They came by ones and twos Friday, quietly slipping into the pews at New Hope Community Church. They smiled at the words honoring a man whose faith made him an inspiration and whose exploits in three wars made him a hero.
And when the last mournful drone of the bagpipes faded, they said goodbye to Col. Kenneth L. Reusser of Milwaukie, the most decorated U.S. Marine Corps aviator in history.
"He was the finest gentleman I’ve ever met," said Harley Wedel of Fairview, a fellow Korean War veteran. "I’m really going to miss him."
Reusser flew an amazing 253 combat missions in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. He was shot down in all three wars — five times in all. He earned two Navy Crosses, four Purple Hearts and two Legions of Merit among his 59 medals.
In 1945, while based in Okinawa, he stripped down his F4U-4 Corsair fighter and intercepted a Japanese observation plane at an altitude much higher than usual. When his guns froze, he flew his fighter into the observation plane, hacking off its tail with his propeller.
In 1950, while serving in the storied "Black Sheep Squadron," he led an attack on a North Korean tank-repair facility at Inchon, then destroyed an oil tanker — almost blowing himself out of the sky in the process.
During the Vietnam War, Reusser flew helicopters. He was leading a Marine Air Group in a rescue mission, when his own "Huey" was shot down. He needed skin grafts over 35 percent of his badly burned body.
Reusser was born Jan. 27, 1920, the son of a Cloverdale minister. While still a teenager, he became a committed Christian, which remained a big part of his life.
Reusser lived a "Tom Sawyer-ish" existence, Wedel said, jumping off a barn roof to test a parachute, racing motorcycles to help pay for college and earning a pilot’s license before WWII broke out.
After retiring from the Marine Corps, he worked for Lockheed Aircraft and the Piasecki Helicopter Corp.
In recent years, he remained active in veterans groups.