Col. Thomas E. Kirk Jr. was a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot with 28 years of active duty service. He is a veteran of both the Korean War and Vietnam War conflicts. During his military career, Kirk served worldwide, commanded a fighter squadron in the Vietnam War, commanded a Pilot Training Wing in Alabama, served as Deputy Commander of the Lowry Technical Training Center, Denver, CO, and was Vice Commander of Special Forces at the U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany.
Most noteworthy, while leading the largest fighter-bomber raid of the Vietnam War on Oct. 28, 1967, Colonel Kirk’s F-105 was hit by anti-aircraft fire over Hanoi, North Vietnam. With his plane engulfed in flames, forcing him to parachute from it. Upon landing, he was immediately captured and spent five-plus years as a Prisoner of War (POW) at the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” prison camp. After the war’s end in March 1973, he was set free.
When Kirk reflects on his service, many thoughts come to mind. “My military life and service created in me a deep love for and appreciation of the wonders of our country – specifically freedom, opportunity, and the ability to do and be whatever I chose (within reason). My jet fighter airplanes career re-enforced my sense of discipline in life and flight and trust in my fellow airmen. My POW experience, while tough, taught me how to live with adversity, keep the faith, love of family, and belief in the goodness of our country. When I speak of our military, the operative words are “Service to our Country.” In my view, Veterans do not wish to be thought of as heroes. Instead, they ask that their service and sacrifice be appreciated and noted.”
His awards include the Air Force Cross, four Silver Stars, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, nine Air Medals, and the Purple Heart for his combat leadership and heroism. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from Virginia Military Institute and a master’s degree in business from the University of Southern California.
After his military retirement in 1978, he became a Certified Financial Planner, first overseas in Italy and then in Vail, CO. At the age of 80, he and his wife Ann moved to Anthem in 2008.
Today, Kirk uses his experience as a POW to speak to the youth and others about how he broke under extreme punishment. In doing so, he hopes to help students and veterans alike embrace their strengths and weaknesses. He encourages them to surround themselves with people who make them better and find their inner reserves to battle temptations.
In closing, he says, “I love my life, and I am blessed with a wonderful wife, Ann. My motto has been and is, Every day above ground Is a great day.”