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Tom Cleaver
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Hasegawa 1/48 A-4F Skyhawk “Lady Jessie”

June 9, 2021 · in Aviation · · 14 · 1.7K

From "The Hook":

"Naval Aviation lost a devoted friend when Jessie Beck, 83, died in Reno, NV, in July 1987. As the first woman to own a major Nevada casino - the Riverside Hotel and Casino, she was called "the gambling grandmother," but to Air Wing 16 she was "Lady Jessie."

During the Vietnam War Jessie wrote to some 500 servicemen, but Naval Aviators were among her favorites. During the 1950s Jessie and her husband Fred became acquainted with a future Navy pilot when they ran the Keno game at Harold's Club in Reno. Dick Perry was a student at the University of Nevada, Reno, who worked part-time at Harold's as a dealer. Thus began a lengthy relationship in which young Perry became almost an adopted son of Jessie and Fred.

Following graduation, Dick entered Navy flight training and eventually reported to VA-164 in January 1966, where Jessie kept him well supplied with pastries and such. The size of her "care packages" spilled over to the rest of the Ghostriders, and Dick's pride in Jessie's affection was evident to all hands. Eventually he arranged for a squadron party in Reno - the first of several hosted by Lady Jessie, who by then owned the Riverside Hotel and Casino. Other CVW-16 pilots also sampled the famous Beck hospitality as word spread through the air wing.

The close ties between Jessie and VA-164 were further strengthened when Dick named his A-4E "Lady Jessie." Eventually a squadron tradition evolved, with the CO's aircraft bearing the name of the Ghostriders' favorite friend.

However, tragedy struck during USS Oriskany's (CVA-34) 1967 Western Pacific cruise. On 31 August 1967 LCDR Dick Perry's Skyhawk was hit by a SAM and he ejected less than two miles offshore. Though he had a good chute, there was no sign of life. The SAR crew reached the body, determined Perry was dead, and departed the area under orders of the on-scene commander, since the helo was taking fire from nearby shore batteries.

Despite the loss of the man who brought Jessie Beck in contact with VA-164, the close relationship continued. On an especially grand occasion, Jessie hosted a party for both VA-163 and VA-164 during May 1968. The aviators admired their lady not only for her generosity and kindness, but for her devotion to her Naval Aviator "sons."

In July 1971, the Naval Air Station Fallon Administrative Building was named for and dedicated to Dick Perry by Base Commander Cdr. Ramsay Lawson. The dedication ceremony included a Blue Angel performance dedicated to Lady Jessie and a personal appearance by Mrs. Jessie Beck.

Ironically, Dick Perry's remains - thought lost at sea - were returned to the U.S. in 1987, the same year of Jessie Beck's death.

The Ghostriders continued to honor the gracious lady from Reno after Dick's death by displaying her name on each CO's aircraft until the squadron was disestablished Dec 12, 1975.

This particular "Lady Jessie" is the 1971/72 deployment CO's aircraft. 1/48 A-4F Skyhawk with Cutting Edge decals. Done back in 2003.

Reader reactions:
13  Awesome

13 additional images. Click to enlarge.

14 responses

  1. Nice A-4. That’s one of my favorite Skyhawks, Tom. I used those decals on a Hobbycraft kit back in ‘02.

  2. Nice Scooter, @tcinla!
    Got the same one to build with that same scheme one day!

  3. Bravo...well done, TC.

  4. Really nice. I always loved the A4 in good old Grumman excellency.

  5. Very cool story and model Tom.

  6. Thumbs up on this one too! Good looking scooter.

  7. Great Skyhawk, Tom (@tcinla). Nice to know the story behind the markings. Thanks.

  8. Beautiful build, Tom.
    One of my favorite jets.
    Great background information as always.

  9. Great build and a great tribute.

  10. Nice job Tom, looks great and excellent story.

  11. Bravo Tom. Lady Jessie should be on the shelf of any US Navy’s fan!

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