KASLER, JAMES HELMS
RIP 24 April 2014
|Name: James Helms Kasler
Rank/Branch: O4/United States Air Force
Unit: 354th TFS
Date of Birth: 2 May 1926
Home City of Record: Zanesville OH
Date of Loss: 08 August 1966
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 212800 North 1050000 East
Status (in 1973): Returnee
Kasler was a Korean War "Ace" flying the F-86 with 100
missions, and a USA Air Corp B-29 tailgunner in the Pacific
Theater during WWII, flying 7 missions.
Other Personnel in Incident: none
Official pre-capture photo
Source: Compiled by P.O.W. NETWORK from one or more of the following: raw
data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA
families, published sources, interviews. Updated 2019 with information
from Justin Jackson-Mann.
REMARKS: 730304 RELEASED BY DRV
SOURCE: WE CAME HOME copyright 1977
Captain and Mrs. Frederic A Wyatt (USNR Ret), Barbara Powers Wyatt, Editor
P.O.W. Publications, 10250 Moorpark St., Toluca Lake, CA 91602
Text is reproduced as found in the original publication (including date and
UPDATE - 09/95 by the P.O.W. NETWORK, Skidmore, MO
JAMES H. KASLER
Colonel - United States Air Force
Captured: August 8, 1966
Released: March 4, 1973
I was shot down over North Vietnam on 8 August 1966 while flying my 91st
mission. I knew my internment would not be a pleasant one, but little did I
imagine that we would be subjected to years of torture accompanied by
constant pressure. It's difficult to imagine the mental anguish that we went
through, waiting in isolation for them to come after you and fearing that
you would not be strong enough to resist being forced into taping or writing
something which would harm our country or its cause.
During those early years we were kept in isolation so much of the time and
denied anything with which to occupy our minds. We were never allowed to see
or communicate with other prisoners and never allowed out of our cells
except for an occasional bath.
The Vietnamese kept us in isolation and denied us anything to occupy our
minds for a good reason; for when a man living under these conditions is
subjected to any mental inputs or torture it remains vivid in his memory for
Brainwashing has been described as torture, fear, relief, and then repeated
until the individual becomes receptive to and is willing to parrot anything
he is told. Isolation, starvation and denial of sleep are used in
conjunction with brainwashing to reduce individual's resistance. The
Vietnamese employed all of these techniques but they were crude and ruthless
in their approach. They were impatient for results and when they were not
forthcoming, they became even more ruthless.
My worst session of torture began in late June 1968. The Vietnamese were
attempting to force me to meet a delegation and appear before TV cameras on
the occasion of the supposed 30000th American airplane ever North Vietnam. I
couldn't say the things they were trying to force me to say. I was tortured
for six weeks. I went through the ropes and irons ten times. I was denied
sleep for five days and during three of these was beaten every hour on the
hour with a fan belt. During the entire period I was on a starvation diet. I
was very sick during this period. I had contacted osteomyelitis in early
1967 and had a massive bone infection in my right leg.
They would wrap a my leg before each torture session so I wouldn't
get pus or blood all over the floor of the interrogation room. During this
time they beat my face to a pulp. I couldn't get my teeth apart for five
days. My ear drum was ruptured, one of my ribs broken and the pin in my
right leg was broken loose and driven up into my hip.
I lay in agony for six months until I was given an operation in January of
I surrendered a number of times during this torture session but when they
tried to get me to do something I would refuse. By the time they were
finished with me I was in no condition do do anything.
Their purpose of course was to exploit the POW's to try to force us to
parrot their propaganda in tapes or letters to delegations which came to
Hanoi. But our treatment in Hanoi only strengthened our resistence and our
faith in our country and its cause in Southeast Asia.
Robert Louis Stevenson once said, "Anyone can carry his burden, however hard
until nightfall, anyone can do his work however hard for one day." This was
the pattern of our lives in Hanoi during those early years of terror. We
lived to endure each day hoping that nightfall would bring us a few hours of
relief. We could have easily compromised our beliefs and made our lives much
easier by cooperating with the Vietnamese. But our goal was to return home
with our honor. Some brave men did not survive those early years but those
who did came home with dignity and pride.
James Kasler retired from the United States Air Force as a Colonel. He and
his wife Martha reside in Illinois.
Cuban War Crimes Against American POWs During Vietnam War
Pentagon officials confirmed that POWs released during "Operation
Homecoming" in 1973, were told not to talk about "third-country
"This thing is very sensitive with all kinds of diplomatic ramifications,"
according to one Pentagon official. (Washington Star, 4/3/73)
Not only was it not discussed, the torture and murder of over 20 Americans
by Cubans, was swept under the rug by the U.S. government. The Cubans were
attached to Hanoi's Enemy Proselytizing Bureau with jurisdiction over
Air Force Colonel Donald "Digger" Odell gave his Defense Department
debriefers an eyewitness account of two American POWs, who the Hanoi
communists hadn't released because "The Vietnamese didn't want the world to
see what they had done to them."
In spite of the Colonel's eyewitness account, and those of other returnees,
DOD (Department of Defense) continues to this date to vehemently deny that
any American POWs had been left behind.
