GILBERT J. KIRK, JR., LCDR, USN
Gilbert Kirk, Jr. '49
Date of birth: April 19, 1926
Date of death: October 12, 1961
From the 1949 Lucky Bag:
Biography & Loss
From an email on May 28, 2018 from one of Gilbert's sons, Gilbert John Kirk, III:
Gilbert John Kirk, Jr. was born in Pittsfield on April 19, 1926. He was the only son of Gilbert John Kirk, Sr. (of Dalton) and Ellen Monica Barry (of Hinsdale). His two sisters (Eleanor Kirk Melanson and Margaret Kirk Harrison, both now deceased) were also born in Pittsfield.
Gilbert was ambitious, restless and willing to work hard for the achievements he made in his short life. Raised on Ashuelot Street in Dalton, he went to local schools (a jump over his backyard fence put him on the grounds of Crane Elementary) through junior high and was accepted to Wilbraham Academy for his high school years. Upon graduation (in 1944), Gilbert had a strong desire to serve his country during World War II, yet he knew he must go to college to realize his potential. He was accepted into Dartmouth College’s V-12 program on July 1, 1944 having entered the service through the Boston Navy Recruiting Station in February of that year. Dartmouth was one of many Navy training schools (others included Harvard, University of Pennsylvania and Cornell) during the war.
Gilbert’s goal was to enter the Naval Academy (with an eye on the sky) and after some preparatory work (completed at Bainbridge, MD), he was accepted on September 7, 1945 – five days after the end of the war.
He graduated from the Academy on June 3, 1949, was commissioned an Ensign and ordered aboard USS Cabot (CVL-48), an aircraft carrier.
In the spring of that year, he met Marjory Reeves Colt at a ‘hangout’ known as The Bomb Shelter. They were married on June 11, 1949 at her father’s house on 444 Main Street in Dalton (currently occupied by the Kittredge family).
He was ordered later in the summer of ’49 to Aviation Training School in Pensacola. He earned his wings and was qualified to fly fixed-wing aircraft (helicopters were still new) in May 1950 while stationed in Corpus Christie, TX.
Gilbert received numerous other training assignments over the years. He was originally trained in props (such as the SNB, SNJ and the Corsair) but transitioned to jets. Because of the great amount of training he received and his inexperience and junior officer status, especially in jets, he missed action in the Korean War. His career eventually led to prestigious duty as a test pilot in Patuxent River, Md. Some of the ships he served aboard were: USS Tarawa (CV-40), USS Leyte (CV-32), USS Wright (CVL-49), USS Midway (CVA-41), USS Coral Sea (CVA-43), USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVA-42), USS Kearsarge (CVA-33), and finally, USS Ticonderoga (CVA-14). Planes flown: SNB, SNJ, F4U, F6F, F2H, F9F, TV-2 and the F3H. During his career, he was awarded the American Campaign Medal, the European Theater Medal, the Victory Medal (World War II) and the Navy Occupation Medal (Europe).
After completing Naval Postgraduate School (Special Weapons) in Monterey in August 1959 he was assigned to VF-53 (motto: Sans Reproach – the squadron is still active today at NAS Oceana in Virginia Beach, VA) in San Diego. He was promoted to the position of Executive Officer and sailed aboard the Ticonderoga in March 1961 for a WestPac deployment of nine months duration. On October 12, 1961, while making a night landing, Lieutenant Commander Kirk‘s F3H jet (known as the Demon) collided with the ‘ramp’ on the back of the ship, slid across and off the port side of the flight deck turning sideways as it plunged wing-tip first into the South China Sea. His body was not recovered.
He left behind four children (Cynthia, 9; Gilbert, 8; Lewis, 6 and David, 1), his wife Marjory; mother Ellen Barry Kirk and two sisters Eleanor and Margaret, (also a Navy veteran of World War II).
He has a marker placed in Arlington National Cemetery, as well being listed on a monument on the grounds of the Naval Academy to alumni whose bodies were never recovered.
Biography by Gilbert John Kirk III, U.S. Navy veteran, written on January 28, 2009.
Gil has a memory marker in Arlington National Cemetery.
He survived an ejection from his F-3 Demon on July 22, 1960, parachuting into water before being rescued by a helicopter.