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Yeager honored with memorial service

Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a memorial service for the late Air Force Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager in Charleston, W.Va., on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. Yeager died last month at age 97. The West Virginia native in 1947 became the first person to fly faster than sound. (AP Photo/Chris Jackson)

CHARLESTON — Chuck Yeager, the World War II ace fighter pilot who earned international fame for being the first person to break the sound barrier, was honored Friday with a memorial service attended by Vice President Mike Pence in Charleston.

Yeager, a West Virginia native, died on Dec. 7, 2020.

Yeager’s memorial service took place on a rainy Friday at the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center. The event included flybys of military aircraft and video eulogies from friends, astronauts, celebrities and fellow Air Force officers.

The event was open to the public, but security was tightened due to the vice president’s attendance more than a week after an attack on the U.S. Capitol by a mob as Pence was presiding over a joint session of Congress to count electoral college ballots.

Speaking Friday, Pence praised Yeager’s spirit, tenacity and his heroism in combat and in aviation history.

“Chuck Yeager lived a great American life,” Pence said in his first public appearance since last week’s riots at the United States Capitol. “He raised his family, he served his country in uniform for more than 30 years and he pushed the boundaries of what we understood was possible in his time.”

Yeager, a brigadier general in the U.S. Air Force, died Dec. 7 at the age of 97. He joined the U.S. Army in 1941 and was assigned to the Army Air Corps.

Piloting a P-51 Mustang, Yeager shot down more than 11 German airplanes, including shooting down five airplanes in one day and earning Yeager ace status. Despite being shot down once, he quickly returned to combat.

After World War II, Yeager became a test pilot. He became the first man to break the sound barrier in 1947, piloting his Bell X-1 – named Glamorous Glennis for his wife – above Mach 1. He accomplished this after breaking two ribs from falling off a horse and having to use the end of a broom handle to close the cockpit door.

Yeager’s flight and cocky persona was immortalized in the Tom Wolfe novel and later a motion picture “The Right Stuff.”

Gov. Jim Justice presented a West Virginia flag to Victoria, telling her the state will never forget Gen. Yeager. U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito were unable to attend Friday’s memorial service, but both issued statements prior to the service paying tribute to Yeager’s life and public service.

“The legacy Chuck leaves is such an important part of our heritage as West Virginians,” Manchin said. “It is an honor to remember Chuck as part of our military service heritage and our way of life that sinks deep into the roots of West Virginia’s rich culture.”

“Today is a sad day because we sure are missing our fellow West Virginian, Gen. Chuck Yeager,” Capito said in a video statement. “He was an incredible aviator, a great American hero, and so patriotic … He was always a West Virginian and we sure are proud of him and we sure miss him. Godspeed to him.”

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