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KOIN 6 News

The Portland firefighter who earned the Medal of Honor

By Liz BurchTim Steele,


PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Portland Fire & Rescue Battalion Chief Mark Tilden was cleaning out the station around Christmas the first year of the pandemic, 2020, when he opened a cabinet and found a journal from the 1940s.

“Right in the middle of the page was a large picture of David R. Kingsley that said, ‘Congressional Medal of Honor,'” Tilden told KOIN 6 News. “That’s when my jaw dropped, like, how do I not know about this story?”

On this Memorial Day, Tilden met some of Kingsley’s family to talk about and learn more about the man who became a Portland firefighter in 1942 and then, “like many of our fire fighters, he dropped what he was doing and joined the effort to fight for our country.”


Kingsley joined the US Army Air Corps and was a bombardier. “Ultimately he sacrificed his life to save a crew member,” Tilden said.

Leslie Kingsley Jones said David Kingsley was her dad’s brother. David was the second oldest of 9 kids and one of 5 boys. All the boys served in the armed forces, 4 overseas and one stateside.

“Their dad died and their mom got cancer,” Jones told KOIN 6 News. When their mom died, “David was, like, 17. That’s when he took over as man of the house.”

The story

David R. Kingsley was a bombardier on a B-17 Flying Fortress, one of 9 crew members assigned to a crew led by Air Force Pilot Second Lt. Edwin O. “Andy” Anderson. From the fall of 1943 he and the other crew members worked together and completed 20 missions during World War 2.

On their 21st mission, the B-17 was severely damaged in an air battle and was forced to drop out of formation. It lost altitude and became an easy target for enemy aircraft. Two of the crew were wounded in the attacks , including tail gunner Staff Sgt. Michael Sullivan.

Kingsley tended to both of the wounded. Sullivan, wounded in the arm, was seriously hurt. To stop the bleeding, Sullivan’s parachute was taken off while Kingsley applied first aid.

But the air attack continued and a few minutes later the pilot ordered the crew to bail out. Kingsley began helping the wounded crew put their parachutes back on. But Sullivan’s parachute, which was thought to be damaged, couldn’t be found in the confusion.

Kingsley “unhesitatingly removed his parachute harness and adjusted it to the wounded tail gunner. Due to the extensive damage caused by the accurate and concentrated 20mm. fire by the enemy aircraft the pilot gave the order to bail out, as it appeared that the aircraft would disintegrate at any moment. 2d Lt. Kingsley aided the wounded men in bailing out and when last seen by the crewmembers he was standing on the bomb bay catwalk,” the official citation read on his Medal of Honor.

David Kingsley died 4 days shy of his 26th birthday when his plane crashed in Ploesti, Romania on June 23, 1944.

His body was later found in the wreckage of the plane. Kingsley was initially buried in Romania, but was interred at Arlington National Cemetery on Easter weekend 1984, nearly 40 years after his heroic actions.

The Medal of Honor was presented to his brother, Thomas, in May 1945.

The Air National Guard Base in Klamath Falls became Kingsley Field on July 3, 1956. Once a Naval Air Station and active duty Air Force Base, Kingsley Field is now the home of the 173rd Fighter Wing of the Oregon Air National Guard.

‘With valor, there’s hope’

The Kingsleys are a “big Catholic family,” Jones said. She’s proud of her uncle David.

“It’s a sense of pride for everyone in the family,” she said. His heroic deeds are “tough to live up to.”

Tilden said “Kingsley and the men and women of the Portland Fire Bureau exemplify those same kind of values. We’re willing to do the things others don’t want to do.”

David Kingsley died 79 years ago. His legacy of valor and selflessness lives on.

“Within valor, there’s hope,” Tilden said. “And his valor, it mirrors the values we have here. What the city needs is hope. And within valor, there’s hope.”

Leslie Kingsley Jones said her uncle David Kingsley was “just a good guy. Their mom taught them to love each other and care for each other. And it didn’t matter if you were family or not, if someone needed help you’d buck up and do it.”

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