the legend next door
So, who is great in the pantheon of retired Navy Commanders?
Well, we lost one, if not the, ranking member last month - Commander Dean S. “Diz” Laird, USN (Ret.).
Over the course of his 29-year legendary military career, 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!”
While still in the Navy, Diz moved to Coronado in 1958 with his wife and three children. He stayed active in the community as all his children attended Coronado schools. He cherished the idyllic Coronado way of life to raise his children and thoroughly embraced the island’s close-knit community with his kind-hearted spirit, generous personality, and innate ability to make friends easily. Upon retiring from the Navy in 1971 at the rank of Commander, he became a partner and co-owner of the Coronado Municipal Golf Course restaurant. Diz operated and managed the concession for nearly 20 years, making lifelong friends and playing countless rounds of golf — which included six career holes-in-one at the Coronado Golf Course — a true Ace’s ace!
With Lorraine, always at his side, Diz traveled extensively in his retirement years, often times meeting with pilots who were former World War II adversaries. He was inducted into San Diego’s Air & Space Museum International Hall of Fame in 2014 and honored on the Coronado Avenue of Heroes in 2015. Diz was also a member of the American Fighter Aces and Tailhook Associations (original member and organizer of the first several annual Tailhook events). He lived life to the absolute fullest and never let his age slow him down, accomplishing several noteworthy feats after age 90: he went skydiving on his 90th birthday, received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2015 and the Audie Murphy Award in 2018, and threw out the first pitch for the Oakland A’s in 2019.
Coronado was Diz’s primary home until 2015, when he moved to Walnut Creek, CA to be closer to his daughter and grandchildren. He was predeceased by Lorraine in 2014 and his oldest daughter Diane in 2008. He is survived by his son Michael (Clare), daughter Andrea (Scott), eight grandchildren, and 13 great-grandchildren. We will always love our Commander Laird, Diz, Dean, Dad, Grandpadean, BePa, and Great Grandpadean. He will be sorely missed, and we will always carry his spirit with us with the fondest of memories.