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Famed World War II fighter pilot Dean 'Diz' Laird has died at 101, family says

CNN 8/30/2022 Amanda Musa

Dean “Diz” Laird, the only known Navy ace to shoot down both German and Japanese planes during World War II, has died, his daughter told CNN on Monday. He was 101.

Andrea Laird said her father died by her side in Walnut Creek, California, on August 10.

In June, according to his daughter, Laird took his final 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 set to turn 101 in January.

“He and Bud got together, and we also had a bottle of champagne there for them. For them to each toast after their flights,” Andrea Laird told CNN.

On his 90th birthday, Laird went skydiving out of an aircraft, the according to the San Diego Air & Space Museum, which described him as the “quintessential fighter pilot.”

Born February 7, 1921, in Loomis, California, Laird joined the US Navy in 1942 at the age of 20, days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, his daughter said.

“I think there was a love of flight, and he already had a pilot’s license,” she said.

“He remembered seeing film footage of biplanes landing on boat decks that had been turned into carriers […] and he thought that looks like a heck of a lot of fun. I’d like to do that.”

His career began in the European theater, according to a biography on the USS Hornet Sea, Air and Space Museum. Flying a Grumman Wildcat, he shot down two German planes – a bomber and a seaplane – during an operation off Norway in 1943. He switched to the Pacific in 1944 and shot down several Japanese aircraft, according to the museum.

In total, Laird shot down six or seven planes, according to the museum, although his official total is 5.75 planes, because of the way shot-downs are shared among members of a squadron. The title of an “ace” is given to fighter pilots credited with shooting down five or more enemy aircraft.

© Provided by CNN Dean "Diz" Laird, center, stands in the rear seat of a T-34C Turbomentor with the "Flying Eagles" of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 122 in Coronado, California, on July 9, 2019. - MC2 Paolo Bayas/Navy Media Content Operations (N/U.S. Navy

After World War II, Laird flew in the Korean War and the Vietnam War, in which he made a total of 32 trans-Pacific flights, his daughter said.

After 29 years with 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 aircraft and 520 carrier landings, according to the San Diego Air & Space Museum.

In 2013, Laird was entered into the International Air & Space Hall of Fame and is remembered as the only US Navy ace to have combat victories in both the Pacific and European theaters of World War II, according to the San Diego Air & Space Museum.

“He truly embodied the spirit of aviation and space exploration which earned him an honored place in the prestigious International Air & Space Hall of Fame,” said Jim Kidrick, the president and CEO of the museum.

Laird has also received several honors, including the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Congressional Gold Medal.

When asked how she will remember her father, Andrea Laird said, “He had an extremely dry, funny sense of humor.”

“And he was a really generous guy,” she said, adding that he tried to help people out when he could.

World War II began in 1939 and ended in 1945, with more than 16 million US troops serving in the battle. A total of 405,399 US troops died in the war.

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