Wallace Rich (1954/05/26)
As a "Blue Angel" Buddy Rich helped to inspire American youth.
Wallace Rich was born in Los Angeles, California on February 8, 1926. He was the son of Wallace and Lola Rich who, along with their other son Charles, later moved to Santa Cruz.
"Buddy," as Wallace was nicknamed, attended Santa Cruz High School and graduated in 1944.
Soon after completing high school, Rich enlisted in the US Navy and was accepted into the Naval Air Cadet Program at Pensacola, Florida. In 1947, following the basic and advanced phases of that program, he was commissioned an ensign. Upon completion of additional training, he was assigned to the USS Princeton bound for the Korean War zone. Wallace Rich was promoted to Lt. (jg) and flew support missions off the carrier in Korean waters.
When he returned to the United States, Rich was sent to Corpus Christi, Texas, for special flight training and invited to join the renowned Blue Angels. The Blue Angels was a naval aerial acrobatic team with the purpose of promoting interest in naval aviation and precision flying. They were reported to have "performed every aerial acrobatic maneuver in the books in formation at more than 500 miles per hour."
In May 1954 Wallace Rich was promoted to lieutenant and assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Bennington. During his tour on the Bennington, his career came to an end.
On the 26th of May 1954 the Bennington was steaming off the Atlantic Coast in Naragansett Bay preparing for carrier qualifications. Last minute preparations for flight trials were being made, and plane crews were busy making final checks. The ship's log indicates that the first evidence of trouble was noted at 0610 hours when there was a report of smoke. At 0611 hours there was a notation of two or three explosions taking place. The ship suffered massive damage in the forward third, with sheets of flame rising during the explosions. 102 men lost their lives within seconds of the explosion and over one hundred others were seriously injured.”
The cause of disaster was later attributed to a launching catapult that exploded. The remains of Lt. Wallace Rich were recovered and returned to California for a funeral and interment in the Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno.
(ABMC; USDVA; SCSn June 17, 1952 1:7, June 2, 1954 14:3; DANFS, USS Bennington CV-20)