My name is Ray Rockwell. I was raised in the hills and backwoods of northeast Pennsylvania. For the past few years my wife, Carol and I have spent our winters in Lady Lake, FL. My mother was the baby of thirteen, having many nieces and nephews, some older than she.
Her nephew, Leon Geer, aka Red, two years older than my mother, joined the US Navy. The 2nd World War was raging, so at a very young age he became a Navy pilot, stationed aboard the aircraft carrier Enterprise in the Pacific.
After the war, Red became the manager of the Veterans Airfield in Bloomington Indiana, also giving flying lessons. During one lesson, he became aware that after take off, one of the landing gears of his Aeronca airplane had come loose and was dangling below the plane, making it impossible to land the plane without wrecking. Very coolly, he had his student fly the plane, while he took off his belt, opened the door, climbed out onto the strut and did a quick fix by pulling the gear back into place and securing it with his belt. They landed the plane without incident!! (This came from an article in “Flying” magazine February 1949.)
Also, being an acrobatic pilot, he was asked, along with about 30 other pilots, to participate in the National Air Show in Miami, on January 8th, 1949. While practicing his stunts, his plane crashed and he was killed. That was January 1st, 1949. We had always been told that it happened somewhere in the Everglades near Miami.
My wife and I were on our way to Lady Lake this January 1st, then, while somewhere in North Carolina my cell phone rang. It was my sister Diane- she is our family genealogist. She was all excited. “You’ll never guess where Red was when he wrecked his plane?” “Where?” I asked. “North of Leesburg in the swamp off Eagles Nest Road!” she said.
Oh my god! I was shaken. I never told Diane about the old plane. I knew exactly where the wreck was. We had gone by it in our boat at least 50 times. Right there beside the canal from Fisherman’s Wharf to Lake Griffin, there was an airplane motor with the propeller still attached, fairly well bent, but still there. During World War 2, Leesburg Airport was an Army airfield, so we had all assumed that maybe some trainee had wrecked while on some training flight.
The local newspaper article (The Leesburg Commercial} headline said: Stunt Flier Killed Sat. In Crash North Of City. He was staying at the Eagles Nest Fish Camp with friends, “and while stunting low, his plane fell into the swamp.” “He was practicing stunts with his souped-up trainer plane with a 450 HP Pratt and Whitney engine when the wreck occurred”. The article went on to say “the search began immediately, but it was the next day before the body could be removed, cutting the plane apart with hacksaws”. “Part of the plane had sunk about five feet into the muck,” the paper said.
After recuperating from my trip from Pennsylvania, and being a bright, sunny day, some friends and I got in my boat and went to the wreck site to take pictures of the motor, fuselage, and fuel tank and whatever else was left. The ID plate was still attached to the tank and still legible after all those years in the Florida weather, and still smelling of fuel.
There is no doubt. This is my cousin Red Geer’s Stearman Plane.
Was I brought here to solve this mystery? For me, and my brothers and sister and other relatives, after 62 years to the day, this puts an end on the story of our departed 24 year old cousin Red, and with the internet, and my sister, now everyone knows. And of all the many coincidences in my life, this has to rate way above number one!
Anyone that may have any more information about my cousin Leon (Red) Geer, or the plane wreck please contact me. My email is: email@example.com or my phone: 570-442-1542.
This is a true story that has taken 62 years to solve – all pictures, newspaper articles concerning this amazing man –our cousin -can be found to the right in the gallery under the heading, “Leon Red Geer”….