Justin Berger

Justin Berger, the last original member of an aerobatic team known as the “Red Devils,” has died. He was 91.

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I met Justin almost 14 months ago. Sioux Falls Airshow 2012 was approaching,and he was featured in an advance story about the event.

He told me several times during our interview “I loved to fly, and I got paid for it. Not everyone is that lucky.”

Reading his obituary, I’m reminded how much time he did spend in the air. Justin enlisted in the Army Air Corps on Sept. 23, 1942, and entered aviation cadet pilot training the following February. He was commissioned as a fighter pilot and taught others how to fly P-40 and P-38 fighters.

Justin served in the Air Force Reserve before joining the South Dakota Air National Guard in 1947. He retired as a brigadier general in 1980.

His flying hours in the military totaled 11,000, and these are the planes he flew: F-51, P-40, B-25, F-94, T-6, F-80, F-89, F-100, F-102, A-7,. T-28, T=29, T-33, C-45, C-47, C-54, C-131 and U-3. I know nothing about planes … except that is a LOT of them.

As a Red Devil, he flew with Joe Foss, World War II ace and a future South Dakota governor. Joining them as the first Red Devils, the first military aerobatic team to be formed after WWII, were Bill Downey and Bob Reid.

He was traveling to an air show in Vermillion one year when the engine of his P-51 quit, and he crashed into a farm field. His wife, Patty, took it in stride. “I worried more about when he went hunting than when he was flying.”

Such a nice man, and Patty is a delight.