There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of Kilmer S. Bortz.
He was one of those highly-decorated heroes of World War II who came home to a comparatively prosaic, but apparently satisfying, life. He died June 27 at his home near Lutherville, Maryland. He was 87.
Bortz flew with the Navy’s Bomb Squadron 13, itself one of the most decorated squadrons in the Pacific Theater of Operations. He earned two Navy Crosses – second only to the Medal of Honor – during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. He also earned three Air Medals.
After completing flight training at Pensacola, Bortz was assigned to Bombing Squadron 11, where he flew Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers during the Guadalcanal campaign. In 1943 he was assigned to the Wildwood, N.J., Naval Air Station where, along with other veteran and talented combat pilots, he formed VB-13, which went on to great fame in the Pacific. By the war’s end, VB-13’s airmen had been awarded a total of 22 Navy Crosses, a Silver Star, 25 Distinguished Flying Crosses and 149 Air Medals.
After training on new Curtiss SB2C Helldivers, the SBDs’ replacement, VB-13 was assigned to the aircraft carrier Franklin, whose maiden combat was the first Battle of the Philippine Sea in June 1944. Late in October, as a Japanese task force steamed south toward Leyte in the Philippines, VB-13 – including Bortz, a division leader – flew a mission on which they located and sank the Japanese battleship Musashi and inflicted heavy damage to the carrier Chiyoda, which was sent to the bottom by gunfire from a U.S. cruiser the next day.
“Kilmer was an excellent pilot. He was calm, cool and collected, and didn’t talk much. While he may not have been outgoing, he was a solid friend,” said Richard R. Harding of Lexington, Mass., a VB-13 pilot who had been Bortz’s roommate.
After the war, Bortz earned a bachelor’s degree at Duke University in 1946, then went to work for Western Pest Services in Washington, D.C., moving to Baltimore when he became the company’s branch manager in 1962. He retired in 1982.
Bortz was a long-time volunteer driver for the American Cancer Society, an active member of Towson United Methodist Church for 40 years, a Colts and Ravens fan and an enthusiastic member of the Oriole Advocates.