Naval Aviator number 1,282, Herbert S. Kirk, is alive & well in Bozeman, Montana. He's an amazing 103 years old, is believed to be the oldest living Naval Aviator, & in March was named Chevalier of the National Order of the Legion of Honor - France's highest national award.
Mr. Kirk joined the Navy Flying Corps in 1917 when he was an engineering student at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. After ground school in Boston, he trained to fly in Florida. Kirk wanted to be a fighter pilot but instead opted for seaplanes. He was in the last unit of Naval Aviators to go overseas. Arriving in England, he was assigned patrol duty, flying up & down the English channel hunting for German submarines. He never did detect any, but the experience was rewarding. He was ordered to a base near Bordeaux, France & reached Paris when the armistice was signed.
He worked in the family Kirk China Company in Newcastle , PA after the war, becoming its president before retiring in 1954 when he & his wife, Eleanor, moved to Montana. Eleanor died June 7th at the age of 93.
Herb Kirk is a true veteran of those distant days when pilots judged turns by feeling the wind against their cheeks. Nowadays he's a little hard of hearing but otherwise is in good shape. He was an athlete & even now jogs nearly every day at the Hillcrest Retirement Home in Bozeman. Eleanor was with him at the honor until her recent passing. They were married for 74 years! When I asked him how he feels when he doesn't get his daily jog, Kirk answers smartly, "I lose my pep!"
Kirk was humble in accepting his reward. "The Legion of Honor," he said, "belongs to my friends & colleagues who died during flight training at Pensacola in 1917 & 1918 & to those brave American soldiers & pilots who died in France in World War I."
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