RANCHO SANTA FE — Longtime Rancho Santa Fe resident Charles E. (“Charlie”) Beck, born July 15, 1923, died March 25. A Mass of the Resurrection will be held at 10 a.m. April 25 at the Church of the Nativity Catholic Church 6309 El Apajo Road. A missing-man formation flyover by the Van Nuys Condor Squadron will follow the Mass.
The youngest of five children, Beck was born in St. Louis, Mo. His family moved to California and settled in the Westwood area of Los Angeles. By 1941, Beck and his brothers were avid race car enthusiasts and frequently competed in races staged on the desert dry lakes areas of Rosemond, Harper, Muroc and El Mirage. During one event, Beck set an official Southern California Timing Association record of 131 miles per hour in his “Streamliner” racer, the body of which was fabricated from an airplane drop-tank and the wheel covers from washing machine lids. The survival skills and engineering knowledge Beck developed as a result of his racing experiences proved to be of immediate and vital importance to him and to the nation, due to the advent of World War II.
At the age of 18, Beck enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He was commissioned and served as a fighter pilot with the 361 Fighter Squadron stationed in Martlesham Heath, outside of London. While there, Beck was billeted in the same quarters that King George VI had occupied during a 1937 visit. Beck precipitated a minor uproar when, toward the end of his stay, he “liberated” a small brass plaque commemorating the King’s visit from the door of the quarters. Sixty-five years later, the small brass plaque is still proudly on display . . . on Beck’s office door.
Beck flew 80 combat missions in the European theatre in P-47 Thunderbolt and P-51 Mustang fighter aircraft. He provided close air support for the ground troops and fighter escort for the B-17 bombers. During one particularly successful mission over Misburg, Germany, 110 Nazi aircraft were shot down. One of those was brought down by Beck in his P-51 fighter “Patricia,” named after his girlfriend who later became his wife of 61 years.
Beck received many decorations in the course of his service including: the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal (seven times), Unit Citation, American Campaign Medal, European-African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Air Force Longevity Service Award, Armed Forces Reserve Medal, California Service Medal with Bronze and Silver Redwood Cluster.
After the Allied victory in Europe in 1945, Beck was given 30 days leave before he was to be reassigned to the Pacific theater. He began a slow, 10-day journey homeward across the Atlantic on the victory ship USS Ranger. During the time it took the ship to sail to Boston harbor, Russia declared war on Japan, the United States dropped two atomic bombs, and Japan surrendered unconditionally. Beck was a civilian again.
Beck rejoined his family and worked as a general building contractor. He bought a race car with his brother George, hired a professional driver, and entered competitions on tracks in California. On June 29, 1947, he married Patricia, his childhood sweetheart and the love of his life.
Beck continued his military service after World War II by serving with the Van Nuys Air National Guard, flying air defense for the West Coast. His unit was activated during the Korean Conflict and he served three years with the U.S. Navy as a liaison officer flying the F4U Corsair. During this period he helped coordinate the planning for the Navy and Air Force close air support for the Marine beach landings on the Korean peninsula.
Released from active military duty, Beck returned home and continued his service with the Van Nuys Air National Guard, flying P-51 Mustang, F-86 Sabre and F-102 Delta Dagger aircraft. While flying the F-86 Sabre jet, he broke the sound barrier and became a member of the exclusive “Mach Busters club,” a rarity in the 50s. During this same period, he purchased an AT-6 trainer and co-founded the Condor Squadron Civil Air Patrol unit based at the Van Nuys airport. While a member, he took part in search and rescue missions, coastal patrol operations, and air show performances.
For 19 years, Beck raced in the Reno and Mojave Air Races. He flew the P-51’s “Candyman” and later “Miss America” in the Unlimited circuit, and AT-6 entries “California Med Fly” and “Honest Entry” in the AT-6 class. Beck retired from air racing in 1993, but continued flying whenever he could for many years, finishing with air and sea rescue in the San Diego Coast Guard Reserve.
Beck served his country for a total of 23 years, retiring from the Air National Guard as a lieutenant colonel. He also served as president of the Westwood Exchange Club, the Brentwood Service Club, and participated in other community service programs. He is survived by his wife, Pat, his daughters Teresa White and Susan Parmely, and sons, Timothy and Monty, all of whom reside in the North county area of San Diego. He is also survived by 12 grandchildren and six great- grandchildren. His ashes will be placed in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to the Alzheimer’s Association, San Diego Chapter S.D.C.A. 4950 Murphy Canyon Road Suite 250, San Diego 92123-4468.
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