It was no small thing when 2nd Lt. David Kingsley wanted to help a fellow crewman during a bombing raid over Europe on June 23, 1944.
The crew’s B-17 suffered significant damage from German flack and fighters and Staff Sgt. Michael Sullivan, the tail gunner, was severely injured.
The pilot gave the order to bail out as the plane flew over Suhozem, Bulgaria. Sullivan’s parachute could not be found and Kingsley strapped his own to the gunner as the crew jumped from the plane.
Kingsley went down with the bomber and perished, but his actions are held as the highest example of duty to others at the airfield that bears his name in Klamath Falls.
‘Service before self’
“David R. Kingsley represented service before self,” said Chief Master Sgt. Mark McDaniel. “He’s the epitome of it.”
McDaniel and other officers were on hand Wednesday to welcome Joe Rolison, Kinglsey’s brother-in-law, to the airfield.
Rolison, 92, and a World War II veteran himself, came to visit as part of The Vital Life Foundation’s goal to invigorate the lives of senior citizens, and also to help the airbase celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Oregon Air National Guard.
Rolison said his reception was “terrific” and that he was glad to be visiting the airbase again.
“The only one that ever welcomed me like that was my wife,” he said.
Rolison previously visited Kingsley Field with wife, Phyllis Kingsley Rolison, who died in 2014. Kingsley Rolison was Kingsley’s sister and Rolison said the war hero was remembered as a “fantastic” person by family and friends.
Unbreakable family bonds
During a luncheon with airfield personnel, Rolison shared how Kingsley, whom Rolison was not able to meet personally, grew up going out of his way to support people after his father died when Kinglsey was around age 10.
The young man took it upon himself to help raise seven siblings along with his mother and grandmother. Then, when Kingsley was 16, his mother died from illness and his brothers and sisters were separated by social services.
But Kingsley would drive to all of their houses each morning to talk with and support them, said Rolison, who said these character qualities were shared by the rest of his family.
“The whole family was kind of the same,” he said.
Remnants from the past
While speaking with the airmen, Rolison produced a number of artifacts including photos of Kinglsey, the bombardier’s journal and a piece of the wreckage of Kinglsey’s plane acquired when Rolison and his wife attended the dedication of a memorial in Suhozem in 2004.
While there, Rolison and Phyllis met townspeople who remembered the crash of the B-17 and recalled witnessing the escape of the crew members with Kingsley’s help. They also met one of the fighter pilots who shot the plane down and Rolison recalled a tearful embrace shared between his wife and the pilot.
“‘I wouldn’t have scolded them,’ she said,” Rolison recalled. “They were just doing their job.”
Following the dedication of the memorial in Suhozem, Kingsley Field built its own remembrance at the entrance to the base, complete with an accounting of Kingsley’s actions and a piece of the wreckage recovered from Bulgaria. The local memorial includes a copy of the Congressional Medal of Honor citation issued posthumously to Kingsley on April 9, 1945, and details his “gallantry and intrepidity” in the line of duty.
Airbase spokesperson Master Sgt. Jennifer Shirar said they were grateful for Rolison’s visit as well as his donations and said their previous collection of Kingsley artifacts and memorabilia was nothing like what was donated Wednesday.
Aside from the memorial and being able to host guests like Rolison, Shirar said the airbase is able to honor the memory of their namesake through the David R. Kingsley memorial fund, which assists airmen in need and those who experience tragic events.