Tales of the Flying Tigers

Jack Newkirk, down in Thailand

Scarsdale Jack NewkirkJack Newkirk was the toothy, aggressive commander of the AVG's 2nd Squadron "Panda Bears." His family called him "Scarsdale Jack" to distinguish him from a cousin with the same name. Born in 1913, he received his Eagle Scout badge from no less a hero than the Antarctica explorer Richard Byrd. He learned to fly as a student at Rennselaer Polytechnic, where he eventually accumulated the two years' study that would qualify him to become a cadet aviator in the US Navy. He was a fighter pilot aboard Yorktown, flying the F4F Wildcat, when he volunteered for the AVG. At the age of 27, with his leadership training, he was already a dominant figure in the group by the time he arrived in Burma. By the time he was killed on the Chiang Mai raid, he had been credited with 7 air-to-air victories, though some AVG veterans hinted broadly that were skeptical of his claims. (It is certainly true that the squadron leaders, who had the primary responsibility for signing off on victories, generally built up their scores more quickly than the other pilots.)

Newkirk's P-40 on display at the Lamphun
police station

Though the pilot was buried near the crash site, Jack Newkirk's Tomahawk was carried off by the Thais and put on display in front of the Lamphun police station, as shown in this 1940s photograph which appears in Boonserm Satraphay's Thai-language Chiang Mai and the Air War. Blurred though it is, the Chinese Nationalist roundel — a 12-pointed sun — is clearly visible.

The circumstances of Newkirk's death have long been puzzling. The conventional view is that he was shot down, either by Japanese anti-aircraft fire or from an 'armored car' that he was strafing just before the crash. More recently, two expatriates in Thailand relocated the crash site and interviewed witnesses living nearby who remember that day in March 1942. Finally, AVG buff Bob Bergin (who also visited the site) weighed in with his view of the controversy. Here are my three files on the subject:

Jack Newkirk: the view from the ground (Jack Eisner)
Photo-map of the crash site
Jack Newkirk: shot down in Thailand (Bob Bergin)

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Flying Tigers
3rd edition

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Posted July 2017. Portrait courtesy of John J. Newkirk. Websites © 1997-2017 Daniel Ford; all rights reserved.