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Jack Newkirk, down in Thailand

Scarsdale Jack NewkirkJack Newkirk was the toothy, aggressive commander of the AVG's 2nd Squadron 'Panda Bears'. His family called him "Scarsdale Jack," to distinguish him from a cousin with the same name. Born in 1913, he received his Eagle Scout badge from no less a hero than the Antarctica explorer Richard Byrd. He learned to fly as a student at Rennselaer Polytechnic, where he eventually accumulated the two years' study that would qualify him to become a cadet aviator in the US Navy. He was a fighter pilot aboard Yorktown, flying the F4F Wildcat, when he volunteered for the AVG. At the age of 27, with his leadership training, he was already a dominant figure in the group by the time he arrived in Burma. By the time he was killed on the Chiang Mai raid, he had been credited with 7 air-to-air victories, though some AVG veterans hinted broadly that were skeptical of his claims. (It is certainly true that the squadron leaders, who had the primary responsibility for signing off on victories, generally built up their scores more quickly than the other pilots.)

The circumstances of his death have long been puzzling. The conventional view is that he was shot down, either by Japanese anti-aircraft fire or from an 'armored car' that he was strafing just before the crash. More recently, two expatriates in Thailand relocated the crash site and interviewed witnesses living nearby who remember that day in March 1942. Finally, AVG buff Bob Bergin (who also visited the site) weighed in with his view of the controversy. Here are my three files on the subject:

(The great photo above, thanks to John J. Newkirk, author of The Old Man and the Harley: A Last Ride Through Our Fathers' America)

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