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"Missouri airport name will honor aviator"
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- Subject: CAA: Pilot Talk, "Missouri airport name will honor aviator"
- From: "Stephen Irwin" <stepheni@xxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Tue, 1 Jan 2002 16:31:29 -0800
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Tuesday, January 1, 2002
Airport name will honor aviator
By JULIE BELSCHNER
The St. Joseph (MO) News-Press
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. - Fliers arriving at the Chillicothe Memorial Airport
will soon walk through the door of an ace's memories. City Council
members have voted to name the terminal after Richard West in response
to the airport board's recommendation.
"Pilots have been talking about this for years," said Bill Kieffer,
airport manager. "The general feeling out here of all the people is that
it's way past due to give him some recognition."
Facing the Japanese in World War II's Southwest Pacific Theater, Mr.
West shot down 14 enemy airplanes. With a royal flush painted on the
side of his plane as a nod to his poker skills, he had another three
kills, unconfirmed. His actions brought him several medals: Silver Star,
Distinguished Flying Cross, Distinguished Service Cross, Air Medal with
Seven Clusters, Pacific Theater Campaign medal and recognition ribbons
for various outstanding missions. He's a member of the American Fighter
Aces Association and a resident of Chillicothe.
"It's unbelievable what he accomplished," Mr. Kieffer said. "If you're a
flier, you realize what he did, and that wasn't after years of training,
it was after weeks of training. And he was so young. There's not many of
these aces around."
Mr. West was 20 when he signed up for the Army Air Force.
"I went into the service as soon as Pearl Harbor was hit," he said. "Any
local boys with an ounce of patriotism joined up. I spent the next year
and a half fighting Japs in the South Pacific. We went out every other
day. One day we might be strafing, then bombing, then flying cover for
Mr. West won't beat his own drum, but airport board member and pilot
Fred Simmer will. He wanted Mr. West to have some recognition before Mr.
Simmer leaves the board in May.
"I've known Dick for years, ever since high school, and have a lot of
respect for him," Mr. Simmer said. "For a farm boy to grow up and become
a fighter pilot takes a lot of doing. And to be as good as he was, takes
a lot more than flying ability, it takes courage."
Mr. West flew 173 missions, he said, and encountered enemy planes only
eight times. In one mission, he shot down four Japanese planes.
"If you've got any sense at all, you're scared," Mr. West said. "But you
hone your skills until you're better than the others."
Mr. Simmer tells of how Mr. West refused to cut his hair until he had
his first kill.
"It got considerably long," Mr. Simmer said. "Then he shot down four at
once for his first kill, so then he wouldn't cut it because he was
afraid it would break his luck. His nickname was Samson."
Mr. West would rather talk about the time in training when he made a
perfect landing - except he forgot to lower the landing gear. Or the
time during a mission when he belly-landed in a rice paddy. Listed as
missing in action, he was actually hiding out with guerrillas for two
weeks until he could return to his squadron, the 35th Fighter Squadron
of the 8th Fighter Group of the 5th Air Force.
Or about the poetry he's written for the past several years.
"Brandy red two and four, this is Brandy one,
Fan out a little and relax, this is sort of fun.
Don't pay too much attention to the bursting flak,
We're just making this one run, we're not coming back."
Mr. Simmer took Mr. West up for a plane ride about 10 years ago - the
first time since World War II that Mr. West had been up. Mr. Simmer
handed over the controls.
"It was like he'd never gotten out. He did some figure 8's and I
wouldn't have hesitated to let him land it," he said.
The terminal will be formally renamed in a ceremony at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 12
at the airport, three miles east of Chillicothe on U.S. Highway 36. Mr.
West will be present.
"It seems so very long ago,
But I'll remember them I know
A handsome bunch with laughing eyes
Seldom seen in other guys.."
Mr. West's latest poetry edition is available by sending $16 to: Richard
West, 1311 Maple, Chillicothe, MO 64601.