Eugene P. Deatrick, 96, a retired Air Force colonel and test pilot died December 30, 2020 at his home in Alexandria, Virginia from complications of leukemia. While serving in Vietnam as the commanding officer of the 1st Air Commando Squadron, he located and initiated the rescue of Navy Lt. Dieter Dengler who had escaped from a Laotian prison camp weeks before. The escape and rescue were recounted in movies and literature.
Deatrick was born in 1924 in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania and grew up in Morgantown, West Virginia where his parents were professors at West Virginia University. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, NY in 1946 and flew B-17 bombers for the Army Air Forces after World War II.
He flew B-47s and B-52s during nuclear weapons effect tests at the Pacific Proving Grounds in 1954 (Operation Castle) and 1956 (Operation Redwing). In 1966, he served in Pleiku, Vietnam where flew more than 400 combat missions in the A-1E. After returning home, he served as Commandant of the USAF Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base from 1967-68. Deatrick was a graduate of the National War College, earned a masters degree from George Washington University, and served as Director of Test, Air Force Systems Command for two years before retiring from the Air Force in 1974.
During his career, Deatrick flew more than 50 different types of aircraft and accumulated more than 12,000 hours of flying. His military decorations included the Legion of Merit with 1 oak leaf cluster, the Distinguished Flying Cross with 1 oak leaf cluster, the Bronze Star with valor device and 1 oak leaf cluster, and the Air Medal with 22 oak leaf clusters.
Deatrick was a member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots (SETP), the International Order of Characters, the Order of Daedalians, the Air Force Association, and the Quiet Birdmen, the Old Bold Pilots, and Silver Wings Over Washington. He served as President of the National Aviation Club for three years and received the National Aeronautic Association’s Cliff Henderson Award for aviation achievement and the Wesley L. McDonald Elder Statesman of Aviation award. Deatrick was selected as the USAF Test Pilot School’s Distinguished Alumnus in 2001 and was inducted into the Gathering of Eagles program. His career was documented by SETP and the West Point Center for Oral History.
His wife of 56 years, Zane Deatrick, died in 2012. One son, Peyton Schur, died in 2001.
Survivors include one son, Will Deatrick (Debbie) of Poway, CA; two grandsons, Wesley Deatrick (Carey) of Escondido, CA; and Kyle Schur (Marie) of Templeton, CA; one daughter-in-law Jennifer Schur (Geoff) of Paso Robles, CA; and two great-grandsons Calvin Schur and Elliott Schur of Templeton, CA.
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