tv Global 3000 LINKTV April 30, 2022 10:00am-10:31am PDT
♪♪ mike: pilots, you know, have this history from world war i on of, you know, they're the knights of the air, and they paint their airplanes, and they have fancy helmets. but by the time the vietnam war started, the navy had said, you know, no personalizing the airplanes the only exception was an aircraft named lady jessie don: the way that it came about that there was an aircraft that had nose art on it was because of two very special people, and that was lieutenant commander dick perry and lady jessie, who was jessie beck.
♪♪ larry: jessie beck had come to reno in 1938 as a young divorcee brought her little boy along. she had come there from texas. because she had been promised a job by pappy smith. pappy smith is credited with laying the model out for reno casinos. his son had a little tiny gambling outfit called harold's. jessie was gregarious, easy to talk to, natural leader. by 1950 she had risen in the casino and she fell in love with and married fred beck, who owned the keno betting concessions.
as the casino grew, so did their business. fred beck died in 1954, about the time dick perry was in college. don: dick was raised in the small town of carlin nevada. he was someone who was a natural leader, hard working. mike: he always had a smile, and he was enthusiastic and optimistic. he got a job at harold's club while he was in college. larry: his job was working for jessie beck as a, uh, at first as a runner, just running tickets around the place. mike: he and jessie hit it off, it was kind of a work-mother/work-son kind of relationship, and they became good friends and she mentored him there, and he ended up, as i understand it, at one point he was the youngest licensed pit boss in the state of nevada.
larry: dick finished college and then entered the navy's flight program. his orders took him to naval air station lemoore, california to join va-164. ♪♪ john: dick perry was one of those few very special people who stay in the most vivid part of your memory for a lifetime. he was full of the v's of humankind: verve, vigor, vitality, and just an uncommonly huge bunch of love for just about everything. family, friends, flying, you name it, what dick touched he loved with a passion found in but a very few. mike: he was a superb pilot. he was a really excellent naval officer, and he was just a good guy, i mean he was a good man.
don: dick perry was not just a, you know, a good leader and a courageous combat pilot but a man of integrity, you know, old school navy. ♪♪ larry: jessie followed his career. after he left college and went into the navy, she stayed in touch with him. she had read newspaper stories about morale and issues such as that, so she put together care packages to send to dick and his friends. but jessie beck did everything in a large way. john: it was, “hey there's a package from jessie in the ready room.” larry: there's all these boxes and “take anything you want.” john: cards, cookies. larry: pokerchips, popcorn john: anything that could be shipped. mike: it wasn't just that she was writing checks. she was getting other people involved. operator: “hi may i help you?” mike: she got -- i think it was the telephone
operators across the state of nevada -- to get donated paperback books, and they put them in these huge cartons. i mean we had books coming out of our ears, so we started scattering them all over the ship, and when the next box arrived we started scattering them to other ships. larry: dick wrote back and said “this is, you're sending too much, i gave some of it to the other squadron va-163, the other a4 squadron, and she took them under her wing and started sending even more stuff. john: 3, 4 foot by 3, 4 foot boxes of goodies to distribute throughout the two squadrons and everybody loved it. don: it seems like such a little thing, you know, to say that there's care packages coming in and they've got decks of cards, and cookies, although the war wasn't that unpopular yet, to get anything that recognized you as doing something, you know, for the country or that people were thinking about you was big.
we were pretty much out there on our own. john: dick became the spirit of the ghostriders in those years. he could listen. he knew how to rally the troops. he became a big brother to his wingman mike. mike: when i joined the squadron, i was assigned to him to be his wingman, he was gonna be my flight leader. and i thought “i ve lucked out. my irish luck is holding, you know, i am flying on dick perry's wing. and i knew that before we had our first combat mission, because i heard about dick perry. he had been on a twilight mission. he'd been hit by anti aircraft fire, blew the nose off the airplane, where all the electronic equipment was stored, and it was getting dark, and he had to dead reckon back out to the carrier, the only thing he had was a flashlight and a, just a boy scout compass, and he managed to get this very sick
airplane on the carrier at night, i mean just a spectacular piece of airmanship. john: we lost half of our pilots that cruise, many in a fire aboard our carrier oriskany. dave: i was sleeping. the fire alarm went off. we didn't get 10 or 15 yards before i knew we weren't gonna make it. chuck: i was laying on the floor, just with a couple of inches of breathable air. somebody came down with an oba and led me out. larry: smoke was starting to come in under the door. dick i'll lead you out,etter think aboi know way.”ut of here. mike: when the lights go out on the aircraft carrier, the is just no lightthere's no ambient light anywhere, and it's filled with smoke, but dick knew where he was and he picked the right place to go to get to fresh air. john: we lost 43 people, and i think 36 of them were pilots. it was a really sad day, of many.
