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Kenneth Schechter dies at 83; Navy pilot performed heroic blind landing

December 23, 2013

The stunned Navy pilot was gripped in pain, blood was pouring down his face and a good part of his warplane was destroyed.

But worst of all, Ensign Kenneth Schechter couldn't see. An enemy shell had smashed into his Skyraider and fragments pierced his eyes. Hurtling over the Korean coast at 200 mph, Schechter was suddenly enveloped in blackness.

"I'm blind! For God's sake, help me!" he cried into his radio. "I'm blind!"


FOR THE RECORD:
Kenneth Schechter: A news obituary in the Dec. 22 California section on Kenneth Schechter, a former Navy pilot who flew 100 miles and landed safely despite being temporarily blinded by enemy fire, misstated the final rank of Howard Thayer, the Navy pilot who guided Schechter from another plane. Thayer was a lieutenant commander, not a lieutenant colonel, when he died in 1961.

Even before the anguished call, Lt. j.g. Howard Thayer knew something was wrong. One of the planes in his formation was inexplicably climbing toward a thick cloudbank at 10,000 feet, where it could easily disappear.

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Thayer called out: "Plane in trouble, rock your wings. Plane in trouble, rock your wings."

Schechter, snapping out of semi-consciousness, did just that.

Over the next 45 minutes, the temporarily blinded Schechter followed one calm instruction after another from Thayer, his best friend on the aircraft carrier Valley Forge. Severely wounded, Schechter finally managed a safe landing on a remote Army dirt strip. Thayer flew beside him, just feet away.

Schechter, who permanently lost the use of his right eye and whose skills and courage during the Korean War were finally recognized by the Navy with a Distinguished Flying Cross in 1995, died Dec. 11 in Fairfield, Calif. He was 83.

He had prostate cancer, his son Rob Schechter said.

After his military service, Kenneth Schechter became an insurance agent in the Los Angeles area. He also was active in Republican politics and a leader in various local causes, including the formation of a park district in La Cañada Flintridge, the Los Angeles Times reported.

But the event that defined much of his life occurred when he was 22 years old and on his 27th combat mission over Korea.

It was March 22, 1952, and Schechter was in a group of pilots ordered to bomb rail and truck lines. Flying at 1,200 feet, he was hit.

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