LOOMIS, Calif. (KTXL) — The California Aerospace Museum shared on Thursday that U.S. Navy ace pilot and Loomis native Dean “Diz” Laird died at 101-years-old on Aug. 10.
“It is with great sadness that we say goodbye to a wonderful pilot and patriot,” wrote in a social media post on Thursday. “Dean Samuel Laird, also known as Diz Laird, was the only U.S. Navy ace to have combat victories in both the Pacific and European theaters of World War II.”
Laird was born in Loomis on Feb. 7, 1921 and joined the Navy on Jan. 2, 1942 following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
During his time in WWII Laird served on the USS Ranger, USS Essex and the USS Bunker Hill. He had his first aerial victory in October 1943 when he assisted in shooting down a German Junkers JU-88 near the coast of Normandy.
According to the American Veterans Center, Laird was the first Navy pilot to shoot down a German war plane during WWII.
In December 1943, Laird was moved to the Pacific aboard the USS Bunker Hill where he shot down a Japanese Kawasaki Ki-61 in November 1944.
Laird would stay in the U.S. Navy for 29 years, serving in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War until his retirement in 1971, according to the San Diego Air and Space Museum.
During his time in the Navy, Laird received the Distinguished Flying Cross after logging 8,200 flight hours (3,662 in jets and 4,623 in propeller aircraft) and making 520 carrier landings, according to the Air and Space Museum.
In 2013, Laird was inducted into the International Air & Space Hall of Fame for his distinguished service and is included amongst aviators like Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Amelia Earhart.
“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,” President & CEO of the San Diego Air & Space Museum Jim Kidrick said. “He proudly served our country in a time of its greatest need, and continued his service for nearly three decades, flying every type of aircraft in the Navy’s ever-evolving arsenal. The San Diego Air & Space Museum mourns his loss while remembering him fondly for his incredible achievements and contributions to aviation.”
In 2015, Laird was given the Congressional Gold Medal, which is Congress’s greatest award for distinguished achievements and contributions by a person or group.
According to the air and space museum, Laird also choreographed and led the bombing of Pearl Harbor scene in the 1969 movie, “Tora, Tora, Tora”.
In July 2016, Laird flew his 100th aircraft type at the age of 95-years-old when he took to the skies in a Beechcraft T-34C Mentor, according to the American Veterans Center.