In honor of Marion Franklin Kirby II, who passed from this life July 10, 2011
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds – and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long delirious, burning blue,
I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew –
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untresspassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.
-Pilot Officer Gillespie Magee
Mr. Kirby was the father of a friend, and was one of “The Greatest Generation”. I was honored to spend many days at his ranch hunting and fishing through the last 14 years. Most of those days involved sharing at least one meal with M.F., and listening to his stories.
Among the memorabila on his ranch house wall were personal letters from Charles Lindbergh, and a shadow box with his wings from WW2 that were taken on one of the shuttle missions, with a signed picture of the crew and specs on how high, how far, and how fast the wings went on that mission.
Marion Franklin Kirby was born in Louisville, Kentucky on 14 July 1919. Joining the Army Air Forces from Lometa, Texas, he completed flight training on 12 December 1941, five days after Pearl Harbor.
Sent to the Southwest Pacific, Lieutenant Kirby flew P-38s with the 80th Fighter Squadron, 8th Fighter Group, based in New Guinea he was credited with probably destroying an Oscar between Lae and Salamaua on 21 May 1943. On 15 July he transferred to the newly organized 431st Fighter Squadron, 475th Fighter Group, then based in Australia.
The Group moved to New Guinea in August. Operating out of Dobodura, Kirby logged his first victory with the 431st on 15 October, downing a Val dive bomber over Oro Bay, and two days later shot down a Zeke near Buna Bay. On 23 October, escorting B-24s to Rabaul, the 431st engaged 25-30 Japanese fighters diving on the bombers. In the ensuing combat, Kirby destroyed a Hamp.
Fifth Air Force’s campaign to neutralize Rabaul was capped by the 475th’s 2 November mission. Timed to support the U.S. landings on Bougainville, the 475th Fighter Group’s sweep to Rabaul was intended to keep Japanese aircraft out of Simpson Harbor. Shortly after passing the shoreline, Kirby noticed a B-25 with its right engine afire. Five or six Japanese fighters were trying to establish a gunnery pattern on the Mitchell, and Kirby dove into them, knocking down one. Turning back, he splashed another to become an ace.
Kirby left the Air Force after the war and graduated from Louisiana State University in 1948 with a bachelor’s degree in geology. He then joined the Gulf Oil Corporation and worked for them for 12 years, following which he established his own oil business. He retired to Lampasas, Texas in 1975.
Distinguished Flying Cross
Air Medal with 3 Oak Leaf Clusters