Ray Melikian Ray Melikian, family man, accomplished farmer, and World War II fighter pilot died at his home in Visalia, California, surrounded by family and friends on Friday, October 25th at the age of 95. He is preceded in death by Patricia, his wife of 64 years, his sister Raquel Normart, and his brother Ralph Melikian. Ray was born June 7th, 1918, in Kerman, California, the son of Zabel Merzoian and Yervant (Ed) Melikian. He graduated from Fresno State College in 1940 and joined the Army Air Corps in 1941 prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He was assigned to the 7th Fighter Squadron, of the 49th fighter group and flew the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, serving 26 months of combat service in the southwest Pacific region and New Guinea. He flew 228 combat missions. Melikian received many awards, some of which included the Distinguished Flying Cross, a Silver Star, an Air Medal with oak leaf clusters, a Good Conduct medal and a Presidential Citation. He left his military service with a rank of Major and began selling War Bonds on his return to the Central Valley. In April of 1946, Ray wed Helen Patricia Cochrane and moved to Visalia where he bought 160 acres of land. Here he joined his father, uncle, brother and cousins in farming table grapes near Porterville. In 1960, Ray and his family, under the Mel-Pak brand, expanded their grape growing operation to the Coachella Valley. In May of 1961 they flew 100 boxes of Perlettes grapes to New York and delivered some of the earliest grown California grapes to the New York market. In 1995, after farming grapes together for 30 nearly years, Ray and his son-in-law, Scott Spear, replanted the vineyards to almonds. Ray was an avid reader and lifelong learner. He was continually excited to try or discuss new ideas. He was one of the earliest farmers to install drip irrigation on his grape vineyard in 1973. He had an early car phone and wanted a food processor as soon as he read about it. He was an avid cook with a built-in indoor barbecue and cooked dinner most nights. He loved his ranch style home he built in 1952, hand picking much of the lumber himself. He enjoyed sharing his big yard with oak trees with family and friends. His home and family were most important to him. When he met anyone, he always made them feel welcome and at ease. Dinners and holidays at the Melikian residence were often filled with local and international friends. He will be remembered for his generosity, kindness and "can-do" attitude. Ray rarely had a bad day and made jokes up until his passing. He has been a member of the Visalia Country Club for over 50 years and continued to play golf with his friends, even after he turned 95. In 1974 Ray's P-40 was recovered in Australia and ultimately landed in the hands of Chris Prevost of Vintage Aircraft in Sonoma, where it was fully restored after nine years of work. Prevost converted the plane into a two-seater and found Ray by tracing its serial number. In 2009, at age 91, Ray and Prevost flew the restored plane, one of 25 P-40s still in existence, to the wild cheers of about 150 family, friends and aircraft enthusiasts. Ray spent an hour in the air, flying over San Francisco Bay and the former Hamilton Air Field where he trained. Ray is survived by his two daughters, Annette (Scott) Spear of Visalia; Susan (Brian) Deagon of Santa Monica; four grandchildren, Anya (Joe Walsh) Spear of Santa Cruz, Nicole (Scott Borchardt) Spear of San Francisco, Alex Deagon of San Francisco and Nick Deagon of San Diego. He has two great grandchildren, Rian and Finian Walsh. The family wishes to give a special thank you for the loving care given by Bessie and Gina Florez. There will be a formal celebration of Ray's life beginning at 11:00 a.m. on November 8th at the Visalia Country Club followed by lunch. Remembrances can be made to Kaweah Delta Hospice, 900 W. Oak Ave., Visalia, CA 93291.
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Published in Visalia Times-Delta and Tulare Adv-Register on Nov. 2, 2013