Robert Kirksey was born in 1930. He grew up and attended high school in Detroit. He joined the naval reserve in 1948 and enrolled in Michigan State University. In 1951 he reported to Pensacola, Florida for flight training. Upon completion, he received a commission as an ensign and his wings as a Naval Aviator. Further training took him to Corpus Christi and Kingsville, Texas where he married his high school sweetheart, Viola Kaikkonen.
Kirksey’s first extended duty station was at Naval Advanced Training Course, Memphis, Tennessee where he served as a flight instructor. He advanced first to Lieutenant, then Lieutenant Commander, while serving in various attack squadrons.
In 1967-68, initially as the Executive Officer and then Commander of Attack Squadron 55, he flew more than 240 combat missions over North Vietnam. On one occasion, his bomber was hit by a surface to air (SAM) missile. Despite heavy damage and on fire, Kirksey continued, at great risk to his life, to lead the other planes to their target. The fire eventually went out and he tried to…
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