I felt honored last Saturday to have participated in honoring the retirement of Vern Black, 96, a historical figure from our Mountain Area that owns the Jones Store up Beasore Road above Bass Lake.
I first met Vern a couple of decades ago. At that time, not knowing his background, we both accepted each other as friends. History can bring friends closer together and that is how our relationship evolved.
I was busy doing research on five P-40 aircraft that crashed within our Sierra Nevada Mountains in 1941. From that research I discovered that Mr. Black also flew the same type aircraft with the Flying Tigers in 1942.
Black informed me he was sent to England and trained with the Royal Air Force. He flew the British Mark 1 Supermarine Spitfire and the twin engine B-35 De Havilland Mosquito Fighters.
But his favorite aircraft was the twin engine P-38 Lockheed Lightning which he flew on reconnaissance missions in the European and Asian theaters.
After his honorable discharge from the Army Air Force he joined the California Highway Patrol on May 16, 1948. He spent 32 years and rose to Assistant State Field Commissioner before his retirement, and he is the oldest retired member of the CHP. He started full time operation of the Jones Store in 1980.
Many of his past and present friends were there to wish Vern the very best. I feel very privileged to have shared a small portion of his time.
I know in the future when I stop at the Jones Store for a snack between one of my hiking adventures, I’ll ask myself, who now can appease my hunger for our country’s past aviation history? Well, I do have memories of knowing a true aviation hero from our nation’s past.