Dakota Datebook

Dick Grace

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

 

Surviving a plane crash is considered a miracle for any person, but imagine surviving 47 crashes in your lifetime. This was one of North Dakota pilot Dick Grace’s greatest claims to fame. You might think that any pilot who crashed 47 times was clumsy, but not Dick Grace. Crashing planes was his job.

 

After serving as a fighter pilot during WWI, Dick Grace returned home to begin a career as a barnstorming stunt pilot. During his early career as a daredevil, Grace was one of the first pilots to perform the death-defying act of jumping from one plane to another in mid-air. Little did he know, he was being watched with intense interest by Hollywood recruiters. In 1920, film actor Tom Mix approached Grace and asked him if he would be willing to crash a plane into the side of a barn in his new film “Eyes of the Forest.” Grace agreed, and thus he began an exciting career as a Hollywood stunt pilot. His spectacular crashes and stunts were featured in such films as “Hell’s Angels,” “Wings,” and “Lilac Time.” He gained so much acclaim for his piloting skills that he even attracted the attention of Colonel General Ernst Udet, who tried to recruit him for the German Air Force before WWII. Grace adamantly refused the offer.

 

When the United States entered WWII in 1941, Dick Grace set aside his stunt career to fly as the oldest commissioned pilot in the Army Air Force at age 46. Despite his senior status, Grace refused all offers for desk jobs and promotions. He wanted to fly in combat where his daredevil skills would be most useful. “The only difference between crashing planes for a living and flying over Germany is that it is more dangerous to fly over Germany,” said Grace. “When they shove clouds of flak up at you, they aren’t kidding.” But Grace was up to the task. Throughout the war, the North Dakota pilot flew approximately 70 missions, nearly twice the number of the average pilot. He received four purple hearts and the Distinguished Flying Cross for his service in both World Wars.

 

Even when he wasn’t in combat or performing stunts in Hollywood, Grace made good use his time. On this date in 1928, the pilot began another exciting job crashing planes in experimental work for the Army and Navy. He was also a successful writer, penning such notable pieces as his autobiography, “Visibility Unlimited,” and “The Lost Squadron,” a short story that he eventually sold to the RKO movie firm. In 1965, Grace’s many battle and stunt-flying injuries finally caught up with him, and he died at 67. Dick Grace was an amazingly talented pilot, and although he suffered his fair share of broken bones—eighty-three to be exact—Lady Luck was certainly on his side.

 

Dakota Datebook written by Carol Wilson

 

Sources

 

Renville County Farmer, November 28, 2001.

Fargo Forum, November 30, 1945.

Fargo Forum, February 8, 1945.

Kenmare News, October 13, 1965.

Renville County Farmer, August 30, 1928.

Minot Daily News, April 13, 1968.

Renville County Farmer, October 20, 1965.

 

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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