An echelon of fighter jets flying a memorial pass for a U.S. Navy pilot who died in Walnut Creek last month sparked a flurry of inquiries from locals when they roared overhead Thursday.
The jets, two F18s and a pair of F35’s believed to have lifted off from the Naval Air Station in Lemoore, flew in honor of World War II aviator Dean S. “Diz” Laird of Coronado, who died in Walnut Creek at 101.
Laird’s career spanned 29 years, during which he shot down the first German planes of World War II off the coast of Norway for the Navy and was the only Navy Flying Ace who scored victories against German and Japanese planes in both the European and Pacific Theatres. Diz flew 99 different military aircraft before retirement and then flew his 100th at the age of 95, flying a T-34C in Coronado in July 2016. He flew 175 combat missions and served on 12 aircraft carriers, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1945, won the National Air Races in 1949 (setting a world speed record at the time), and holds the U.S. military record for most straight deck carrier landings. Additionally, Diz was part of the Navy’s first Jet Squadron, becoming the first pilot to land a jet on the deck of the USS Midway. In 1969, he flew as the lead stunt pilot and helped choreograph the reenactment of the attack on Pearl Harbor for 20th Century Fox’s 1970 film “Tora! Tora! Tora!”