The writer, of Wadena, Minn., is an author. His main interest is World War II aviation history.
The family of Bud Deeds would like his friends to know that he passed away peacefully Friday morning, Aug. 23, 2013.
This one-sentence announcement about Bud Deeds appeared in the Seward County Independent last summer. Behind this straightforward statement is a man we should remember on Veterans Day.
Born in Lincoln on Sept. 6, 1922, Deeds spent all but a brief period of his life in Nebraska. He graduated from Osceola High School in 1940 and after the war enrolled at Nebraska Wesleyan University, earning his degree in 1949.
After teaching for six years in the public schools at Mitchell and Beaver Crossing, Deeds moved to Seward where he taught for an additional 30 years. In so doing, he helped his community educate its children, and along with his wife Dolores, raised their three daughters. He was committed to the success of his students and to his subject matter.
A quiet man by nature, Deeds may have seemed stern to some, although he wasn’t. He understood that students, student teachers and teachers he mentored learned best by being allowed to make mistakes. A dedicated and approachable instructor, he worked hard at helping the boys and girls understand the difficult nuances of biology, chemistry and physics.
Deeds would sometimes talk in class about the “brief period” in his life when duty called him away from Nebraska.
On June 7, 1944, 21-year-old Lt. Bud Deeds reported for duty as a replacement pilot at the headquarters of the 353rd Fighter Squadron, near Lashenden, England. Deeds soon learned that he would be the new wingman for 22-year-old Capt. Don Beerbower, the top ace in the Ninth Air Force. This responsibility required that he protect Beerbower from surprise attack by enemy aircraft. It did not take the novice pilot long to show his mettle.
On the evening of June 14, 1944, Beerbower and Deeds, at the forefront of eight P-51 Mustangs, engaged 12 Messerschmitt 109s attacking a group of B-26 medium bombers high over Normandy. In the dogfight that ensued, Deeds alertly spotted a Messerschmitt streaking toward Beerbower. Many years later, he recalled what happened:
“An enemy plane dropped down on [Don’s] tail, and seeing this, I turned into the attacking plane and fired a burst. The [pilot] broke off into a diving turn which took him below and in front of Don, who then dropped behind him and shot him down. I don’t know whether my fire ever hit the plane or not. Don said it had done some damage, and over my protest, insisted that I share the kill with him.”
A humble man, Deeds did not mention during my interview with him in 2011 that he had very likely spared Beerbower’s life.
The two fighter pilots would team up again on July 7, 1944, when Deeds provided cover for Beerbower, the newly appointed squadron commander, as the ace destroyed a Focke-Wulf 190.
A wingman cannot protect his leader from being shot down while they are strafing ground targets. On Aug. 9, 1944, Beerbower, with Deeds at his side, led 16 P-51s in a treetop-level attack against 30 enemy aircraft parked in the open at a German airfield in France.
On the second pass, Deeds, glancing toward Beerbower, saw anti-aircraft strikes stagger his commander’s Mustang. He then saw Beerbower’s desperation to gain enough altitude to parachute, and then death and destruction when the pilot and plane struck French soil.
The remembrance of the mission on Aug. 9, and the deep sense of loss that Deeds felt for a man he cared about and respected, never left his consciousness.
The last wingman rotated home in 1945, his service to America complete. Or so it seemed.
But four years later, with a chemistry degree in hand, Deeds chose an occupation that would allow him to help prepare other Nebraskans to meet their obligations to society.
As I ponder the significance of Nov. 11, I think of the example of Bud Deeds, a fighter pilot and an educator, dying quietly at home, his wife by his side.
On Veterans Day this year, my mind will drift back to the WW II generation of teachers I had in school and college, their young lives tempered overseas or on the homefront. I will cherish their memory and how they influenced me to be a better person and a better citizen.