Carl Deiz, Portland man who flew with Tuskegee Airmen, dies at 94
Carl Deiz, a lifelong Portlander who had a direct connection to one of the great stories of World War II, died Monday. He was 94.
Deiz, a graduate of Franklin High School and the University of Portland, was one of the Tuskegee Airmen, the name given to a group of African American fighter pilots who helped break the color barrier in the Army Air Force by proving they could not only fly fighters but engage in air combat with the best.
According to the book "332nd Fighter Group – the Tuskegee Airmen," the group shot down 111 enemy aircraft, destroyed another 150 on the ground and earned 96 Distinguished Flying Crosses. A total of 66 of the 450 airmen who went to Italy died in combat or accidents.
Carl Deiz never actually made it to Europe with the fighter group. He went through flight school at Tuskegee but a depth perception problem detected near the end of his training kept him from being part of the action. But he always felt a close connection to those who did because of his older brother Bob Deiz, who was credited with shooting down at least two German fighters in two days during his tour of duty.
In 2012, reporter Lynne Terry of The Oregonian did a feature story on Carl Deiz when the George Lucas movie "Red Tails" came out. She attended a showing with Deiz, and led off her story with the following paragraphs:
Carl Deiz munched through a tub of buttered popcorn this week at a private screening of George Lucas' blockbuster "Red Tails." At 91, he was the oldest person in the downtown Portland theater. He was also the only one who knew something firsthand about those elite black pilots who overcame racial barriers to become one of the finest U.S. fighter groups in World War II.
Deiz was a second lieutenant in the early 1940s at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama, where the Red Tails fighter pilots were trained. His brother, the late Robert Deiz, was one of the hot-dogging aces featured in the film, released today in Portland area theaters.
The movie focuses on their feats in Italy in 1944. Flying hand-me-down planes in second-tier missions, the all-black 332nd Fighter Group fought for a place in combat. They got it in January 1944, protecting an Allied landing at the beachhead at Anzio south of Rome. Robert, flying a single-engine, single-seat Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, downed two Nazi fighter planes in two days.
As her story went on to explain, the Deiz brothers were two of 12 Oregonians who trained at Tuskegee, where they had to deal with the prejudices of the Jim Crow South. But they more than proved themselves.
Bill Deiz, one of Carl's sons, said his father died at home, possibly of a stroke. He said the death came as a surprise, even though his father was in his 90s.
"I saw him on Thanksgiving and he was looking great," said Bill Deiz, a longtime Portland television personality who now works for the Volunteers of America. He said that he and his father joked about Carl making it to 100, like Carl's grandmother had done. "We weren't expecting this," he said.
Bill Deiz said his father had remained active and had taken part in the installation of the Rev. Mark L. Poorman as the new president at the University of Portland last September as a distinguished alumni of the North Portland school. He lived in North Portland, near Columbia Park.
Bill Deiz said his father never expressed any regrets about not getting his chance to fly with the "Red Tails" in Europe, in part because the war was nearly over by the time he finished at Tuskegee.
"He was pleased that he could serve during war time," he said.
Carl Deiz served out his military time at Portland Air Base, and graduated with a business degree from the UP, magna cum laude, in 1949.
He spent most of his working life as a budget analyst for the Bonneville Power Administration and did some work with small businesses later in life.
Bill Deiz said his father continued his interest in flying after the war and often went on flights around Oregon with his brother, Bob, who died in 1992. In an oral history recorded by Oregon State University, Carl Deiz said he also used to fly out of the Troutdale Airport from time to time for fun.
Carl Deiz was born on Nov. 16, 1920, in Portland, the son of William Carlos Deiz, a railroad employee, and Elnora Deiz. He and his brother grew up along Southeast 35th Place in Portland, just off Division, and were members of the Boy Scouts, and graduated from Franklin High School.
Carl was married to Mercedes Deiz, a former Circuit Court judge who was the first black woman admitted to the Oregon bar. She died in 2005. He is survived by two sons, Bill Deiz and Gilbert Carl Deiz. A daughter, Karen Deiz, died in 2008.
Also surviving are a daughter in law, Judy Rooks of Portland, former business editor at The Oregonian who is now senior director of philanthropy operations for Legacy Health Systems; and seven grandchildren: Brendan Deiz of Portland, Galen Deiz of Washington, D.C., Hannibal Deiz and Noah Deiz, both of California, Nick Rollins of Portland, Ashley Rollins of Portland and Angela Rollins of Portland.
Services will be Friday at noon at St. Philip the Deacon Episcopal Church, 120 N.E. Knott, where Carl attended church. Burial will follow at Rose City Cemetery, 5625 N.E. Fremont, Portland, at 2:30 p.m.
-- John Killen
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