William "Whitey" Lemmond headed West

William Park Lemmond Jr., 81, headed West on Monday, July 7, 2014.

He is survived by: his wife, Beryl Mitchell Lemmond and four children

Growing up in Arlington, Va., Park earned his reputation and his nickname “Whitey” as a blond-haired Fighter Pilot, entrepreneur, and good friend.

Whitey was a fighter pilot for 23 years, and retired as a BGen with the VA ANG.  He flew F-100’s at Myrtle Beach AFB and was the 149th TFS Commander in the VA ANG.

Whitey’s  law career began after graduating from T.C. Williams Law School, and consisted of 50 years in the Virginia Bar, 16 years as a Circuit Court judge for the 6th Circuit and 15 years serving as a mentor to inmates through Kairos Prison Ministry.

A memorial service was conducted at 11 a.m. Monday, July 14, at Christ & Grace Episcopal Church.

 
William Park “ Whitey” Lemmond died in July. We were more than friends.

In 1963, while a first year law student at the University of Virginia, I joined the 149th Tactical Fighter Squadron of the Virginia Air National Guard, rationalizing that it would supplement my then somewhat meager earnings with which to pay for my schooling and the support of my wife and infant daughter. Closer to the truth it provided a welcome reprieve from the drudgery of law school, and returned me to the fighter cockpit I had left two years earlier to return to college and law school.

One of the first people I met upon first reporting to the unit at the Richard E. Byrd Flying field in Richmond was Whitey Lemmond, a handsome, square-jawed affable young pilot with a white-blond crew cut. We soon warmed to the fact that we were both law students, Whitey at the University of Richmond, and me at Charlottesville. As I recall we were both First Lieutenants at the time. Whitey was already flying the Unit’s F-84F, but he must have been their Instrument Instructor as well, as he flew the front seat of the T-33 when I had my first instrument checkout since leaving the Regular Air Force. Many fond memories or our times flying together during the three years I was in the unit brighten my thoughts. One was that first instrument flight with Whitey in the front seat of the T-bird and me in the back under the hood. We were shooting instrument approaches to Richmond. Things felt right as we approached the runway, bringing to mind the old saw about never forgetting how to ride a bicycle. The instructor is supposed to take over well before reaching the threshold of the runway. Whitey never said a word and never touched the stick until I realized we were almost at touchdown and called for him to take it. That was a cool guy. He didn’t know me from Adam. His stock went way up with me.

I never flew with a bad pilot in that unit. It just often worked out that Jim Fleming, a salty peanut farmer friend from North Carolina, Whitey and I, volunteered for weekend flights together when flights became available. On one such occasion we flew up to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to join the Michigan Air Guard at their base at Oscoda to give some army troops a taste of what it is like to be the subject of air attack. When we landed we were met by a blue station wagon driven by a smiling officer without wings, who met us with glad hand and big smile saying, “You must be the guys from Puerto Rico!”

Thinking the guy was joking we just gave him a wry smile. He drove us to the VIP quarters where we found a bottle of expensive scotch on each of our dressers. He left us with “ I’ll pick you up at Six for a ride to the O’club for drinks and dinner. Sweet!!

The Officers Club was a low building with a long cement walk leading to the steps to the entrance. On both sides of the walk were heavy tread tracks right up to the steps. Seated at the bar just inside and to the right of the entrance was a red-haired Major, the Michigan Squadron Commander. When we asked about the tread marks, he put his head in his hands and groaned, “As I sat here I looked around and the barrel of the gun from one of the Army’s tanks came in through the door and pointed right at me.”

As it turned out, one of the Michigan Line Chiefs had been an army tank driver before joining the Michigan Air Guard. He had “borrowed” one of the Army’s tanks, which had not yet been returned. Cool Guys!!

The next day we flew the assigned mission of harassing army troops on the ground. It was a license to steal. With no altitude limits we all but took the tops off pine trees behind which troops tried to hide themselves, their jeeps and their tanks. When we got back to the O’Club after a very satisfying day we figured this place was fighter pilot’s heaven. After a liberal oiling we struck up a deal with two of the Michigan pilots to switch airplanes with them the next day and do a four- ship flyby around the area. Whitey and I drew the lots to fly the Michigan RF-84F, and Jim ”Picker” Fleming would be the number five in one of our birds to add spice to the show. The RF was a reconnaissance airplane – an ’84 with cameras instead of guns and a whole different configuration, but an ’84 nonetheless.

