Hellcat Ace Describes How He Shot Down the Enemy over Europe and the Pacific

Hellcat Ace Describes How He Shot Down the Enemy over Europe and the Pacific | World War Wings Videos

YouTube / American Veterans Center

Dean “Diz” Laird is a veteran of three different wars, he is an ace, an aviator, and the only one known to have recorded kills both in the European and the Pacific theaters of World War II. 

Now, he recalls his story of how he shot down the enemy over Europe and the Pacific.

Growing Up

Laird grew up in Placer Country near Sacramento and followed to follow the footsteps of his older brother who was an Army Air Corps pilot. The young man, however, preferred to join the war in the Pacific and joined the Navy flight program. 

He eventually entered service in January 1942, following the attack of the Japanese on Pearl Harbor. 

First Kills

Laird made his first two kills while on the carrier Ranger, while he was supporting the British fleet near Orkney Islands in October 1943.

On his first kill, he and his section lead spotted an enemy aircraft in the vicinity, and as the enemy aircraft emerged from behind the cloud, they set up position behind the Junkers 88. Because they had an altitude advantage, the two F4F Wildcats did consecutive gun runs on it.

“We had him smoking after the first run,” Laird recalled. After the second run, the aircraft exploded, making it his first air-to-air kill. He would late shoot down a Henkel HE-115, making it his second kill for the day. 

Aboard the Hellcat

Later on, Laird was trained in his new Hellcat fighter and was transferred to the Pacific. Aboard the carrier USS Bunker Hill, he was able to participate in a fighter sweep over the former US airbase in Clark, Philippines. He shot down two “Tony” fighters, sharing the credit for one with his wingman. 

Almost Shot Down

It was December 1944 when Laird was almost shot down when his F6F Hellcat was riddled with bullets over the Philippines after a strafing attack. 

Surprisingly, he was able to pilot his plane back to the USS Essex which was about 250 miles away. Since his landing gear didn’t work he landed his plane skidding its bottom across the deck of the US carrier. 

Distinguished Flying Cross

When Laird was transferred to the Pacific fleet, he managed 4 air to air kills against the Japanese between 1944-1945 before the war ended. On February 7, 1945, Laird was escorting bomber planes that were attacking heavily defended Japanese aircraft engine factories. 

He managed to shoot two Japanese planes during this particular mission in Tokyo Japan, and received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his bravery. 

American Legend

All accounted for, Laird shot down six to seven planes, although he was officially credited with 5.75 planes shot down. Laird remained in service for 29 years, virtually being able to fly every type of fighter and attack plane in the Navy inventory. 

He was able to log more than 8,200 hours, 3,662 in jets, and 4,623 in propeller aircraft. He even became a stunt pilot for the 20th Century Fox film Tora! Tora! Tora! in 1969. 

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