John Kane: Medal of Honor recipient, American hero, and Baylor legend
In August 1943, as World War II was entering its fourth year, Allied forces knew they had to strike at the petroleum reserves that were fueling the Nazi military — and a legendary Baylor alum would display great valor in ensuring the goal was met, ultimately being awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
As a daring air raid was planned, the man charged to lead the highly-dangerous operation was Colonel John “Killer” Kane (BA ’28), a former Baylor football and basketball player who had survived the train crash that claimed the lives of the revered “Immortal Ten.” Widely considered to be the best pilot and toughest commander in the Air Corps, Kane was a natural choice to lead the mission.
Heavily fortified and deep in the Romanian mountains, the refineries around Ploesti, Romania, that supplied the Nazis with 35% of their petroleum supplies represented a major challenge to the allied forces. Clouds hampered the low-level, long-range air raid, and although Kane’s element became separated from the others, he led a successful attack against a prepared Nazi defense in Operation Tidal Wave.
For his “conspicuous gallantry in action and intrepidity at the risk of life above the call of duty,” Kane was awarded the nation’s highest military honor, the Medal of Honor, on Aug. 9, 1943. Four others were also awarded the medal, making the raid the most highly-decorated single engagement in the nation’s history.
Two years later, Jack Lummus (BSEd ’41) was also awarded the Medal of Honor. Baylor is believed to be the only school in the nation to have two former athletes to receive this honor. Kane, Lummus and former Air Force Chief of Chaplains Robert Taylor (BA ’33) are honored on Founders Mall in Baylor’s Ring of Honor, and Lummus and Kane were honored with statues outside McLane Stadium in 2020.
Sic ’em, Col. Kane!