larry: we had this fire, and that was a terrible event aboard oriskany, but when we got back, jessie beck invited all the officers in va-164, our squadron, and va-163, the saints, to reno, she put us, our wives, girriends up. for all of us bachelors, she lined up blind dates for us, which was, i thought, a wonderful thing. ed: i decided to find my own date. she was a local girl, and uh, had a shelby cobra. larry: she took us to, uh, dinners. ed: i fell in love with that shelby cobra. but i'm sorry to say, it was owned by her husband (laughs). john: we all got front row tickets for the patty page show, and she gave us all a hundred dollars of gambling money.
i think that's the only time i ever made any money at a casino (laughs). ♪♪ chuck: my wife and i were playing blackjack one time and i was not doing very well, and lady jessie came and sat down beside us and i never lost a hand while she sat there (laughs). mike: i'd just joined the squadron. dick introduced me “this is mike, he's my wingman this next cruise.” and she was just the most gracious, wonderful person. admiral compton: miss jessie. she was a wonderful lady. mike: paul engel was the commanding officer of 164. dick asked, and he thought it was appropriate, to paint lady jessie, name dicks aircraft in honor of jessie beck. somebody asked “paul, how did you get permission to do that?” and he said “i didn't.” (laughs) he says “i just did it cause it was the right thing to do.”
steve: july 10th 1967, dear mr. and mrs. mullane. tomorrow we live cubi point in the philippines and head for yankee station and combat. friday we will fly our first comb hop, and i want you to know that it is with pleasure that i go into battle with your son, mike, flying as my wingman. mike: ight leadegot you where you were supposed to go, got you set up to attackwha. the wingman's job was to keep eyes peeled for enemy fighters, for flack, for missiles. steve: this is my second combat cruise, and i assure you the uppermost thought in my mind is to bring mike home safely to his family. mike: 95 percent of the time you flew with your flight leader, and a bond of trust has to be implicit. steve: we've flown together now more than any other seating in the squadron, and are now an unbeatable team. mike: he doesn't have to look over his shoulder cause i'm behind him, uh, and i don't have to watch where i'm going cause he's leading. steve: my wife margot and i look forward to meeting you at the end of this cruise.
sincerely dick perry. mike: i grew up around naval aviators. he fit the mold of what you wanted to be when you became a real grownup. don: men like dick perry, they had such courage and integrity and valor that all of us junior officers looked up to them, we would've followed them anywhere. thank god that they were there to lead us in this, because it was pretty bad starting in july of '67. when you would be about 20 miles from the target, the missiles would start coming, and they're coming, you know, at three times the speed of sound. don: i was shot do the fifth day of the cruise, and i was the seventh pilot to be shot down. ken: i lost three roommates in '67, two which were k.i.a
and the third was a p.o.w. the plane basically exploded and i just came out of a ball of fire. griff: i was a replacement pilot, i came from travis to cubi point and then flew the cod out to yankee station. i was met getting off the cod by a young pilot, his name was jim dooley, and he was shot down literally about 3 or 4 days later. skip started predicting his demise. every few weeks he would say “i'm not gonna make it home to janine.” he made it till the last week. ed: it was a tough, tough, tough time. don: at that time the rolling thunder operation, which was the air war over north vietnam, just started cranking up to
full steam and we were flying three alpha strikes a day. steve: august 30th 1967, dear jessie. just thought i'let you know, i flew theady jessieo hanoi one day and haiphong the next, and she brought me home safe and sound each time. yesterday i led a strike of 22 airplanes against a bridge on the outstrikes of haiphong, my first major alpha strike lead. i'm about to hit the sack, as i fly at 5:45 tomorrow. love, dick. mike: itas an alphstrike, which was max airwinstrike when you're going into haiphong from the southwest. we flew in what they call a finger four formation. this was dick perry, this was me, this was john davis. we're going in. denny: we had triple a and sa-2's flying all over.
that was my first look at an sa-2. i saw one low, i knew he wasn't guiding on me. mike: the sa-2 missile, they'd come very fast. they flew at about mach 2.5, and if you saw one you would call the missile launch, and i didn't see this missle launch, and i couldn't locate the missile's cone. somebody said magic stones break, which meant move, get a maximum evasion. right at that point, i saw dick's airplane in almost a 90 degree bank pulling very hard away from me. you know, just separating from us, from me. and then there was one big whoompf. john: the explosion buffeted us. when we recovered, dick was already turning for the tonkin.
he was talking calmly. mike: john said “i'm with him, we're going out. you go on.” so i went into the target. john: as we reached the coastline he became silent. his plane caught fire and rolled out of control. but just as it rolled through wings level, dick ejected. “fine, he's in a good chute. the helo is on the way,” i reported over the air. i was in strike ops and waiting to hear the feet wet calls from middle man. listening to the speaker. and that's when i picked up on that dick had been hit. he was over the beach, good chute, that was good news. mike: he's feet wet, he was over the water, we have a good chute. if you were over the water and you had a good chute, we were gonna get ya.
