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Navy veteran, barbershop singer David Fletcher dies in motorcycle accident

Folded flag resting on a headstone. (MaxPixel/Released/TNS)

The freedom of the open road pulled at David Fletcher for most of his adult life, and he exercised that freedom aboard motorcycles he owned throughout his years. But a love of singing also drew him, as did his respect for his fellow military veterans, and most important of all, the love of his family.

Fletcher died Friday, three days after he was struck by an SUV while riding his motorcycle on Coffee Road in southwest Bakersfield. He was 73.

“He was one of the most upbeat guys I’ve ever known,” said Marc Sandall, who knew Fletcher for 27 years, most of those years singing together in barbershop quartets.

“Now that his light has been extinguished,” Sandall said, “it feels like someone has stolen one of the brightest shining lights.”

Fletcher — his friends called him “Fletch” — was born in Johnson City, N.Y., and grew up in Owego. When he was 15 his family moved to Daytona Beach, Fla.

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In a bio produced for his 50th high school reunion in 2014, Fletcher wrote that after graduation from high school, he joined the U.S. Navy in August 1964, and served aboard the USS Mispillion, “the first Jumboized tanker in April of ’66 where I did three tours of duty to the South China Sea and the Tonkin Gulf.”

“His father and older brother were in the Navy before him,” his daughter, Valerie Fletcher, said in an email.

“He didn’t really talk about his military involvement growing up and didn’t participate in veteran groups,” she said. But he got involved in his later years.

“He was always about singing and motorcycles,” she said.

Motorcycles weren’t just a weekend hobby. Fletcher volunteered with the American Legion Post 26 Riders and other service riders. He sang bass in many local vocal groups, including the Golden Empire Chorus, and belonged to the Barbershop Harmony Society for more than four decades.

He was discharged at Treasure Island near San Francisco in 1968, and decided to stay in California because he loved the weather “and the wonderful opportunities to travel on my motorcycle” he wrote.

Fletcher went to work for Thrifty Drug Stores in 1970 and worked as a retail manager for 23 years, according to his bio. He later stumbled upon a position selling Saturns at Motor City Auto Center, where he worked for more than 18 years.

“He had the gift of gab, the ability to tell a joke or a story,” Sandall said. And that upbeat, optimistic outlook served him well in that role.

In his (lightly edited) bio, he recalled meeting the love of his life.

“I met my sweetheart, Barbara Lee, on a blind date in Porterville, and eight months later we were married. She had been married previously and had a son, Victor Ray, 2½ years old.”

Barbara and he were soon blessed with a daughter, Valerie, in 1973, and two years later, their son, Terry, was born.

“He loved singing,” Terry Fletcher said of his dad. “As far as I know, it was all his life. He would sing the bass part of songs all the time around the house, or at random times, and it would be the bass portion only — which often sounded strange without the lead melody that most people would be familiar with.”

They met a lot of family friends through David Fletcher’s involvement with singing groups.

“I think he just loved entertaining and harmonizing and enjoyed the people that flocked to it as a common interest,” said Terry Fletcher.

And motorcycles were even more ubiquitous.

“He always had a motorcycle for as long as I can remember,” Terry said. “He used to give us kids rides for fun, or take us on his weekly meet-up with other riders to a diner.

“I remember before there were the built-in handles for the passenger we used to have to wrap our arms around him for security on our rides. With his various motorcycles over the years, I would guess that he logged over a million miles in the saddle over his life.”

He worked long hours as they were growing up, Valerie said. But the time he spent with them was treasured. He would involve them on his Wednesday rides to Tehachapi or the Grapevine or barbershop shows and family picnics.

“He played chess, backgammon and cards with us,” she said. “He played frisbee and badminton with us. We had once a year vacations to L.A.-area museums or amusement parks. He would barbecue burgers on his little hibachi grill for us and make homemade ice cream. Taught us to be good, hardworking, honest people with integrity just like him.”

The guys from his singing group met Monday for rehearsal, the first since the death of their friend. It did not go as planned.

“I tried to sing, but couldn’t get it out,” Sandall said.

He stopped the group and, for more than an hour, the men reflected on their loss, the loss of a friend who brightened lives simply by being in one’s presence.

“We want people to remember who he was,” he said of his friend. “And what kind of void his passing will leave.”

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© 2020 The Bakersfield Californian