Remembering Labor Day for a Member of the Greatest Generation
09/03/2011 By Robbin Laird
Labor Day is a transition from the summer to the fall; it is a turning of the page as we go into a new academic year. Those of us who have been students or have children who are students understood a new year is in front of us as the season that faces winter opens the “new” year.
The French call it the Return. And the vacation period becomes the work period. The fall envelops and encompasses a society in transition.
For me, Labor Day will always be about the experience of the man who became my father when he married my mother after her divorce. My stepfather had a Labor Day to never forget.
The most radically modified racer was the P-51C entered by Jackie Cochran and piloted by round-the-world record holder Bill Odom. This P-51C was modified by then owner J.D. Reed of Houston Texas. Reed was the largest Beechcraft Dealer in the US and close friend of Walter Beech.
Reed very much wanted to win a Thompson Trophy. Beech came up with the idea to remove the glycol and oil radiators from the belly of the airframe and to install them out on the wingtips encased in pods to reduce the drag from the large original air scoop. Anson Johnson, last years winner was back with major modifications to the P-51D Mustang. Johnson also removed the large air scoop but he took a different approach and placed the coolers inside the wing where the gun bays had been. Intake scoops were installed in the wing leading edge and exhaust vents on top of the wing. Ben McMillan was given the pole position as the ten aircraft lined up for what would be the last race-horse-start of a major race.
McMillan was first off the ground and led the pack for the first lap. Bill Odom was seventh off the ground. By the end of the first lap he was in third and closing on McMillan. Early in the second lap Odom and Beeville were almost side-by-side when they both turned pylon two.
Beville leveled out heading for pylon three when he noticed that Odom had straightened out as he was headed for pylon four, Beville saw that Odom tried to recover but the P-51 went inverted and the nose was starting down. Beville realized that with Odom inverted with the nose starting down at this altitude and speed there was no chance of recovery. He saw Odom crash into a house. On lap three Cleland and Puckett passed McKillen…..
The house Bill Odom crashed into had been recently completed and the Laird family had only been in the house for only five days. Jeanne, wife and mother was in the bathroom doing some cleaning and was not interested in watching the air races. Jeanne died instantly from the explosion.
Gregg, the infant was in a playpen outside the garage when the crash occurred and was severely burned, Gregg died a few hours later in the hospital. Jeanne died instantly from the explosion.
Bradley Laird and their son David were outside playing catch and were not injured.
Many people, if not most, believe that the tragic crash taking three lives was the reason the races ended in Cleveland. Yes it did have some bearing on future races in that it was decided to eliminate the Military surplus plane sand try to develop new classes of owner-built machines.
A new course was laid out and the sanctions were approved. The two principal reasons it ended were; as of June 1950 we were now at war in Korea and the Secretary of Defense informed race officials that none of our military services would now send any aircraft or personnel.
The large building where the grandstands were located was converted into a tank plant. The grandstands were removed and donated to a college. With no military presence and no site, the races could not continue.
(For a bit of history see
Just thinking of my stepdad one of the members of the Greatest Generation who upon his return from the Pacific had this to deal with in 1949. So when we think of our problems and our challenges, let us put them into perspective.