07.28.2014 Uncategorized No Comments

Speaking Eagles honor Col. Frank Kurtz

Speaking Eagles honor Col. Frank Kurtz, Olympic medalist diver and the most decorated Army Air Corps pilot in World War II

by Danny Cox

Speaking Eagles has named Colonel Frank Kurtz, the most decorated Army Air Corps pilot in World War II and a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) for the National Speakers Association, as an honorary member (awarded posthumously). Known for flying the last surviving B-17 Flying Fortress, Kurtz was an Army pilot on duty in the Philippines when the Japanese drew the United States into the war. He flew the last of the 35 planes stationed in the Pacific and when the plane suffered damages in combat, Kurtz and his crew dubbed it “part swan and part goose–the Swoose.”


Standing left to right, J.C. Goldman (tg); E. J. Campbell, (n); Fred Higginbotham (b); Charles LeMonde (wg); John Garton (ttg/eng); Al Hansen (btg); Charles Myers (wg). Photo courtesy of Tom Stevenson, 772nd.


Col. Frank Kurz 

Born in Davenport, Iowa in 1911, Kurtz left home early and sold newspapers on the streets of Kansas City.  He gained much attention with his charm, spirit of adventure and drive.

As a youth he visited a swimming pool and decided to try the high diving board. The fact that he didn’t know how to swim didn’t bother him.  He took to swimming and diving quickly. The great Olympian Johnny Weissmuller, who was famous for playing Tarzan, saw Kurtz swimming and diving in a competition in Kansas City. He suggested Frank should go to Hollywood and work with the famous diving coach, Clyde Swenson.

At 15, Kurtz promptly hitchhiked to Los Angeles and met Swenson. His progress under Swenson was swift, but the Hollywood Athletic Club told him they couldn’t afford to send him to the National Diving Championships in Hawaii.

That was no problem for Kurtz. He signed on as a seaman on a tanker bound for Hawaii. He entered the competition, won second and headed back to Los Angeles as a stowaway. He graduated from high school in 1931 and then learned to fly. He set three speed records, including the record for a flight from Los Angeles to Mexico City.

Kurtz became an Olympic medalist and was the only diver up until that time to qualify for the Olympics three times. They were in 1932, 1936 and 1940 but the last one was cancelled due to the war. Grantland Rice, the legendary sports writer, called him “the greatest exhibition diver in the world.”

Just prior to World War II Kurtz joined the Army Air Force and flew the B-17. The war was looming on the horizon. He and his crew of ten were assigned to Clark Air Base on Luzon in the Philippines along with several other B-17’s. The Japanese attacked them eight hours after the Pearl Harbor attack.

The next day, his crew, while trying frantically to repair their B-17’s strafing damage, was attacked again. Eight of his tencrew members were killed. He went to each body and took something personal from each one to send to their families. He stored the items in his bunker. The next day the bunker was bombed and all personal belonging were lost.

Kurtz and his new crew did bombing raids on all the enemy held islands in the Southwest Pacific as they worked their way down to Australia.  Their B-17’s needed some serious repairs from battle damage and they “scavenged” parts from other airplanes, not necessarily B-17’s. One of his crew said “our airplane is part swan and part goose.” The Swoose!

Kurtz was in Australia when a 10-year-old boy came to him and started talking.  Frank took his “Wings” off his uniform and pinned them on the boy’s shirt. If you ever run into Rupert Murdoch, ask him if he still has Franks’ “Wings.”

His wife wired Frank to tell of their daughter’s birth and asked for a name. He said, “Call her ‘Swoosie’.”

W.L. White wrote Frank’s biography in 1943 called “Queens Die Proudly.” Frank’s wife, Margo, wrote a book, “My Rival, The Sky.”

The B-17 “The Swoose” became the second most famous airplane in World War II.  The Enola Gay is number one.  “Swoose” went first to the Smithsonian but is now on display at the Wright Patterson Air Force museum in Dayton, Ohio.

In 1979, Frank joined the National Speakers Association as a full time professional speaker and earned the CSP designation. He didn’t miss a convention for the next sixteen years. In 1995 he suffered a serious head injury in a fall. He was unable to continue speaking, but put up a good fight and  “flew west” on October 31, 1996.

His daughter, Swoosie,  is a highly acclaimed actress on screen, television and stage.

I was very proud to call Frank a friend.

Danny Cox, CSP, CPAE




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