Tom Kirk was born in 1928 in Richmond, Virginia, and grew up in Portsmouth, Virginia. He was commissioned in the U.S. Air Force through the Air Force ROTC program at Virginia Military Institute on June 13, 1950, and he completed Undergraduate Pilot Training and was awarded his pilot wings on June 30, 1951. Kirk flew B-29 Superfortress bombers in Georgia and Kansas before serving in combat during the Korean War flying the AT-6 Texan as an Artillery Spotter and then the F-86 Sabre between November 1952 and November 1953. After Korea, Kirk flew with fighter squadrons in Louisiana, Belgium, and Italy, before going through Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell AFB, Alabama from September 1960 to July 1961. His next assignment was at Edwards AFB, California from July 1961 to September 1963. He then served an Air Force Institute of Technology assignment at the University of Southern California, where he earned an MBA. Kirk served at Myrtle Beach AFB, South Carolina, with the 354th Tactical Fighter Wing, from September 1964 until he left for an overseas assignment in Japan in November 1965. He served as Operations Officer of the 356th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Misawa AB, Japan, until July 1967, when he began flying combat missions as the Commander of the 357th Tactical Fighter Squadron out of Takhli Royal Thai AFB, Thailand. On October 28, 1967, Col Kirk was forced to eject from his F-105 Thunderchief when it was hit by anti-aircraft fire over North Vietnam. He was immediately captured and taken as a Prisoner of War. After spending the next 1,964 days in captivity, he was released during Operation Homecoming on March 14, 1973. After hospitalization, Col Kirk became the Deputy Commander for Operations and then the Wing Commander of the 29th Flying Training Wing at Craig AFB, Alabama. He next served as Deputy Commander of the Lowry Technical Training Center at Lowry AFB, Colorado, and finally as Vice Commander of all Special Forces in Europe before retiring from the Air Force on March 31, 1978. After his retirement, Tom lived in Italy and Spain before settling in Colorado in 1992. He is married to the former Ann Berardi of Canton, Massachusetts, and they have two sons; Thomas H. Kirk III and Robert T. Kirk.
His Air Force Cross Citation reads:
Lieutenant Colonel Thomas H. Kirk, Jr., distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force as an F-105 pilot near Hanoi, North Vietnam, on 28 October 1967. On that date, Colonel Kirk planned and led a 24-aircraft strike force against an important and heavily defended railroad and highway bridge near Hanoi. Despite seven surface-to-air missiles being fired at him and extremely poor visibility, Colonel Kirk, with undaunted determination, indomitable courage, and professional skill led his force to a precise ordnance delivery point, placing his own bombs directly on the target. His aircraft sustained a direct hit from the extremely intense antiaircraft fire. He courageously flew his burning aircraft until it became completely uncontrollable and he was forced to eject over hostile territory. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of the enemy, Colonel Kirk reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.