CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager was remembered at a memorial service Friday as a hero, legend and friend who would go out of his way to help others.
Vice President Mike Pence started the service in Yeager’s home state of West Virginia by calling him “America’s greatest aviator” during a 15-minute address that detailed Yeager’s military career.
“America will cherish always the memory, the service and the example of Gen. Chuck Yeager,” Pence said.
During numerous video tributes, others spoke of the human side of Yeager, who died Dec. 7 at the age of 97. His love for growing tomatoes. For hunting and fishing. His work as a conservationist. And his love for the Oak Ridge Boys.
Friend Sean Duffy said Yeager was involved in conservation fundraising efforts that allowed a generation of children to enjoy the outdoors.
“He was a class act,” Duffy said.
Former astronaut Charles Duke said Yeager was his pilot school commandant when he applied for the space program in 1965. Yeager “was a great boss, a great mentor and a great encourager of all his students,” Duke said.
Caleb Deschanel, a cinematographer on the 1983 movie “The Right Stuff,” said that when Yeager wanted to go to a test pilot school, the elite students’ jaws dropped upon seeing him.
“When the absolute best of the best are humbled by your presence, that’s the right stuff,” Deschanel said.
The World War II fighter pilot ace became the first person to fly faster than sound in 1947. He flew for more than 60 years and piloted an F-15 to near 1,000 mph (1,609 kph) at Edwards Air Force Base in October 2002 at age 79.
Yeager was born Feb. 23, 1923, in Myra, about 40 miles (65 kilometers) southwest of Charleston. The family later moved to Hamlin, the county seat.
Yeager and his first wife, Glennis Dickhouse, had four children. She died in 1990.
He remarried in 2003 to Victoria Scott D’Angelo. She said Friday that the pair met on a hiking trail. They returned for a hike together the next day. She said he hugged her and that it felt “safe, warm, loyal.”
She said Yeager taught her how to fly, how to fish and how to hunt.
Next to Victoria Yeager onstage was an empty armchair. She closed her remarks by paraphrasing something her husband said at a memorial to fallen New York police officers and firefighters.
“This chair may seem empty, but it’s not,” she said. “It’s full of memories, and don’t any of you ever forget. Don’t let your children forget, your grandchildren, your great-grandchildren, on down the line, who this man is, who he was, and all that he has done.”