your chances were 90 percent. so i thought okay and i go back to the strike frequency. jim: it was sort of silence for a while, didn't know what was going on, and en the helicopter pilot called and said “request permission to leave the scene. pilot dead in the water, massive chest wound.” what do i do? nobody knew yet. mike didn't know, the skipper didn't, so i walked right out the door across the passageway to the ready room, where the pilots were briefing for their next mission including our commanding officer, doug mow. i knelt in front of him, and i said “skipper” i said “we just got a report from a pilot,” i think my exact words were “dick's dead.” and he went “thanks jim” and he went on
to what he was doing. ♪♪ john: the rescue swimmer went down and confirmed him as a k. i. a., then shore batteries opened fire. too risky to continue, we had to leave dick to the sea. mike: i hit the target, exit go back to the carrier, i land, and i'm walking back to the island and look up and here's thskipper, doug mow, and he walked up to me and he says “mike, dick didn't make it.” ♪♪ it was a complete surprise because i was just sure he was alive, you know he... um... ♪♪
mike: i was flying on the next mission. so i went down, had a couple cigarettes, went to the briefing, and i started to cry. and i couldn't stop, then i couldn't stop. don: each night, we'd run a movie in the ready room. everybody was sitting in the ready room kind of stunned, and denny weekman, one of our lieutenant commanders who had flown many combat missions came up to me and he said “where's the movie, don?” and said “you gotta kidding me, we're not gonna run a movie now,” and he said “go get the movie and roll the movie,” and that's the way you had to be. you know, you had to, you couldn't get emotionally attached, you had to move on, you know, you had combat
missions to fly the next day. september 1st, 1967, i just could not geto bed and to sleep without getting a note off to tell you just how much you're being thought about, both you and my other boys of 164, and how much i love you and them. i'm praying with all my heart that you and all the others are safe and that you will all be coming home soon to your families. i just love you all, and it is alright for me to say that, for i could be the mother of any one of you, and of course i am your second mother. please give my love to all, dick, and may god bless you, lots of love, jessie. ♪♪
♪♪ mike: at that first party, jessie took me aside and she says “mike,” she says “bring dick home.” and i said...(excuse me)... and i promised her i would, and it was not within my power to keep, but i promised her i would. i felt awful, you know, that i'd failed to keep my leader alive. not only did i care for this man and have this tremendous bond with him, but if he could get shot down, anybody could get
shot down, including me. it was shortly after that that i calculated when my life expectancy would expire, and i said “you're not gonna survive this. your replacement is not gonna survive this.” don: as strange as it sounds, once you accepted that it was like all the worry was gone and yeah, we're not gonna make it out but okay i accept it. i mean, it was to that point. griff: you might make it through, you might not. just do your best and hang on. with other guys that made it through, it was stattically possible, although it didn't seem very likely. mike: how good you were as a man or an officer or a pilot just didn't matter. it was just sheer dumb luck. ♪♪ n: airwi 16 had e highes loss re of anyavy air ng
in the war. you talk about pple sacrificg, you know,iving it everythinghey had without the country beinbehind them. i don't think that the nation really understood. denny: lives not lived. ♪♪ mike: then to go home to meet jessie and talk to her, and talk to dick's widow, was really painful. jessie was as loving and as calm and as supportive.
that's who jessie beck was. dick's airplane was lady jessie. skipper always flies four zero one. after dick was killed, he put lady jessie's name on his aircraft. john: i don't know exactly who came up with the idea, but all of a sudden lady jessie was painted on our number one airplane, four zero one. jessie became such a mother to us all. it was just the right thing to do, and it became a tradition in the squadron until the squadron was finally decommissioned. ♪♪ don: you've got to hand it to jessie. i mean, as crushed as she was, you know, they were very close, but she just carried on, and i can remember thinking, “well if she can be this strong, you know, we can do it.”
she did more and more, she was doing things with the army and the airforce. she was a phenomenal woman. larry: one of the army units recommended her for the medal of freedom. now, that's the highest civilian medal that can be given. ♪♪ mike: in my mind it's appropriate that the fame of the aircraft reflects the celebration of jessie beck and the memory of dick perry. ♪♪ john: we buried dick in the spring of 1987.
surprisingly, his remains were returned. standing beside his grave in arlington, hearing the strains of america the beautiful, and remembering my stopping by, it seemed to me that so many of america's very uncommon heroes and leaders have sprung unashamedly from the good and common people spread across its heartland. dick perry was an uncommonly great human being. the heights to which he and thousands other youth from our heartland might have risen, we shall not know. all we can know now is that not knowing is the greatest tragedy of war. ♪♪