Today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Navy Veteran Richard “Dick” Best, who served as a dive bomber during the Battle of Midway during World War II.
Richard “Dick” Best was born in March 1910 in Bayonne, New Jersey. After high school, he enrolled in the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, where he graduated with honors in 1932. Best then went to USS Richmond, a light cruiser where he spent his first two years of service.
In 1934, Best transferred to the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida, where he received flight training as a naval aviation student. After completing the program, he went aboard USS Lexington as a member of Fighting Squadron Two. Three years later, Best briefly returned to Pensacola to become a flight instructor. However, he believed that he could be more useful to the war efforts as a dive bomber pilot in the Pacific.
On May 31, 1940, Best became a member of Bombing Squadron Six (VB-6) on the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. He quickly rose through the ranks, eventually earning the title of executive officer by early 1942. Best first saw combat in February 1942 when he completed two strikes against the Japanese-occupied Marshall Islands. He led nine other pilots into attacks on Taroa and Wake Islands, losing only one aircraft in the conflicts. After one last raid on Marcus Island in March, Best and the other sailors aboard USS Enterprise went to Pearl Harbor, where they made a stand at the Midway atoll.
Newly promoted to lieutenant, Best commanded VB-6 through the Battle of Midway on June 4, 1942. At around 10:26 a.m., about three hours after operations began, Best and his two wingmen separated from the main bombing of the Japanese aircraft carrier Kaga and dropped three bombs on Akagi. Best’s bomb was the third hit, and it ultimately doomed the Akagi after exploding in the vessel’s upper hangar. He was also essential to the destruction of the last remaining Japanese carrier, Hiryu. Reflecting on that conflict, Best recalled: “[The] Hiryu threw everything she had at us, I never tried to look where my bomb hit: she was shooting, the battleships were shooting, and the Zeroes were swarming around.”
This mission was the last that Best would complete as a member of the U.S. Navy. Upon landing on USS Enterprise, Best began coughing up blood. During his first flight at Midway, he received a defective oxygen cannister, which produced a caustic soda that activated latent tuberculosis. Best spent 32 months recovering in the hospital. He discharged from the Navy in 1944.
For his valor, Best received a Navy Cross and a Distinguished Flying Cross. His story is one of several portrayed on-screen in the 2019 film “Midway.”
Best passed away in October 2001 at the age of 91 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
We honor his service.
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Writer: Hannah Randolph
Editor: Jacob Reis and Katie Wang
Fact checker: Jordan Gossett
Graphic artist: Courtney Carr