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Legendary pilot, West Virginia native Chuck Yeager, dies at 97

Chuck Yeager died Monday night at age 97, his wife said.
Chuck Yeager died Monday night at age 97, his wife said.(U.S. Air Force)
Published: Dec. 7, 2020 at 10:56 PM EST
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BRIDGEPORT, W.Va (WDTV) - Legendary pilot and West Virginia native Chuck Yeager died Monday night, his wife said on social media.

In a tweet from Yeager’s official account, his wife Victoria said that he passed before 9 p.m.

He was 97.

“An incredible life well lived, America’s greatest Pilot, & a legacy of strength, adventure, & patriotism will be remembered forever,” she wrote.

He was born in 1923 in Myra, W.Va. He graduated from Hamlin High School in Lincoln County.

Yeager was the first pilot in history to ever break the sound barrier in 1947. The airport in Charleston was named after him in 1985 after a more than three-decade career in the Air Force, rising to the rank of Brigadier general.

He enlisted in the Air Force in 1943 at age 18.

He shot down 13 enemy aircraft in World War II during ariel combat over France and Germany between 1943-45, including five in one mission. That also included one of Germany’s first jet fighters. After getting shot down in 1944 over then-German-occupied France, he escaped to the Spanish border.

He also flew 127 missions in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War as the commander of the 405th Fighter Wing.

President Ronald Reagen awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1985. He’s also received the Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star Medal with “V” device and Purple Heart. He received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2015.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) released a statement Friday shortly after the news broke:

“General Chuck Yeager was an American hero. West Virginia’s native son was larger than life and an inspiration for generations of Americans. He bravely served our nation as a pilot for more than 30 years in the U.S. Air Force during World War II and Vietnam. When he became the first pilot to break the sound barrier he challenged each of us to test the limits of what’s possible. I am grateful to have gotten to know this legendary West Virginian and to call him my dear friend. Gayle and I are praying for his family and all who loved and admired General Yeager. May his example of courage in the face of adversity inspire us all.”

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) released a statement Tuesday afternoon, calling him, “an inspiration for many.”

“Most people know Chuck Yeager as the pilot who broke the sound barrier,” Capito said. “While his most famous feat certainly transformed the aviation world, Chuck Yeager’s life represents so much more. I remember meeting General Yeager for the first time in 1985 for the dedication of Yeager Airport. My son Charles, celebrating his fifth birthday that day, was totally in awe, as we all were. He embodied the American Dream. A boy from Lincoln County would achieve what pilots then had only dreamed about. He was built of the Right Stuff and lived his life in service to his country, a World War II patriot, flying ace, and Medal of Freedom recipient. Simply put, America is better because of him. His legacy continues on today. He is an inspiration for many, from young West Virginians to pilots across the globe. Charlie and I send our heartfelt condolences to the Yeager family during this difficult time.”

Gov. Jim Justice (R-WV) said Yeager was, “an American hero and true West Virginia legend who broke barriers and changed history forever.”

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