Gene Deatrick
Colonel - Air Force

   Colonel Eugene P. Deatrick USAF

Aviation Legend    96 Years Old

Life Member VFW Post 7916


Gene passed away peacefully in his sleep at home in Alexandria of leukemia complications on December 30 surrounded by his son Will, loved ones, and pilot buddies.


He will be buried at Arlington with his wife of 56 years, Zane, who predeceased him.  His daughter in law Debra & grandson Wes Deatrick miss him already.


For years Gene has been the Post’s aviator emeritus whose contributions to the Post include the NC-4 propeller in the Black Cat pool room, as well as the 12’ Rubinesque reclining nude secreted away in the Post. Gene was the President of the "Old, Bold Pilots” Washington DC Chapter.


Gene has flown more than 50 types of aircraft and logged more than 12,000 flying hours in a lifetime devoted to aviation. Born in 1924 in Morgantown, West Virginia, Gene graduated from West Point in 1946. Because of WWII, Gene was commissioned and  earned his pilot wings in just three years. He then trained in the North American B-25 Mitchell and flew the Boeing B-29 Superfortress. 


In 1951, as an engineering test pilot he went to the newly created USAF Test Pilot School and graduated in the first class to train at Edwards AFB, California. . He was certified as an instructor in 14 different aircraft. Gene volunteered for duty in Southeast Asia and in 1966, he took charge of the 1st Air Commando Squadron flying the A-1 Skyraider.

On 20 July 1966, during a flight over Laos while skimming the tree tops, he spotted a man waving a white cloth. Gene called for rescue helicopters. They hoisted to safety a thought to be KIA Navy SPAD pilot from the USS Ranger who had escaped from a POW camp.  There are Hollywood movies and books memorializing the rescue.

Gene flew 402 combat missions from Pleiku AB Vietnam and earned the two DFCs, 22 Air Medals and the BSM with "V” for valor. After combat duty, he returned to Edwards AFB as Commandant, Aerospace Research Pilots School.

In 1972, he became Director of Test, Air Force Systems Command, Andrews AFB.

Colonel Deatrick retired from the USAF in 1974. Gene joined SAIC and then headed Sierra Research Corporation’s office in Washington, D.C., until the mid-1980s, when he became a private consultant. He has served as President, National Aviation Club, and, in 1999, received the organization’s Cliff Henderson Award for Aviation Achievement.

Our lives are all better for knowing Gene.