| Pensacola News Journal
Seventy-six years after he was stationed in Saipan during World War II, Dick Pace, a 101-year-old Pensacola resident, had the chance to fly in the same type of aircraft that he once taught in as a flight instructor.
Pace was gifted a flight in a 1943 North American SNJ with the GEICO Skytypers Air Show Team for the holidays. His plane flew over Pensacola Beach and Naval Air Station Pensacola, including the runway and National Naval Aviation Museum.
“It was a nice smooth day for a flight. I enjoy being up there in the air where everything was pretty and the scenery was good and the air was friendly and the air was happy. So was the pilot. And we had a good time,” Pace said.
Pace, who donned his green flight suit from 1944, said he loved the SNJ airplanes and instructed in them at the Corpus Christi Navy base in Texas.
The last time he was in an SNJ was when he was 89 on a flight he received as a gift from his late wife, Jane. During that flight, he performed a few maneuvers, even a loop, said his nephew, Tom Pace.
“It was just a good, friendly airplane. It would not let you down,” Dick Pace said.
Since his naval career ended after World War II, Pace has donated all of his memorabilia, including his flight suit, to the National Naval Aviation Museum. He also stayed involved by working as a docent there for many years.
Tuesday’s flight experience comes after a difficult year for Pace. His wife of 77 years died in August, shortly before he lost his condo after damage from Hurricane Sally caused black mold to grow.
“It’s emotional because I know it’s so special to him,” said Marcia Lindstrom, Pace’s daughter. “This is just such a wonderful gift for him to be able to do. We’re just happy for him.”
Chris Thomas, the pilot who flew Pace in the SNJ, has been flying since he was a teenager and doing air shows with the Skytypers for about four or five years. He said Tuesday’s flight was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for him.
“If you think about it, it’s guys of that generation that changed the shape of this world. If you think about what was happening in Europe, it’s their efforts,” Thomas said.
Capt. Tim Kinsella, base commander of NAS Pensacola, flew in a second vintage plane, a Stearman, alongside Pace’s on Tuesday.
“He’s one of the original aviators so for me to be here to represent the men and women of NAS Pensacola, it means a lot to us to honor our heritage and to honor those few World War II vets that are still alive,” Kinsella said. “We’re all here for him. We’re all here to honor him.”
Kinsella said with as much as has changed in naval aviation over the years, many things are still the same as in Pace’s era. He said they have the same wings on their flight suits and Kinsella went to flight school in Corpus Christi where Pace taught.
“There are so many similarities with what he went through to what aviators are going through today,” Kinsella said. “It’s a bond between all naval aviators. It’s pretty cool, pretty darn cool.”
Madison Arnold can be reached at [email protected] and 850-435-8522.
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