Dean "Diz" Laird was born on February 7, 1921, in Loomis, California. He entered the Aviation Cadet Program of the U.S. Navy on January 2, 1942, was commissioned an Ensign on August 11, 1942, and was designated a Naval Aviator at NAS Miami, Florida, on October 21, 1942. His first assignment was as an F4F Wildcat and then F6F Hellcat pilot and assistant gunnery officer with VF-4 at NAS Norfolk, Virginia, from November 1942 to March 1943, aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ranger (CV-4) from March 1942 to December 1943, at NAS Quonset, Rhode Island, from December 1943 to May 1944, at NAAS Ayer, Massachusetts, from May to July 1944, at NAAS Hilo, Hawaii, from July to September 1944, aboard the aircraft carrier USS Bunker Hill (CV-17) from September to November 1944, and aboard the aircraft carrier USS Essex (CV-9) from November 1944 to March 1945. During this time, Lt Laird was credited with the destruction of 5.75 enemy aircraft in aerial combat, plus one damaged in the air. He shared in the destruction of a German Ju-88 and an He-115 off Norway in October 1943, and the rest of his air victories were against Japanese aircraft in the Pacific Theater, making him the only Navy ace to have scored air victories against both Germany and Japan. His next assignment was as a Utility Test Pilot with CASU-6 at NAAS Crows Landing, California, from May to June 1945, followed by service as Operations Officer of VF-200/VF-1L at NAS Brunswick, Maine, at NAAS Fentress, Virginia, at NAS Atlantic City, New Jersey, and then aboard the aircraft carrier USS Saipan (CVL-48) from July 1945 to August 1947. Lt Laird next served as a Flight Officer and as Assistant Operations Officer with VF-171 at NAS Quonset, at NAAS Cecil Field, Florida, aboard USS Saipan, and then aboard the aircraft carrier USS Roosevelt (CV-42) from August 1947 to September 1949. He became one of the first seven Naval Aviators to be selected to go on Exchange Duty with the U.S. Air Force when he served with the 84th Fighter Interceptor Squadron at Hamilton AFB, California, from October 1949 to October 1950. LCDR Laird next served as Safety Officer and as a Flight Instructor with ATU-2 at NAAS Cabaniss Field, Texas, from October 1950 to July 1951, and then as Operations Officer and Training Officer with JTU-1 at NAAS Kingsville, Texas, from July 1951 to December 1952. He attended Navy Line School from December 1952 to July 1953, and then served as Executive Officer of VF-51 from July 1953 to January 1955. His next assignment was as Assistant Air Boss aboard the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown (CV-10) from January 1955 to April 1956, followed by service as Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations of the 85th Air Division at Andrews AFB, Maryland, from May 1956 to August 1958. CDR Laird served as Training Officer of VFR-32 from September 1958 to January 1959, and then as Executive Officer of VF-121 at NAS Miramar, California, from January 1959 to March 1960. CDR Laird next served as Commanding Officer of VF-213 at NAS Moffett Field, California, from March to November 1960, followed by service as Air Operations Officer with Carrier Division ONE from December 1960 to January 1963. He served as Aircraft Maintenance Officer at NAS Miramar from February 1963 to January 1965, and then as Chief of Staff for Operations of RCVW-12 from January 1965 to January 1968. CDR Laird's final assignment was as Executive Officer of VRF-32 from January 1968 until his retirement from the Navy on July 1, 1971.
His Distinguished Flying Cross Citation reads:
For heroism and extraordinary achievement in aerial flight as Pilot of a Fighter Plane in Fighting Squadron FOUR, attached to the U.S.S. ESSEX, in action against enemy Japanese forces in the Tokyo area, February 17, 1945. While protecting friendly bomber planes attacking heavily defended aircraft engine factories, Lieutenant Laird engaged and destroyed two hostile fighter aircraft, thereby assisting materially in the accomplishment of the assigned mission. His airmanship and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.