“I was very confident and comfortable with the Mustang.
There was never any hesitation; I never had fear the way
some guys had it—none of that. I just thought ‘Gee,
I have a job to do. Here they are. I’m going to down
as many as I can.”
John Kirla has the stories to back up his confidence. Also
known as “Big John” due to his broad, six foot
plus frame, an unusual size for a fighter pilot, Kirla flew
a Mustang named “Spook.” The name materialized
because Big John wore soft-soled shoes, and despite his size,
could sneak up on anything, like a ghost, including the Germans.
With “Spook,” Kirla created maneuvers of such
force that he earned the distinction of being the first combat
pilot to have a G-meter installed in his plane. As described
by Kirla, “Occasionally we ran into fighters, and I
had the problem of bending the wings of my airplane in turns.
I pulled a 10.5G and bent my wings four times.” After
this, the G-meter was installed.
When Big John left his hometown, Port Chester, New York,
to serve in the war, he brought with him a quiet and gentle
manner as well as the notion that there was a task to be
completed as efficiently as possible. Maintaining that notion,
he racked up 11.5 victories in nine months of aerial combat.
In June of 1944, he was assigned to the 362nd Fighter Squadron,
357th Fighter Group. It was a seasoned unit, and he was assigned
a well-used P-51B, flying as a wingman with several flight
leaders. His will to fight emerged barefaced when he scored
his first victories late June, 1944.
Big John relates a story of how his notion to effectively
complete a task nearly got him court-martialed. He explains
he was on a mission in the middle of July, 1944. A group
of B-17s finished dropping their bombs, allowing one squadron
to go down and look for targets of opportunity, while two
other squadrons stayed with the bombers escorting them home.
John flew with the group heading down in search
of targets, acting as wingman to his flight leader. A fight
broke between the 109s and a Mustang. John’s leader
climbed above, but John saw Mustangs with 109s on their tails.
He peeled off and dove down. What happened after is best
told with John’s words:
“I found a 109 that was on one of our Mustang’s
tails and dived in behind him at a high speed…I was
pulling 5G or 6G to stay with him. I guess he realized I
slipped in behind him, and he pulled nearly vertical, breaking
off from the other airplane. That’s when I got him.
I fired a burst into his fuselage and wings…”
Immediately following this heroism, John and a friend, Otto
Jenkins headed home, but encountered another 109, and took
it down as well. They shared the victory with half a kill
However, upon return, John’s flight leader wanted
him court-martialed for leaving the group. What happened
instead? John’s leader was transferred from the outfit
and the flight was given
When he returned to civilian life, John went into business
with his younger brother Stanley, a veteran of the Korean
War, awarded the Purple Heart, Silver, and Bronze star. They
created a diverse construction and development company and
built a marina in Connecticut that operated twenty years.
His family eventually moved to, and still resides in Deep
River, Connecticut running a large equipment rental center.
John still maintains his private pilot license and flies
his Cessna from his home base in Chester, Connecticut.