For days in June 1968, Air Force Ace Major James Kasler was tortured by
Fidel. Fidel beat Kasler across the buttocks with a large truck fan belt
until "he tore my rear end to shreds".
For one three-day period, Kasler was beaten with the fan belt every hour
from 6:am to 10:pm, and kept awake at night. "My mouth was so bruised that I
could not open my teeth for five days."
After one beating, Kasler's buttocks, lower back and legs hung in shreds.
The skin had been entirely whipped away and the area was a bluish, purplish,
greenish mass of bloody raw meat.
According to Kasler, "at least 15 men were either killed during torture or
were not accounted for." (Time, 4/9/71)
Three POWs were beaten senseless, and of the three, two disappeared and the
other was reported to have died.
Fidel called one of the American POWs the "Faker". He was one of the three
who had been beaten senseless.
The first time Jack Bomar saw him, the man could barely walk; he shuffled
slowly, painfully. His clothes torn to shreds. He was bleeding everywhere,
terribly swollen, and a dirty, yellowish black and purple from head to toe.
The man's head was down; he made to attempt to look at anyone. He had been
through much more than the day's beatings.
His body was ripped and torn everywhere; hell cuffs appeared almost to have
severed his wrists, strap marks still wound around the arms all the way to
the shoulders, slivers of bamboo were embedded in the bloodied shins and
there were what appeared to be tread marks from the hose across the chest,
back and legs.
Fidel smashed a fist into the man's face, driving him against the wall.
Then he was brought to the center of the room and made to get down onto his
knees. Screaming in rage, Fidel took a length of black rubber hose from a
guard and lashed it as hard as he could into the man'a face. The prisoner
did not react; he did not cry out or even blink an eye. Again and again, a
dozen times, Fidel smashed the man's face with the hose.
He was never released. (Hubble, P.O.W.
The Cuban torturers were given the names "Fidel" "Chico" and "Pancho" .
They were part of a Cuban diplomatic contingent assigned to Hanoi's Enemy
Proselytizing Bureau, and were directly responsible for the murder and
torture of a considerable number of American POWs.
According to one CIA dispatch, the Cuban Program" was conducted at the Cuu
Loc PW camp from August 1967 through July 1968.
According to a DIA report, "the objective of the interrogators was to obtain
the total submission of the prisoners...." However, this report may not have
been entirely accurate.
One intelligence source, who reportedly interviewed "Fidel" and other Cuban
interrogators in Hanoi, claims they said that their real job was to act as
gate-keepers for the Soviets, and helped select highly-skilled pilots and
electronic warfare backseaters, who became "Moscow Bound".
The Cuban involvement in the interrogation of POWs did not end in 1968, for
in 1969, I was interrogated by Fidel, and it wasn't in the Cuu Loc prison.
There were two other prison camps located near Cuban facilities in North
Vietnam where American POWs were held. One, located at "Work Site 5" (Cong
Truong 5), just north of the DMZ, was adjacent to a Cuban field hospital
that Fidel Castro visited in 1972.
No returned POW was ever held at that camp, where a mixture of legitimate
POWs and some stay-behinds, were incarcerated.
The other, according to a recently returned Vietnamese 34-A commando, was
the Thanh Tri Prison, where he saw 60 American POWs in 1969. Also in the
prison were approximately 100 French and Moroccan POWs captured in the early
His report corroborates several other similar sightings.
Later they were transferred to Ba Vi Prison near another Cuban facility. No
American POW has ever returned from either of these prisons, thought to be
part of Hanoi's second-tier prison system.
In 1972, two French POWs escaped and made it to the French Embassy in
Peking. After the French government paid a ransom, the French and Moroccan
POWs were quietly repatriated.
There is no evidence that the CIA, DoD or DIA have ever interviewed these
On one occasion, a former aide to Fidel Castro approached the American
Consulate in Nassau with an offer to ransom American POWs captured in North
Vietnam, through the Castro Government.
According to the Department of State cable, "We have listened without
comment or commitment. Presume Washington has files on these types.
Propose doing nothing further unless advised."
Evidently there was no follow up.
According to the Baltimore Sun (8/15/77), CIA analysts identified two Cuban
military attaches, Eduardo Morjon Esteves and Luis Perez Jaen, who had
backgrounds which seemed to correspond with information on Fidel and Chico,
supplied by returning POWs.
A Spanish Cuban psychiatrist, Barral Fernando, interrogated Senator John
McCain for an extensive period of time, part of which was published in the
Havana newspaper "Granma". Recently declassified documents show that the CIA
has photographs as well as composite drawings of the Cuban torturers.
After my return in 1973, I identified one of the Cubans in a photograph
shown to me by a Congressional Committee.
I was told that one of the man's jobs was coordinating the American
contingent of the Venceremos Brigade (cane cutters), and he was also
responsible for funneling Soviet money to the Americans to support anti-war
According to one news report, President Clinton's transition coordinator
appointee, Johnnetta Cole, in 1976, "was active in the communist-front
Another report stated that U.S. prisoners-of-war captured in Vietnam were
reported transferred to communist prisons in Cuba during later 1965 and
One Cuban prisoner, who later escaped and fled to the U.S., was held in "Las
Maristas, a secret Cuban prison run by Castro's G-2 Intelligence service,
with American POWs captured in Vietnam".
