06/28/14 — Maj. Gen. Frederick Blesse honored

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Maj. Gen. Frederick Blesse honored

By Ethan Smith
Published in News on June 28, 2014 10:39 PM

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Lt. Col. Donn Yates and Betty Blesse unveil the monument in memory Betty's husband General Frederick Blesse during a dedication ceremony at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base Friday morning.

The list of planes he flew is longer than the average person's grocery list.

The number of planes he shot down in combat outnumbers the amount of cars an average person will own in their life.

Maj. Gen. Frederick "Boots" Blesse, who died on Halloween in 2012 after retiring from a storied career in the Air Force in 1975, was honored at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base on Friday with a statue revealed in his honor outside the 334th Fighter Squadron headquarters.

Blesse was a double ace, meaning he shot down 10 confirmed enemy planes during combat missions, and is one of only a handful of Americans to ever achieve that distinction.

He achieved the feat during two volunteer combat tours in Korea -- completing a total of 223 missions in various planes during the war. During this tour of duty, Blesse also wrote "No guts, No glory," which is still used widely in the Air Force as the leading book on fighter tactics.

"He was a dream pilot," said retired general Charles Cleveland, an airman who flew several missions with Blesse and was named flight commander by Blesse during active duty. "He was a great leader, and I miss him deeply."

Blesse received numerous awards during his career and is remembered by many for his warrior spirit and aggressive tactics in battle.

"Working for Frederick was a privilege because he was a fantastic leader and had great integrity," said retired Air Force Col. Raymond Kleber, who flew under Blesse from 1958 to 1959. "He was aggressive and taught us all a lot about being a pilot. Today's ceremony couldn't have been a better tribute to a man so deserving of the honor."

But Blesse wasn't aggressive around the clock. At home, he was much different than the relentless double ace most people knew him as.

"He was an absolutely delightful gentleman to everyone he met," said his wife, Betty. "He treated the floor sweeper the same as the man who owned the place. He was competitive and truly successful at everything he did."

Lt. Col. Donn Yates, who spoke at the ceremony honoring Blesse, provided insight into what it is like to climb into a jet knowing you may not land after takeoff -- something Blesse did many times.

"When you're climbing into that jet, you're not really thinking about the fact that you might not come back down," Yates said. "The biggest thing in your mind isn't dying -- it's not letting your buddies down. You never want to let your buddies down. And that's something we stress here -- the Air Force is successful because of its people and fighting spirit."

This mentality echoes in those currently serving in the Air Force, still affected by Blesse's impact throughout his service.

"The legacy of general Blesse is something for us to all look up to and aspire to mimic in our careers," said 1st Lt. Joshua Judy, 334th Fighter Squadron pilot in training. "Flying with the 334th and knowing what he's done for our squadron's history -- it gives me pride to know where we came from and the leaders that were here before us."

Blesse's nickname, "Boots," was produced by a story as unique as his career and the legacy he leaves behind.

"When he was a youngster in the Panama Canal Zone -- where he was born -- his father was a brigadier general in the Medical Corps of the Army," Cleveland said. "They wore jumpers and riding boots there. When he was little, he would hop into his father's boots, and his family would hear him clomping around in those boots, and they'd say, 'Here comes boots.'"