The next morning we met the Michigan guys on the flight line and traded Dash Ones, the pilots’ handbook on the airplanes. We did a conscientious briefing explaining minor variations in the airplanes. The place was tense and swarming with Army officers looking for a missing tank. (What a hoot!!) Whitey led the takeoff and we joined up in a diamond, Whitey in the lead, the two Michigan guys in our airplanes on the wing and me in an RF in the slot. We did the area in pretty formation, switching positions periodically. Whitey called the tower of the Guard base for permission to make a high speed pass down the runway. Permission was granted. We made a spectacular pass with wings overlapped and Whitey’s exhaust fluttering my rudder in a tight slot position. One problem – it wasn’t the guard base which had given us permission – it was Wirtsmith Strategic Air Force Base nearby.

 At our pre-flight briefing we had agreed that we would put the Michigan guys’ names in the flight logs of their airplanes and they would put our names in our planes logs “just to avoid complications.” After landing, while in the process of doing just that a young crew chief mounted the ladder on my plane and said “Captain (all three of us were Captains by then) I think you’ve got trouble.” He pointed over his shoulder where a phalanx of angry Colonels were marching line abreast toward my airplane. Our helmets with the Confederate battle cross on the visor covers were perched on the canopy rail for God and all to see.

Right then, passing right along and behind the line of irate Colonels, “Picker” Fleming flew parallel to the runway on a downwind upside down. As he passed by the eagles inverted I prayed ,”Please God, Jim, get that thing on the ground!”

 The lead Colonel shouted up at me, “What in the Hell are you doing in my airplane!?” I said, in my best Aviation Cadet form “Sir, I’m filling out the form, Sir!”

“You damn well better fill it out right!” he shouted.

Our mikes were still hot, so I called for everyone to put their real name in the form.

 On entering Ops I was told to report to the Commander. Though we were all Captains and I was junior among us, it had fallen my lot to be picked out as the one to take the heat, and of course, I wasn’t going to put it on the others. I think it was that I still had a Cadet shine on my boots.

Upon reporting I was confronted by the whole phalanx of angry Colonels seated behind a long table, reminiscent of the Last Supper – mine, I suspected. The grilling began. I saluted and stood at rigid attention.

 “Captain, you have compromised flight safety!!

“Sir, the F-84s are basically the same airplane but for the external configuration. We spent an hour with the Dash Ones and gave and received a comprehensive pre-flight briefing, Sir.”

“The RF has anti-lock brakes and the F doesn’t”

 “Sir, Captain Lemmond and I each have over six hundred hours in the F-100 which has anti-lock brakes, Sir!”

Veins bulging on his neck and face reddening, the Colonel shouted, “The RF has entirely different auxilliary equipment than the F!”

“Sir, we didn’t activate any auxiliary equipment, Sir!”

 Looking for hide to flay, the Colonel stood and leaned on white knuckles. “Are you a technician?” (meaning full time Guardsman)

“Sir, no, Sir. I am a law student, Sir”

 “What about Captain Lemmond?”

“Sir, no Sir. He’s a law student too, Sir.”

 “What about Captain Fleming?”

 “Sir, no, Sir. He’s a peanut farmer from North Carolina, Sir.”

 With frustration at its zenith, the Colonel fairly bellowed, “What are you going to do if I confiscate your airplanes!!?”

 “Sir, I’m going to take the next bus to Richmond, Virginia, Sir!”

“GET YOUR ASSES OFF MY AIRBASE.”

Which we did.

 On landing back at Richmond we had Squadron Commander, Ralph Jones and Ops Officer Dickey Thompkins

join us at the Wagon Wheel, a favorite watering spot up the road from the airport, where over a pitcher of beer, we gave them the whole story knowing that they might have trouble coming. They greeted it with great humor. In the end trouble came. Whitey was demoted from Flight Leader to Assistant Flight Leader and I was demoted from Assistant Flight Leader to grunt. Jim remained a peanut farmer from North Carolina. When the dust settled in a couple of weeks we were restored to our former status. We heard that the Michigan guys fared far worse.

 Once Whitey and I flew out to the west coast and shot meatball approaches at Marine Base El Toro. Whitey had “been there and done that ” as an exchange pilot with the Marines while on active duty. We landed in southern California and paid a visit to Beryl’s mom and Dad. We flew home with ammo cans loaded with macadamia nuts and chrysanthemums from their garden. Those Chrysanthemums grew head-high and bloomed in my dad’s greenhouse for years.

 When we were about to graduate from law school Whitey and I flew ‘84s to Portland, Oregon, and interviewed several law firms for possible jobs. They probably saw us as a couple of guys who would rather fly than practice law and they were probably right. None made us an offer.

Sitting on the steps of my brother’s house at his ranch in Beaverton that night, I said, “Whitey, I’m going back to Alaska. It’s a young man’s country, why don’t you come with me. We can hang out a shingle and do well there.”  He said, “Nope, I’m going to stay and become Squadron Commander of the 149th.”

 The rest is history.

God Bless you, my brother.

Peter M.Page
59penrith@gmail.com