Dean S. “Diz” Laird was born and raised in Loomis, California and attended Placer Union High School in Auburn, California.
In his youth, Diz was an aviation enthusiast and studied to be a pilot, earning his license through the Civilian Pilot Training Program at Placer Junior College. However, it wasn’t until the sudden entrance of the U.S. into World War II that he realized his immediate calling was to join the U.S. Navy.
Over the course of his nearly 30-year military career, Diz was fortunate to have many opportunities to shine. Off the coast of Norway, he shot down the first German plane of World War II for the US Navy and was the only Navy Ace who scored victories over both German and Japanese pilots, later earning him the title “Ace of Two Oceans."
He flew 175 combat missions and served on 12 aircraft carriers. Laird was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1945, won the National Air Races in 1949 (setting a world speed record of 549 mph), and will forever hold 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 a stunt pilot and helped choreograph the reenactment of the attack on Pearl Harbor for 20th Century Fox's 1970 film “TORA! TORA! TORA!” Diz flew 99 different military aircraft before retirement and then flew his 100th at the age of 95, as a back seater in a T-34C at NAS North Island, Coronado in 2016.
Laird was inducted into the American Combat Airmen Hall of Fame in 2006, the prestigious San Diego's Air & Space Museum International Hall of Fame in 2014 and recognized on the Coronado Avenue of Heroes in 2015. In 2018, he was honored with the Audie Murphy award from the American Veterans Center in Washington DC.
Diz was one of the early members of the Tailhook Association and a long-standing member of the American Fighter Aces Association (AFAA), serving on the board of directors for over 20 years, and as its president for two years.
Diz took his final flight on August 10, 2022 and will be greatly missed.