NOTAM 12-2015 (Payne)

Golden Eagle NOTAM
Brigadier General Frederick R. “Fritz” Payne, USMC (Ret)
Emeritus Member

Dear Golden Eagles,

It is my sad duty to inform you that Emeritus Member, Brigadier General Frederick R. “Fritz” Payne, USMC (Ret),  made his last take-off on August 6, 2015 at Rancho Mirage, California at the age of 104 years.  He was America’s oldest Fighter Ace and Naval Aviator.  He was born at Elmira, New York, on July 31, 1911.  His father was an 1892 graduate of the United States Naval Academy, and had served in the Far East, participating in Commodore Dewey’s victory over the Spaniards at Manila Bay. 

Fritz attended preparatory school at the prestigious Culver Military Academy before entering Annapolis as a member of the Class of 1934.  The Depression, and other factors, prompted him to resign in 1932 and return home to San Diego, California.  He finished his education at the University of Arizona in 1935.  A member of the U.S. Army ROTC, he resigned from the Army to enter Naval Aviation Cadet training.  He received his wings and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the U S Marine Corps in 1936 at NAS Pensacola, Florida. His first operational flying assignment was with VMF-9M at Quantico, Virginia, where he qualified aboard the aircraft carriers USS Lexington (CV-2) and USS Saratoga (CV-3).  In 1940 he was reassigned to NAS North Island, California, joining VMF-2, and then transferring to the newly established VMF-221 in July 1941.

On December 8, 1941, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, VMF-221 sailed aboard the USS Saratoga heading for Midway Island.  They were diverted to Hawaii to become part of a task force to reinforce the Marines on Wake Island.  When Wake Island fell, they were ordered to return to Pearl Harbor.  The Squadron was subsequently ordered to Midway, with Fritz being the first to land.  After a brief period at Midway, he was ordered back to Hawaii where he was to become the Executive Officer of VMF-212, which was commissioned on March 1, 1942.

VMF-212 was the first Marine Fighter Squadron to arrive in the South Pacific, based on a hastily-built fighter strip on the Island of Efate.  The Squadron trained inexperienced replacement pilots heading for Guadalcanal.  An experienced fighter pilot by that time, newly promoted Captain Payne made trips to Guadalcanal to augment the pilots of VMF-223 based at Henderson Field.  It was on one of these trips where he recorded his first air combat “kill."  When VMF-212 finally arrived at Guadalcanal, Fritz continued to score, claiming 5 ½ kills and qualifying as an Ace.  As a member of the esteemed “Cactus Air Force” he was awarded the Navy Cross, the Distinguished Flying Cross and six Air Medals for his actions at Guadalcanal.  Major Payne became Commanding Officer of VMF-212 in November, returning the Squadron to the United States.  He subsequently commanded Marine Aircraft Group-23 at MCAS El Toro, California.  Promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in November 1943, he saw service as Air Liaison Officer for Amphibious Forces for the invasions of Kwajalein, Hollandia and Guam. 

Following the end of World War II, Colonel Payne had several staff and top-level school assignments, ending up at the Presidio in San Francisco.  It was there that he met his wife-to- be, Dorothy.  During the Korean War, Colonel Payne commanded Marine Air Control Group 1 and was awarded the Legion of Merit with Combat “V” for his service.  With Marine aviation expanding into rotary wing aircraft, he transitioned to helicopters, and in 1956 became the first Marine to land on the dedicated helicopter carrier USS Thetis Bay (LPH-6).  Colonel Payne then commanded Marine Aircraft Group 36 at Tustin, California.  He retired as a Brigadier General in August 1958 with 4,720 flight hours, 25 arrested landings and 30 helicopter shipboard landings.

After retirement from the Marine Corps, General Payne joined Southern California Edison, serving until 1976 as manager of aircraft operations.  During that time, he was responsible for improving the utility company’s efficiency by introducing the use of helicopters. Fritz and Dorothy retired to Rancho Mirage, California.  He was predeceased by his wife and is survived by three children, Elizabeth, Robert and Dewitt and three grandchildren, Ann, Beth and Ryan.

Golden Eagle, Bill Bauer, USMC (Ret), wrote this obituary for his dear friend and will present his eulogy in Orlando, FL.

A true American hero, he will be missed.

In Sadness,

Don Boecker-Pilot