Dean “Diz” Laird is the only known US Navy pilot to shoot down both German and Japanese planes during the Second World War. The World War II Ace flew his 100th plane this past weekend at age 95.
Dean “Diz” Laird is a legend in naval aviation. If you have ever been to Coronado, California, you have probably seen Diz either at the Navy Exchange, Commissary, or down at the Coronado Golf Course. But if you were there last Saturday, you probably saw him manning up his 100th airplane…at the young age of 95!
Laird and Lt. Cmdr. Nicole Johnson, a fleet replacement squadron instructor pilot with the “Flying Eagles” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 122, took the T-34C TurboMentor up for a spin.
“I want to thank everyone who took part in making this happen,” said Laird. “When I found out that I was going to be able to do this, I was shocked. I couldn’t believe it.”
Laird is the only known pilot to shoot down German and Japanese planes during World War II. His first two kills came while on the carrier Ranger, supporting the British fleet near the Orkney Islands in October of 1943.
On his first kill, Laird and his wingman were heading back to the ship after seeing no enemy aircraft. He said he kept looking back behind the formation because radar operators had spotted enemy aircraft in the vicinity. Sure enough, Laird got a tally at 6 o’clock on an enemy plane.
He and his section lead, Boyd Mayhew, made a quick turn as the bandit went around a cloud. As the enemy plane emerged from behind the cloud, Laird and Mayhew set up position behind the Junkers 88. With an altitude advantage on the German plane, the two F4F Wildcats made consecutive gun runs on the enemy aircraft.
“We had him smoking after the first run.”
They made a second run and Laird said the airplane exploded, bagging his first air to air kill. Later in that mission he shot down a Henkel HE-115 float plane for his second kill of the afternoon.
When asked if there was a celebration onboard the ship when they returned, Laird responded with a somewhat puzzling answer.
“I was censured because I had fired so much ammunition. I shot maybe 600 rounds,” said Laird.
Laird was then transferred to the Pacific fleet. He managed 4 air to air kills against the Japanese in 1944 and 1945, before the war ended.
The 95-year-old WWII Ace had some words of advice for younger naval aviators. He said his “policy has always been that every fighter pilot has two main assets once they’re airborne. One is altitude and the other is speed. Never give up one, without gaining something on the other.”
Cheers to you Diz!
You can read the official Navy release here
Diz also has a great oral history from the San Diego Air and Space Museum (with Ron Carrico) that you can watch here.
Top Photo: CORONADO, California (July 9, 2016) Retired Cmdr. Dean “Diz” Laird, center, stands in the rear seat of a T-34C Turbomentor with the “Flying Eagles” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 122. The T-34C marks the 100th aircraft Laird has flown in his 95-year lifetime. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Paolo Bayas/Released)