had come to Canada to enlist in the RCAF some 800 were killed. Several hundred of the 2,000 who transferred to the USAAF [U.S. Army Air Forces] also were killed.”

Ed Tracey and his USAF P-47D Thunderbolt circa 1944. Photo courtesy of Tim Tracey

The initiator of the Congressional Gold Medal initiative, Mr. Tim Tracey of Ohio. His father joined the RCAF and served as a flight instructor before transferring to the USAAF to fly fighters in combat.

All connected with its drafting, introduction and ongoing promotion sincerely hope that H.R. 1553 will be enacted into law. Although many of the Americans recognized by the bill have now passed away, a number remain and await their decorations, and, upon enactment, the families of those who have departed this life can finally know that the services unselfishly provided by their fathers, grandfathers, and aunts and uncles have been noted and sanctioned by the U.S. Congress and Government.

Lieutenant Commander (LCDR) Valerie Broznak, U.S. Navy, who is Congressman Tim Ryan’s current Defense Legislative Fellow, oversaw the preparation of H.R. 1553. Organizations wishing to endorse the bill may do so by having an authorized official contact LCDR Broznak at (202) 225-3658.

___________________

20th Century Aviation Magazine and publisher Col. J.R. Hafer thank the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels and Karl Kjarsgaard of Bomber Command Museum of Canada for their cooperation during the preparation of this article.

Sources and Suggested Readings

Gaffen, Fred. Cross-Border Warriors: Canadians in American Forces; Americans in Canadian Forces From the Civil War to the Gulf. Toronto: Dundurn Press,1995.

Honor Flight Bluegrass Chapter

honorflightbluegrass.org