A Bettendorf man whose family says is one of the last remaining World War II fighter aces died Saturday.
Richard W. Asbury, 93, retired as an Air Force lieutenant colonel in 1972. He entered the Army Air Corps during WWII and become a P-51 fighter pilot. He continued his career in the Air Force and also saw action in the Korean and Vietnam wars.
According to the Museum of Flight website, Asbury was born in Maryland in 1920 and began Air Corps training in 1942. He was stationed in England in 1943, from where he flew combat missions over Europe.
In 1944, his German opponents were flying Me-109s and Fw-190s, and on one occasion, he successfully outmaneuvered the fighters even though he was outnumbered by 10 to one. His decorations include two Distinguished Flying Crosses, 21 Air Medals and three Air Force Commendation Medals. He later flew combat missions in Korea and Vietnam.
"People ought to know about his accomplishments and serving in all three wars," said Andy Andersen, a Vietnam veteran who served in the Air Force from 1965 to 1972. He serves as co-captain of the Honor Guard of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 299, Davenport. "There weren't that many I had known who had done that. I have known some who served in World War II and Korean, or Korea and Vietnam, but not all three.
"A lot of people go under the radar and a lot of veterans don't talk about what they did or have accomplished. They go unnoticed. And it is times like these that things come out. He ought to be remembered."
Asbury's only child, Jill Asbury of Bettendorf, said her dad talked little of his heroic deeds until later in life.
"He never talked about it until he was much older, and he started to go to old reunions and started talking about what had happened," she said Mondah. "He was a pilot in all three wars. In between times, he flew B-52s. The Cuban missile crisis, he was on alert in Texas with a B-52.
"People started interviewing him. Almost every week, he got a request for his autograph from someone in the world."
That is when she began to understand what he had accomplished. He was chronicled in books, interviewed many times and donated items to museums. But he never bragged, she said.
"If I wanted to know something, he would tell me," Jill Asbury said. "But he never brought it up. He said one time a bullet went through his head rest. But he was never injured. He remembered being at D-Day and seeing all those ships everywhere below. But he did tell me that every year on Memorial Day, he used to walk by the Mississippi River and remember all his lost friends."
She said her mother, the former Merle Gregg, was from Moline, and she met Asbury on a blind date in San Francisco in 1942. Then he was sent to England.
"He sent her an engagement ring in the mail, uninsured," his daughter said. "Then he was home a month. They got married. They took a train to Moline to visit her parents and to Maryland to visit his parents. Then he was shipped back to England."
In 2000, Asbury met a Frenchman who had written a book about the Americans who liberated his country. At age 17, Remy Chuinard watched American pilots duel the Luftwaffe in the skies over his native France during World War II, and he vowed he would someday meet those heroes.
Among them was Asbury, who qualifies as a World War II ace for shooting down five enemy planes. He figures prominently in the book. The two got together as Chuinard was launching sales of his book about the Americans he idolized.
Asbury met his biggest test on July 18, 1944, when his squadron of eight pilots shot down 10 Messerschmitt Me-109 fighters in a furious dogfight over Argentan, France. A flight leader of four aircraft, Asbury was credited with one kill and was awarded the first of his two Distinguished Flying Crosses.