Wichitan Richard “Dick” Ayesh wasn’t the type to talk much about his experiences during World War II.
In fact, it wasn’t until eight years ago his family found out exactly what happened in November 1944, when his B-17 was 15,000 feet in the air and he saved the lives of his crew.
“We would never have known about it had he not got his Distinguished Flying Cross,” said his wife, Mildred “Mid” Ayesh.
Mr. Ayesh died Wednesday. He was 91.
The funeral was Sunday. His graveside service, with military honors by McConnell Air Force Base, is at 11 a.m. Monday at the Lakeview Cemetery, 12100 E. 13th Street.
Mr. Ayesh was born in Wichita on May 9, 1922. At age 5, he started earning an income by selling newspapers in downtown Wichita.
During World War II, he served as a bombardier on board a B-17, flying 35 missions over Europe.
On one mission in November 1944, the plane’s bomb bay hatch refused to function after a bombing run over Merseburg, Germany. The mechanism for closing the doors wouldn’t work and the plane was in danger of crashing if the doors couldn’t be closed. Smoke was filling the cabin. Two engines were down and a third was losing power.
Armed only with a pair of pliers and a screwdriver, 2nd Lt. Ayesh stepped out onto the I-beam of the open bomb bay.
For 20 excruciating minutes, he single-handedly cranked the doors closed while the crew threw out all the unnecessary items such as flak jackets and ammunition to reduce the plane’s weight. Due to Mr. Ayesh’s success, the plane was able to fly on over western Germany into France. On that particular mission, the United States lost 56 bombers.
When he received his Distinguished Flying Cross in March 2005, he told the Eagle he recalled he “could only turn the screwdriver a quarter of a turn, then I had to use the pliers. Screwdriver. Pliers. A quarter-turn at a time.”
Although he was nominated for the award in 1944, he didn’t receive it in time before he left the service in September 1945. The pilot of the plane, Eugene Jensen, in 2004 began an effort for Mr. Ayesh to receive the award.
That he never mentioned the incident was typical, Mid Ayesh said.
“He was very modest. He used to say that he was just doing his job,” she said. “He was very modest. He didn’t want any recognition, even on his birthdays. He didn’t want a fuss made over him, but we made a fuss anyway.”
After the war, Mr. Ayesh returned to Wichita and became an independent oil operator and commercial real estate investor.
He also loved to fly, according to Mr. Ayesh’s son Jeff. Mr. Ayesh maintained his pilot’s license until age 82. He was a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and St. George Orthodox Christian Cathedral.
“I thank God we had 57 years together,” Mid Ayesh said. “He was the most kindest, wonderful man and was good with the kids and good with me. He got 91 years and didn’t suffer going out. For that, I am so appreciative to the Lord.”
Besides his wife, Mr. Ayesh is survived by his sons Jeff and Kevin and his daughter Susan.