Francis Richard "Dick" Wilma

Dick was born Francis Richard Wilma in Malta, Montana in 1920, the third of four boys. His parents Frank and Elsie homesteaded in Phillips County and lived in a sod house. When they proved-up the claim by improving and occupying it for five years, they sold out and moved to Washington state. Frank followed construction projects until they settled in Kelso on the Cowlitz River in 1923. His parents called him “Junior” and his brothers called him “Fat” because of his stocky build.

Frank told his sons they could not go to town, but could do what they wanted in the surrounding forests and streams. Dick grew up in the outdoors, and fishing was a passion all his life. He graduated from Kelso High School in 1938 and attended the new junior college program at Lower Columbia Junior College studying to become a forester. He worked in lumber mills and gave his mother his pay. The Civilian Pilot Training program taught him to fly.

In 1942, Dick enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps and reported for duty at Fort Vancouver in July where he bided his time as a stockade guard. That summer, he reported to Kelly Field in Texas for pre-flight training, a version of Officer Candidate School. When he completed that, he was assigned to No. 6 British Flight Training School in Ponca City, Oklahoma. The Air Corps sent some of its aviation cadets to Royal Air Force schools operated by U.S. civilian contractors. In April 1943, he received his wings and gold bars of a second lieutenant in the Air Corps. He also received wings of the Royal Air Force.

The first assignment was learning to fly DC-3s operated by Trans World Airways. For the next year with the Air Transport Command, he delivered fighters and bombers from factories all over the States including P-39s to the Soviet Air Force in Alaska.

In June 1944, Dick was shipped overseas as a C-46 pilot stationed first in Casablanca transporting cargo and passengers around the Mediterranean. From them he was sent to Chabua, in Assam, India to fly The Hump. President Roosevelt ordered “keep China in the war,” so it was necessary to fly all equipment, personnel, supplies, and fuel over the mountains of Burma to supply Chinese and Allied forces. Dick flew forty-nine round trips until the spring of 1945.

After three years in the service, Dick arrived home in Kelso. It was during a visit home that he met Sally Flood, daughter of a Longview mill owner. Dick’s last military assignment was at Stockton, California where he transported returning servicemen to their homes. Dick and Sally married in December 1945.

Dick considered staying in the army, but was offered a ranch partnership by real estate developer near Linden, California by Greenlaw Grupe. Dick and Sally settled in Stockton and David was born in January 1948. Dick’s father-in-law offered him a job (Sally’s mother missed her) and they moved back to Longview. Sally Anne was born in 1949.

Things did not work out with the job and Dick tried logging. After both his partners were injured in accidents, he went back to Stockton to sell real estate for Greenlaw. Greenlaw then asked him to manage his ranch again, but not as a partner. The Grupe Ranch was “the happiest years of my life,” as Dick recalled. He raised walnuts, cattle, and sheep and could hunt and fish to his heart’s delight. Patti was born in Stockton in 1951. Dick joined the Army National Guard in Stockton flying L-19 spotter planes for the artillery.

After ten years at the ranch, Dick took a job selling seed to farmers until he was offered a job by a friend with the Douglas Oil Company in Sacramento. Douglas moved the family to Seattle in 1966 and Dick joined the National Guard in Washington where he learned to fly helicopters. At Douglas, Dick was a sales representative for a chain of service stations from Bellingham to Salem.

The Seventies were tumultuous for Dick. He was transferred by Douglas to the San Francisco Bay Area then was subjected to an early retirement. He and Sally divorced in 1975.

He met and married Elma Shover and they resided on Queen Anne Hill in Seattle. Dick kept busy with extra duty in the Guard flying helicopters. He and Elma invested in stocks (her specialty) real estate (his specialty). He used his knowledge of aviation to pass the Coast Guard exam so he could guide salmon fishermen on Bristol Bay in Alaska. Those annual trips were a great joy for him until the years caught up with him.

Dick died in 2005 in Seattle.

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