This article is the third in a series honoring Ricks College and BYU-Idaho alumni who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country.

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)

2nd Lt. Joseph Gordon Beesley

Joseph Beesley inside his P-46 Thunderbolt. Courtesy of Evona Beesley.

Joseph Beesley inside his P-46 Thunderbolt. Courtesy of Evona Beesley.

In 1945, after years of battling the Allies in Italy, the Germans were consigned to the Po River Valley in northern Italy. Now, it was Rexburg native Joseph Beesley and the 65th Fighter Squadron’s job to decimate their supply lines.

Feb. 28 started as a fairly typical day for Beesley’s squadron, but it would become an unforgettable one for Lt. Rip Hewitt.

It was Hewitt’s first day as flight leader and Beesley, nicknamed “Beez,” was his wingman.

After Hewitt and Beez sparked a railroad bridge, they traveled to a German ammunition dump. As soon as they lit it, the building exploded. Hewitt managed to avoid the blast, but he watched as Beez, inside of his P-47 Thunderbolt nicknamed “Kiss D,” flew into the blast.

“I’ve been hit,” Beez said as he emerged from the smoke.

“Check how bad,” Hewitt replied.

All of his instruments were working, but his oil pressure was slightly high. Hewitt flew next to him and saw no holes, so they headed back to base. A few minutes later, Beez told Hewitt that he was heading to sea because he had no oil pressure and expected to crash.

Hewitt saw flames and smoke pouring from the supercharger exhaust as the plane lost gasoline and began to descend.

At about 5,000 feet, Beez ejected himself from the plane. It is unclear if he deployed his parachute or not, but with 40 mm anti-aircraft fire aimed at him, his fate was certain.

In a letter to Beez’s wife, Donna, Lt. Colonel G.O. Wymond, Jr. said that out of all the pilots he had seen come through the 65th, there were none that he “had more confidence in and showed more promise than Joe.”

Wymond continued that with 19 missions under his belt in which he “inflicted untold damage” on the Germans, the young pilot was on his way to becoming a superior leader.

“Guys like Joe are saving our heritage for us, to them we owe everything,” Wymond said.

2nd Lt. Bert Middleton Beattie

Bert Beattie served as a torpedo bomber pilot during World War II. Photo courtesy of Sheri Fagergren.

Bert Beattie served as a torpedo bomber pilot during World War II. Photo courtesy of Sheri Fagergren.

Known to his commanding officer by his “cool, quiet manner,” Bert Beattie was still no pilot to mess with. He performed every mission effectively.

Born in the Burton area, just outside Rexburg, Beattie would graduate with a degree in aviation engineering before enlisting in the Navy Air Corps.

On Jan. 20, 1944, Beattie commanded a torpedo bomber operation in the Atlantic Ocea near the Azores islands. When Beattie and his crew were due to return to their aircraft carrier, his plane sent a radio transmission to the ship to ask for directions back. The carrier promptly responded with directions to its location, but from that point, Bert’s radio stopped receiving transmissions.

For an hour, the carrier crew detected Beattie’s plane 60 miles away and kept sending radio transmissions hoping for a response. Eventually, Bert’s plane made a detour to Flores, an island in the Azores group. The carrier crew continued to transmit messages until they knew his gas was depleted.

Before a search party could make it out to the island, Bert and his two other crew members were seen that night by people on the island. They were struggling in the surf, and unable to reach land. A major storm that night made rescue attempts futile. At the time of his memorial services more than two weeks later, his body had not been found.

In his final moments, Beattie displayed the “rare courage” his superiors attributed to him.

2nd Lt. William Parkin Dean

William “Billy” Parkin Dean was from Sugar City, Idaho. He left behind a fiancée when he joined the 385th Fighter Squadron of the Army Air Forces.

On Aug. 8, 1944, he was conducting a low-altitude bombing mission in his P-51 Mustang near Rouen, France, when he was hit by German ground-to-air artillery. He would go on to receive the Purple Heart and the Air Medal for his sacrifice.

2nd Lt. Dean Edgar Secrist

Dean Secrist served as a co-pilot on a B-17 bomber during World War II. Photo courtesy of Judy Secrist.

Dean Secrist served as a co-pilot on a B-17 bomber during World War II. Photo courtesy of Judy Secrist.

After being turned down the first time due to a heart murmur, Dean Secrist was inducted into the U.S. Army Air Corps on March 5, 1942.

Before he was shipped off, Secrist worked in the St. Anthony office of the American Automobile Association. He was a student at Ricks College and Utah State Agricultural College. He left behind his wife, Ernestine, and his daughter, DeAnne, to join the 96th Bomb Group of the 337th Bomber Squadron.

With only a handful of missions under his belt, Dean was already making a name for himself with a rank promotion looming ahead. Days before his final mission, his squadron executed a mission that would earn them the Distinguished Unit Citation.

On April 11, 1944, while co-piloting a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress near the Polish-German border, Dean’s plane was shot down. He was shot in the left leg of his body and parachuted out of the plane. It was thought that he was taken prisoner by the enemy, but the German government reported him killed in action months later.

In Secrist’s last letter to his mother, he jokingly described his new mustache and haircut while assuring her to not worry about him.

“I am fine and will stay that way. All my love. Dean”