Friday, March 8, 2013

WWII fighter pilot Denny Pace dies at 93

Ketchum resident flew 50 missions over Italy

Express Staff Writer

Former fighter pilot John “Denny” Pace, shown here in 2004, lived in the Ketchum area most of his life. Photo by Mountain Express

Longtime Ketchum resident and retired Air Force Col. John “Denny” Pace died March 3 at Blaine Manor in Hailey. He was 93. 

Denny flew a twin-engine Lockheed P-38 Lighting out of North Africa during World War II for 50 missions over Sicily and Italy. He returned to a hero’s welcome in Sun Valley, where he had lived since 1939.

Family members stated that during his distinguished 30-year military career, Pace was awarded 16 air medals: the Legion of Merit, two Distinguished Flying Crosses and a medal from Generalissimo Francisco Franco of Spain.

“He was a very interesting character and well-traveled,” said his son, John Pace. “He got onto every continent, including Antarctica, on supply missions, as well as plenty of islands and remote archipelagos.”

John Pace said his father skied both Bald Mountain and cross-country trails well into his 80s.

“I have a picture of him bungee jumping in Australia when he was 83. That tells you what kind of guy he was,” he said.

In 1998, Pace recounted to the Mountain Express his wartime experiences in 1943 during the invasion of Salerno, Italy. Pace led the third and last squadron of P-38s escorting a bombing mission. Of his squadron of 36 planes, 13 were shot out of the sky.

With just 50 hours of flight time, Pace went up against German aces during World War II who’d been on the Eastern Front fighting the Russians for years. One day, Pace found himself dueling a Luftwaffe pilot in the skies above the Mediterranean.

“I had one I couldn’t shake over Sardinia,” he said. “Finally, he got my left engine—I thought he got my left engine.”

Pace let the plane spin and drop to 4,000 feet. But he hadn’t been hit. The left engine had conked out because Pace had forgotten to shift his fuel supply when one tank got low.

With the other plane out of sight, he said, “I switched my gas tank on and went home. That probably saved my life, screwing up.”

Pace was called back to the military in Korea, training pilots in combat. He later volunteered and was sent to Vietnam as a wing commander. In Vietnam, he flew multi-engine C-123 cargo planes, dropping flares at night for the fighters and hauling cargo for the troops. 

During the 1970s, Pace served as commander at American Legion Hall Post 115 in Ketchum. In 2004, he represented the Wood River Valley at a special May 29 ceremony to dedicate the new National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Following a funeral service Monday, March 11, at 2 p.m. at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Sun Valley, a reception will be held at the American Legion Hall, 220 Cottonwood St. in Ketchum.

Tony Evans:

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