Dean ‘Diz’ Laird: Famous WWII fighter pilot dies aged 101
Andrea Laird said her father died alongside her in Walnut Creek, California on August 10.
In June, according to his daughter, Laird made his last flight with the help of Dream Flights, a Nevada company that “is dedicated to honoring military veterans and seniors with the adventure of a lifetime,” according to the company website.
He was joined by fellow fighter pilot Clarence “Bud” Anderson, who is expected to turn 101 in January.
“He and Bud got together, and we also had a bottle of champagne for them. For them to each toast after their flights,” Andrea Laird told CNN.
Born Feb. 7, 1921, in Loomis, Calif., Laird joined the U.S. Navy in 1942 at age 20, days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, his daughter said.
“I think he had a love of flying and already had a pilot’s license,” she said.
“He remembered seeing film footage of biplanes landing on decks of boats that had been converted into aircraft carriers. […] and he thought that sounded like a lot of fun. I would like to do that.”
In total, Laird shot down six or seven planes, according to the museum, although his official total is 5.75 planes, due to the way shots are shared among members of a squadron. The title of “ace” is given to fighter pilots credited with shooting down five or more enemy aircraft.
After 29 years in the US Navy, Laird retired as a commander in 1971 at the age of 50.
During that time, he logged more than 8,200 hours in 3,662 jets, 4,623 propeller planes and 520 aircraft carrier landings, according to the San Diego Air & Space Museum.
“He truly embodied the spirit of aviation and space exploration, earning him a place of honor in the prestigious International Air & Space Hall of Fame,” said Jim Kidrick, President and CEO. management of the museum.
Laird has also received several accolades, including the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Congressional Gold Medal.
When asked how she would remember her father, Andrea Laird replied: “He had an extremely dry and funny sense of humor.”
“And he was a really generous guy,” she said, adding that he tried to help people when he could.