Col. Frank Kurtz, Olympic medalist diver and the most decorated Army Air Corps pilot in World War II known for flying the last surviving B-17 Flying Fortress, has died. He was 85.
He died last Thursday at his home from complications following a fall, said his wife, author Margo Kurtz.
An Army pilot on duty in the Philippines when the Japanese drew the United States into the war, Kurtz flew the last of the 35 planes stationed in the Pacific. When the plane was chewed up in combat, Kurtz and his crew dubbed it “part swan and part goose - The Swoose.” It has been called the most famous plane in the Pacific except for the Enola Gay which carried the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
After flying the big plane home, Kurtz went to the European theater where he headed “the Swoose Group” and personally flew more than 60 missions over Italy and Germany. In 1949, he was given the honor of flying the Swoose to the Smithsonian Institution.
When Kurtz’s only child was born in Los Angeles during the war, news media immediately nicknamed her the second Swoose and the name stuck. She grew up to be the actress Swoosie Kurtz.
Kurtz’ wartime exploits earned him an international reputation and the Croix de Guerre, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, three silver stars, three air medals and five presidential citations. His remarkable story was detailed in a book by W.L. White titled “Queens Die Proudly.”
His wife told their personal story in a best-selling book titled “My Rival, The Sky.”
One of Kurtz’s most celebrated post-war flights was crash landing a Swoose in the Australian bush with no injury to his passengers - then Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson and a congressional committee.