Who We Are – When Dreams Take Flight

BSL at Woburn resident served as Korean War fighter pilot

Senior man posing for photo in front of bookshelf

There’s little indication in Ray Sturgeon’s apartment of the life he led as a young man, aside from some photos on a wall. Ask about those wartime images, though, and a smile will slowly appear on the face of the 96-year-old, who friends and family affectionately call Dewey.
Ray, a resident of Benchmark Senior Living at Woburn, was a fighter pilot during the Korean War, logging more than 100 missions in the cockpit of a F-80, the first fighter jet used by the United States Army Air Forces. Several of those missions ended in “belly landings” after his jet was damaged by enemy fire.

It appears Ray Sturgeon was one tough son of a gun.

“Yes, he was,” says Ray of his younger self, whispering behind the back of his hand with a laugh. “He was one of a kind.”

From Farmer to Fighter Pilot 
The Indiana native first joined the Marine Corps in 1944 during World War II. Unfortunately, he suffered a farming accident that left him unable to walk for six months. After recovering from his injury, he joined the Air Force in 1946. That’s when his interest in flying took off.

Ray enjoyed four years of service before returning to Indiana in 1950. He assumed that was the end of his military service and his dream to fly. “Then, all of a sudden the Korean War broke out and they needed pilots,” explains Brad, Ray’s son.

After going through the rigorous Officers Training School, Ray became an Air Force fighter pilot. Both Ray and his son chuckle when discussing a minor hiccup at the start of Ray’s flying career: air sickness, and lots of it. It didn’t last long, though.

Brad is proud of his father’s ambition. “He could have chosen a different life,” Brad explains. “He could have stayed on the farm and that would have been fine because he loved to farm, but (flying) is what he wanted to do.”

Ray piloted a Lockheed F-80, which reached speeds of nearly 600 miles per hour. “You didn’t have time to think about it,” Ray says. “You just did it. I just did what I was supposed to do. I was so proud.”

His jet was damaged several times by enemy fire, but he always got back safely. He was lucky. Ray recalls having breakfast with fellow pilots and by “dinnertime a few of them might have been shot down and gone.”

Life after the war 
Ray received a Distinguished Flying Cross from the Air Force and became a lieutenant colonel. He worked out of Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford, Massachusetts, until he retired from the Air Force in 1970. He didn’t stay on the ground long.

In 1974, he became a private pilot for Raytheon and did so for more than 10 years.

“One of my dad’s favorite quotes: ‘I was never afraid when I flew,’” said Brad. “And I think that probably saved his life on a number of occasions. I always called him ‘Cool Hand Luke.’”

Ray is happy to give advice to others chasing dreams.

“Give it your best all of the time. Nothing is too high, don’t look back,” he says.

Black and white photo of man in armed forces

Benchmark Senior Living at Woburn