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World War II fighter pilot and longtime Miami University professor dies at 98

A 1st Theater Sustainment Command Soldier presents a folded American flag to a family member of a deceased service member, Nov. 5, 2018. (Sgt. Kayla Benson/U.S. Army)

David Scotford, a Miami University professor, World War II veteran and world traveler, died Thursday in hospice care. He was 98.

Scotford taught at Miami University for 38 years, retiring in 1987. He was chairman of the geology department from 1960-79.

He entered Dartmouth College in 1940, but he left in January 1943 to train as a pilot in the Army Air Forces. Two years later, he joined the 21st fighter, 531st squadron of the 7th Air Force, shipping off to Iwo Jima in the Pacific Theater. His squadron was only able to land on Iwo after some 6,800 marines and sailors gave their lives.

He flew the North American P-51 D (Mustang) fighter on 10 short-range and nine-long range missions as Marine ground forces continued to clear the island of entrenched remnants of enemy forces.

Like a lot of veterans, Scotford rarely talked about his military service, said Barbara Scotford, one of his daughters.

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“He was pretty quiet about it,” Scotford said from her Minnesota home. “He thought he didn’t do much. We said, ‘Hello, dad, you actually did.’”

Later in life, Scotford relayed a funny story about the days after WWII ended. They were about to be shipped home when a military official suggested flying to Iwo Jima and performing an air show. But nobody wanted the assignment, Scotford told his family.

So as the planes took off for Iwo Jima, Scotford, as a joke, got on his radio and announced, “Hot Rocks (code for Iwo Jima) return to base. Hot Rocks return to base.”

All the planes turned around and returned to base and Scotford never was reprimanded, his daughter said.

After the war, he returned to Dartmouth, graduating in 1946. He then moved to Chicago to start graduate studies at the University of Chicago, meeting his first wife, Patricia Taaffe. They married and moved to Baltimore, where Scotford finished a doctorate in structural geology at John’s Hopkins University.

The couple then moved to Oxford, where he began his career at Miami.

With his doctoral students, he mapped portions of mountains in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. He also took groups of graduate students on tours of English and Scottish geology.

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In 1964 he earned a Fulbright Scholarship and took his family to Izmir, Turkey, where he taught geology at Ege University. Then in 1980, he was a fellow at Liverpool University in England.

One of Scotford’s passions was sailing. In the early 1960s, he built a 14-foot sail boat in his basement, and he spent many weekends racing this and ensuing sailboats on Acton Lake with his wife, children, and students as crew. Later he upgraded to a small cruising boat and sailed on the Great Lakes, off the coast of Maine and in southern Florida. At retirement and after the death of his first wife, he bought a 39-foot allied ketch that he sailed throughout the Bahamas each winter.

More than 50 relatives and friends joined Scotford and his second wife, Melba, on these adventures over eight seasons. When Scotford was 75, he earned a Coast Guard Master’s License that allowed him to captain other boats, and he sailed to Cuba, Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala.

Scotford said her father “traveled everywhere” and he never was afraid to try new adventures.

“It was just his thing,” she said. “He was an active man.”

His survivors included his very special partner of many years, Eleanor Vail, his children; Barbara Scotford, David C. Scotford, Nancy Scotford, and Laura Scotford-Fedora (Mark Fedora), granddaughters; Adrienne Fedora and Rachel Fedora and informally adopted children; Sarah and Steve Pace, Mark and Gylaine Gilmore.

A memorial service will be held at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at the Ogle & Paul R. Young Funeral Home, 5086 College Corner Pike, Oxford, followed by a lunch and reminiscing at the Knolls of Oxford.

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© 2019 the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.