Dean “Diz” Laird: The famous World War II fighter pilot has died at the age of 101

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

According to his daughter, Laird made his final flight in June 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’s website.

He was joined by fellow fighter pilot Clarence “Bud” Anderson, who will celebrate his 101st birthday in January.

“He and Bud got together and we had a bottle of champagne for her too. For them with every toast after their flights,” Andrea Laird told CNN.

On his 90th birthday, Laird parachuted out of a plane that, according to the San Diego Air & Space Museum, which described him as “the quintessential fighter pilot.”

Laird was born on February 7, 1921 in Loomis, California and 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 flying and he already had a pilot’s license,” she said.

“He recalled seeing footage of biplanes landing on boat decks that had been converted into aircraft carriers […] and he thought that looks like a lot of fun. I would like to do that.”

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

In all, Laird shot down six or seven aircraft, according to the museum, although his official total is 5.75 aircraft, due to the way kills are divided among members of a squadron. The title of “Ace” is given to fighter pilots who are credited with shooting down five or more enemy aircraft.

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

After 29 years in the US Navy, Laird retired as 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 inducted into the International Air & Space Hall of Fame and, according to the San Diego Air & Space Museum, is considered the only U.S. Navy ace to achieve combat victories in both the Pacific and European theaters of World War II Has.
Fast facts on World War II

“He truly embodied the spirit of air and space exploration, earning him a place of honor in the prestigious International Air & Space Hall of Fame,” said Jim Kidrick, the museum’s President and CEO.

Laird has also received several awards 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 when he could.

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

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