1914 - 2012
Col. Chester Lumley Van Etten, USAF (Ret.), a veteran of aerial combat in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam who was known by his call sign "John Black," passed away at his home in Brandon, Florida on 30 April 2012. He was 98.
Van Etten was born in New York but called Los Angeles home. After graduation from Union Endicott High School, he briefly attended Mississippi State University on a football scholarship. He learned to fly in Glendale, CA in the late 1930s. In 1941 Van Etten joined the Royal Air Force and was commissioned a lieutenant in the Eagle Squadron in England.
Following America's entry into WWII, he joined the Army Air Force, and by 1943 was a P-47 Thunderbolt Flight Commander in the 509th Squadron, 405th Fighter-Bomber Group, 9th Air Force. His squadron covered Omaha Beach during the Normandy invasion on D-Day and flew ground support for Gen. George Patton and his 3rd Army during the Battle of the Bulge. In December 1944, Patton was desperate for air support to liberate American troops under siege in Bastogne, but low visibility prevented the Jugs from flying. Finally the weather cleared, and the P-47s provided the cover that restored Bastogne to U.S. control and enabled Gen. Patton to advance all the way to the Rhine. Patton called Van Etten and his squadron together the next morning and awarded them the Distinguished Flying Cross. In a later gesture of friendship, Patton gave his Army-issued Colt .45 to Van Etten, in exchange for Van Etten's Singer .45.
In 1952, Van Etten fought in the Korean Conflict with the 51st Fighter Wing, flying the F-80C Shooting Star and F-86 Sabre. Subsequently, he commanded the 417th Fighter-Bomber Squadron at Hahn AB from 1954-55, and was promoted to Colonel and Commander, 50th Fighter Group. After graduating from the National War College at Ft. McNair in 1963, Van Etten was Wing Commander of the 6441st Tactical Fighter Wing at Yokota AB, Japan, the first F-105 Thunderchief squadron deployed in the Vietnam War in 1964. Later posts included Commander of the 474 Tactical Fighter Wing at Nellis AFB, Nevada, the first operational unit of F-111 swing-wing fighter-bombers in the USAF, and Chief of Safety, 836th Air Division, MacDill AFB, Florida.
He retired from active military duty in 1971, but continued to fly as a commercial pilot. His military decorations include the Distinguished Flying Cross, Distinguished Service Medal, Air Medal, Legion of Merit, and Air Force Commendation Medal.
Col. Van Etten was married to Marie O. Van Etten, who passed away in 1999. He is survived by their children, Laura Van Etten, Esq. of Dickerson, Maryland, and Dr. Richard Van Etten and grandson Christopher Van Etten of Lexington, Massachusetts. He will be interred with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. on Monday, 24 September 2012 at 1PM with a service in the Chapel at Ft. Myer. Family and friends are also invited to a reception immediately following at Willow, 4301 N. Fairfax Dr., Arlington VA.
Published by New York Times from Sep. 2 to Sep. 5, 2012.