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Wed, Jan 24, 2007

Gone West: Hayden 'Buck' Gregory

WWII Ace Passes Away On His 92nd Birthday

An ANN News-Spy alerted us Tuesday to the passing of another member of the "Greatest Generation."

People like Hayden "Buck" Gregory were the reason those who fought in World War II -- or served their country in other capacities -- earned that title. Gregory was a Naval cadet when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and later flew Kingfisher observation planes on anti-submarine patrols near Cuba. He was assigned later to Fighter Squadron 82, flying off the aircraft carrier USS Bennington.

In a December 2005 interview with the Albuquerque Tribune, Gregory recalled a February 1945 mission, in which his shot-up Grumman F6F Hellcat barely made it back to the Bennington.

Hellcats were made of tough stuff... but even those planes couldn't last long without their tail assemblies, or a full section of a wing missing. Somehow, he guided the Hellcat back home.

"When I got out of that plane, they just pushed it overboard," he told The Tribune. "It just wasn't repairable."

Gregory had five confirmed kills in WWII, including three kamikaze planes in one day. "I hit him in the cockpit," Gregory said, recalling one of the suicide pilots he shot down. "I flew alongside, and I could see his head hanging out of the cockpit and his earflaps were hanging out. He was dead."

That earned him "Ace" status, as well as the Silver Star and the Distinguished Flying Cross. It was a far cry from his earlier days, growing up on a West Texas ranch.

"When I was young. there was an airplane that would come across our place, flying low, and the pilot would wave at us kids who would be punching cattle or hoeing cotton," Gregory recalled. "I said, `You know, that looks like a pretty good life.' "

He retired from the Navy in 1968, with the rank of commander. Gregory had spent his last years in the service as a recruiter in Albuquerque. His daughter, Nancy Lockwood, says her father enjoyed gardening in his life after the military, along with tinkering with cars.

"My brother Jerry used to make up reasons to work on his car with Dad, just for the joy of working with him and learning from him," Lockwood told the Tribune recently. "They used to spend hours under that car."

It is with sadness and respect Aero-News reports Hayden "Buck" Gregory has gone west... where he may now choose to fly as high as his wings will take him, or stay closer to the ground if he prefers.

FMI: www.navy.mil

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