Claude Ross Kinsey, Jr.
Lieutenant Colonel, United States Air Force
R. Kinsey Jr., 86, a “flying sergeant” who became one of the earliest U.S.
aces of World War II and who escaped a prisoner-of-war camp by walking
100 miles through Italy across German lines, died February 4, 2006 of cancer
in Springfield, Virignia.
Lieutenant Colonel Kinsey, who entered the Army Air Forces as an enlisted man and trained to fly while still a buck Private, was credited with shooting down seven enemy planes over North Africa between January 29 and April 5, 1943, when he was shot down by his own inexperienced wingman. He bailed out of his burning P-38 Lightning fighter, landing in 3 feet of water near Tunis, Algeria, blinded from swollen eyes and temporarily paralyzed below the waist. He was captured by residents who turned him over to the Italian military.
The 23-year-old Second Lieutenant, after recovering
from severe burns, ended up at a large POW camp near Chieti, Italy, where
he stayed until the end of September 1943, when the Italian guards fled
and were replaced by Germans. The Germans moved the prisoners to a camp
near Sulmona, Italy, where, on the first night, the young pilot slipped
out, evaded machine-gun fire and began his 30-day start-and-stop escape
down the Apennine Mountains toward Bari, near
When he found the front lines, he had lost 35 pounds from his 150-pound frame. Avoiding live artillery emplacements, he walked through what he later learned was a German minefield, then crossed paths with a squad of Canadian soldiers, who took him to their headquarters. He discovered that his own unit, the 82nd Fighter Group, 96th Fighter Squadron, was based nearby.
In his absence, Colonel Kinsey had earned a
promotion to first lieutenant. His commander offered him a choice of the
Distinguished Service Cross or the Distinguished Flying Cross and, unaware
of the higher prestige of the former, he opted for the latter award.
After his return to the States, Colonel Kinsey was told by Pentagon officials that since the Italians were now allies, he should not write a book or go public with details of his time at the prison camp. When reporters for the Chicago Tribune said they wanted to write a weeklong serial of his exploits, he told them to first get clearance from the War Department. The government refused, and military officials threatened him with a court-martial, then put a statement in his service record. That statement, Colonel Kinsey later believed, cost him promotions for nine years.
The Army Air Force sent him on a tour of the
nation as a war hero to promote the sale of war bonds. He spent the remainder
of the war as a P-38 combat instruction pilot. He also taught men how to
refuel aircraft. By the time he became a captain, he had transferred to
the Strategic Air Command, for which he flew B-47 Stratojet bombers, some
of them loaded with nuclear weapons. He retired in 1965 as a squadron commander.
Survivors include his wife of 62 years, Elizabeth “Lila” Kinsey of Springfield, Virginia.; sons, Claude Kinsey III of Fort Washington, Maryland, and Daniel Kinsey of Bohemia, New York; and three grandchildren.
Colonel Kinsey was buried with full military
honors in Arlington National Cemetery on 3 March 2006.