Raleigh "Dusty" Rhodes, an early leader of the Blue Angels flight demonstration team who flew combat missions in two wars and spent three years in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp, has died. He was 89.
The cause of his death on Nov. 26 in San Jose was lung cancer, said his daughter Debra.
Rhodes flew fighter planes off the carrier Enterprise during World War II. In the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands near Guadalcanal in October 1942, he was shot down and captured by the Japanese.
He spent the next three years in the prison camp, where he was beaten and starved, his daughter said. Rhodes weighed about 88 pounds when he emerged from the camp at the end of the war, she said.
After his return from the camp and recovery, Rhodes joined the Blue Angels in their second year. He soon became the third leader of the precision flying team formed in 1946 by Adm. Chester Nimitz.
Rhodes helped the team perfect the diamond barrel roll, in which four jets perform a loop in a tight diamond formation, becoming inverted at the top.
The Blue Angels were an instant success, creating traffic jams whenever they performed, he said.
"We were a hit, oh yes, gee whiz, we were," Rhodes said. "It is the greatest type of flying, and they are the greatest team in the world."
Rhodes also flew fighter planes off an aircraft carrier in the Korean War. He was later assigned to naval air stations at Monterey, China Lake and Miramar, where he was a squadron commander. After 20 years in the Navy and numerous decorations, including two Purple Hearts and three Air Medals, he retired in 1961 at the rank of commander.
Raleigh Ernest Rhodes was born June 26, 1918, in Madera, Calif. As a boy he dreamed of being a fighter pilot. "I spent every penny I had on paperbacks on aviation and World War I pilots," Rhodes told the San Jose Mercury News in 2005. "All those guys were my heroes."
In 1936 he and his family moved to Fresno, where he enrolled in civilian pilot training at what is now Cal State Fresno. He enlisted in the Navy in 1941.
After his military service, Rhodes was a project planner for 30 years at Lockheed Martin in Sunnyvale.
In addition to Debra, Rhodes is survived by his wife, Pauline; another daughter, Kimberly; a son, Scott; two stepsons; and two step-grandchildren.
His son Raleigh E. Rhodes Jr. died in July, also of lung cancer. His former wife, Betty, died in 2005.