“I am a United States Navy Flier. My countrymen built the best airplane in the world and entrusted it to me. They trained me to fly it. I will use it to the absolute limit of my power. With my fellow pilots, air crews, and deck crews, my plane and I will do anything necessary to carry out our tremendous responsibilities.
I will always remember we are part of an unbeatable combat team – the United States Navy. When going in fast and rough, I will not falter. I will be uncompromising in every blow I strike. I will be humble in victory.
I am a United States Navy flyer. I have dedicated myself to my country, with its many millions of all races, colors and creeds. They and their way of life are worthy of my greatest protective effort. I ask the help of God in making that effort great enough.”
If you sat in a Physics class at Rochelle High School during the 1950s, 60s, 70s or the beginning of the 1980s, The Navy Flyer’s Creed probably was not something you even knew about. For one person in the room it had been more than flowery prose, the creed was a way of life.
Byford Kyler graduated from DeKalb High School in 1940 and started work at the Wurlitzer Company. With no real plan, he started classes at the Northern Illinois Teachers College.
In 1942, two separate events occurred which would change Byford’s life forever. Byford met a young beauty named Bette and a friend came up with a great idea, “Lets join the Navy Air Force.”
As fate would have it, the friend failed the physical and Byford passed. The friend went back to school, and Byford went to war. In 1943, Byford boarded a train to Chicago to complete his induction process. Byford’s cousin, Barbara Hale (of Perry Mason fame), was in Chicago on a modeling job and met him and showed him the town.
Byford crossed the country to complete his pilot training. From Piper Cubs to Stearman bi-wings then onto the SNV-Valiant and SNG’s, Byford flew them all. In 1944, Kyler received his wings.
After completing training in carrier take offs and landings, Byford became a Hellcat pilot. With six 50-caliber machine guns and a payload of six missiles or one 500-pound bomb, the Hellcat could either defend the fleet or attack the enemy. 1945 saw Byford reach his 22nd birthday. The year also saw the first time he shot down an enemy plane.
On March 18, 1945 the Japanese sent a Kamikaze attack. The Fighting Squadron 30 was ready. Falling in behind a Japanese plane, Byford let loose with a hail of bullets and watched as the plane crashed into the water. Byford had been bloodied.
During his time in the Pacific Theater, Byford would shoot down four enemy planes in open air combat. While near Okinawa a major Kamikaze attack filled the air over the Allied fleet with enemy planes. 14 United States Navy planes went airborne.
In a battle that lasted only 30 minutes, the Fighting Squadron 30 shot down 47 enemy aircraft. Byford recalled three times when he had to pack-up the belongings of pilots whom he had flown with. Their belongings were going home, the pilots were not.
Byford Kyler flew over 60 combat sorties. He was awarded five Air Medals and three Distinguished Flying Crosses. At the end of the war Byford came home. Byford went back to school and graduated in 1948. He married the beauty he had met in 1942. She had kept the romance alive through an unending string of letters. Byford and Bette moved to Rochelle where he taught at Rochelle High School for 35 years. Byford never bragged of his war years but always lived to the high standards of The Navy Flyer’s Creed.
Tom McDermott is a Flagg Township Museum Historian and Rochelle city councilman.