The POWs referred to each other by rank, such as Lieutenant and Captain, and
a guard told them that these Americans were war prisoners, mostly pilots,
brought from North Vietnam.
Although he was interviewed by FBI agents upon his arrival in the U.S., they
did not seem very interested in the story of American POWs from Vietnam.
Nor was he ever debriefed by U.S. military intelligence or by the CIA.
Other Cuban witnesses have corroborated the fact that a substantial number
of American prisoners were held in several Cuban prisons.
However, only one Cuban claimed knowledge that the Americans were POWs from
There is no evidence that the FBI, DoD, DIA or the CIA canvassed the Cuban
exile community in Miami to find out if they had knowledge of American POWs
taken from Vietnam to Cuba.
The behavior of "Fidel", "Chico" and "Pancho" is beyond the pale and is
clearly in violation of the standards set at Nuremberg after World War II.
Therefore, these Cuban war criminals should be tried before an international
tribunal similar to that supported by the U.S. governemnt for the
prosecution of perpetrators of war crimes in Bosnia.
The communist regime in Hanoi can easily identify these Cubans.
Therefore, a moratorium should be placed on the appointment of an American
Ambassador to Vietnam until the time that regime is "fully cooperating" in
resolving the POW/MIA issue.
Full cooperation by the communist government in Vietnam includes the full
disclosure of the true identities and roles of these Cuban "diplomats", who
were "advisors" to the Hanoi prison systems, and were directly responsible
for the murder, torture and severe disablement of over 20 American POWs.
Michael D. Benge spent 11 years in Vietnam, over five years as a
prisoner-of-war (1968-1973), and is a diligent follower of the affairs of
the regiion. While serving as a civilian Foreign Service Officer, he was
captured in South Vietnam by the North Vietnamese and held in numerous camps
in South Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and North Vietnam. He spent 27 months in
solitary confinement, one year in a "black box." For efforts in rescuing
several Americans before his capture, he received the State Department's
highest award for heroism and a second for valor.
Tempered Steel, the biography of Colonel James H. Kasler. (from
Potomac Books, Inc., Dulles, VA)
A B-29 tailgunner over Japan in WWII and a jet ace in Korea, James H. Kasler
received his first award of the Air Force Cross for leading the June 29,
1965 attack on the Hanoi POL (petroleum, oil, and lubricants) facility. On
his 91st mission, he was shot down while trying to cover his downed wingman,
an action for which he was awarded his second Air Force Cross. His third
award of the AFC came for his incredible resistance under torture in Hanoi,
including the brutal "Cuban Program." He spent more than 6-1/2 years as a
POW. Colonel Kasler is the only person (living or dead) with three awards of
the AFC. Included among his 76 awards for valor and service are two Silver
Stars, the Legion of Merit, nine Distinguished Flying Crosses, two Bronze
Stars (one with "V" device), two Purple Hearts, and eleven Air Medals.
James Salter, author of The Hunters, has written the foreword. Kasler flew
on Salter's wing in Korea and gets prominent space in Salter's 1997 memoir
Burning the Days in which he calls Kasler "the nonpareil." (The Hunters is
a fictional account of flying with 4th Wing in Korea). VAdm James B.
Stockdale has written the afterword. Jacket blurbs come from MGen Hoyt S.
Vandenberg, Jr., Senator John McCain, and VAdm Stockdale. (After Korea,
Kasler was Vandenberg, Jr.'s gunnery instructor, and they are life-long
Coincidentally, I served as a "weapons loader" on the F-105 Thunderchief
with 36th Tactical Fighter Wing at Bitburg, Germany, concurrent with
then-Majors Kasler and Vandenberg, Jr.
Kasler volunteered numerous times for service in Southeast Asia and was one
of the first three airmen to serve consecutive overseas tours (directly from
Germany to Southeast Asia). When Kasler was shot down on his 91st mission,
he had already volunteered for his second 100 mission tour.
See any of the book distributor sites (such as Amazon.com) for the cover
image of Tempered Steel which shows Kasler standing in front of an F-105 at
Takhli in Thailand.
Three-time Air Force Cross honoree and POW Col. James Kasler to
be honored at Olivet
Three-time Air Force Cross honoree and POW Col. James Kasler
to be honored at Olivet (Posted
By lwwarfel, Community
Contributor / April 29,
Nazarene University will honor the extraordinary life and service of
Col. James Helms Kasler
during a special memorial service, May 4, 2014,
at 4 p.m., in the Betty and Kenneth Hawkins Centennial
Olivet's campus. One of the U.S. military's most decorated soldiers, Kasler passed away on
Thursday, April 24, at the age of 87.
public is welcome and encouraged to attend this memorial service....
A man of honor
In addition to being the only man awarded
the Air Force Cross three times, Kasler was decorated
twice with the Silver Star, a Legion of Merit,