Commander Dean “Diz” Laird
By Scott Achelis and Andrea Laird Achelis
Dean “Diz” Laird is an aviation legend. He is the only Navy Ace to achieve air victories over both German and Japanese enemy planes during World War II. He’s qualified in 99 different aircraft, served in three wars, and choreographed the reenactment and was the lead stunt pilot flying the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1969 for 20th Century Fox’s movie Tora! Tora! Tora!
Diz always knew that he wanted to fly, and as a child was a copious reader of pulp flying magazines such as ‘Flying Aces’ and ‘Air War.’ He earned his private pilot’s license while attending Placer Jr. College in Auburn, California, and enlisted in the Navy just 12 days after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Primary and advanced training took place in Oakland, Livermore, Dallas, Pensacola, Miami, and Norfolk.
Once deployed, Diz flew 175 combat and training missions; served on 12 different carriers; flew in the Navy’s first jet squadron in 1947; was the first person to land a jet powered aircraft aboard the USS Midway; and has the most arrested landings on a straight deck carrier. Toward the end of WWII Diz was among the first carrier based aviators to bomb mainland Japan.
In 1949, as part of National Air Races, Diz won a race flying an F2H Banshee from USS Midway in the Atlantic to Cleveland, Ohio, establishing the fastest air speed recorded at that time (549 mph).
In the Vietnam era, Diz served in a ferry squadron, during which time he made 32 trans-Pacific flights, flying A-6’s from Vietnam to Texas.
Diz is a 5th generation Californian whose Coronado roots run deep. In 1958, Diz and Lorraine purchased their first home and moved their family to this town. After 29 1/2 years in the Navy, Cdr. Laird retired, and began a second career as co-owner of the restaurant at the Coronado Municipal Golf Course. For nearly 22 years Diz served the public and hosted gatherings and social events, before passing the baton to his business partner Dan Parker.
Diz has been actively involved in numerous aviation organizations. He is honored to be a member of the Golden Eagles and Distinguished Flying Cross Society. He was one of the original founders of the Tail Hook Association. While serving as president of American Fighter Aces Association (2000-2002), Diz oversaw the transfer of the Aces’ memorabilia from San Antonio to Seattle as the museum’s curators established a permament display in the Wing of Courage at The Museum of Flight. He also has enjoyed his involvement with Quiet Birdmen, Daedalians, and Military Officers Association of American.
Ever seeking new challenges, Diz celebrated his 90th birthday four years ago by skydiving – the first time he’d ever jumped out of an airplane (and anyone interested is invited to join him on his 100th!) This past May, Diz joined 35 other American Aces in our nation’s capital to receive the Congressional Gold Medal recognizing the achievements of 1,450 men skilled enough to earn the designation ‘Ace’ in WWI, WWII, Korea and Vietnam.
Last month, Diz participated in Honor Flight San Diego traveling to Washington, DC again, this time to experience a grateful nation’s monuments and tributes commemorating all veterans who have served our nation.
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