Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Personal Journey

This thank-you was a long time coming

The green fields, most looking as if you could land a 747 on them, stretched off into the distance, where they became low, gently rolling hills. It was Butler County in northeast Nebraska, and I was on the way to Columbus to scratch a long-time personal itch: I wanted to say thanks to an old pilot to whom I owed a lot. Except, when I knew him, neither of us were pilots. He had been. I would be.

Most of us see our high-school years as a mixture of memories and emotions, most good, a few bad, some more vivid than others. Some of them had long-lasting effects that stayed with us regardless of the years between. I'm class of 1960, so there are a helluva lot of years between high school and me. Still, for all those years, I've had a nagging urge to thank one of my old teachers, Fred "Bud" Deeds, for what he contributed to the path that eventually became my life.

Thanking Deeds was one of those gonna-do-it-someday types of things that flitted around the edges of my mind, but somehow never got done. Every time I thought about it, something came up. You know how that works. Then, I heard that Fred Deeds had passed away—he would have been a little past 80 years old—and I kicked myself.

Dammit! I'd done it again. I've let another thank-you slide down the drain because of unimportant excuses.

Fred Deeds was important to me, not because he was my science teacher all the way through high school, but because he had been a Mustang pilot in WWII, and through him, the sparks of my interest in aviation were fanned and grew into full-blown flames. Plus, it was through his connection with historical events that my ingrained interest in all things historic was inadvertently ignited and nurtured.

Deeds had been a member of the famous 354th Fighter Group, the Pioneer Mustang Group, that first took the Mustang into combat in 1943, and we often talked about those dramatic years.

One of the most memorable times was when he brought out his 354th yearbook. It was like a high-school yearbook, with photos of many I recognized, including Don Beerbower. He was the leading ace of the Ninth Air Force, when knocked down by AAA during a strafing run. Deeds was on his wing at the time. The memory is seared in his brain.

The mothball smell of the yearbook; his words about this pilot or that; his comments about the P-51B; his retelling of how, as a wingman, he came to be credited with half a kill, the other half being Beerbower's—all stuck with me through the years. But then I heard he was gone, and I couldn't thank him. Dammit!


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