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Ritchie Hugh Belser Jr., Colonel, USAF (Retired)December 06, 1921 – August 10, 2012
SANTEE – Colonel Ritchie Hugh Belser, Jr. (USAF, ret.), 90, died at home Aug. 10, 2012, in Santee. Born Dec. 6, 1921, in Clarendon County, he was a son of Ritchie Hugh Belser and May Harvin Belser of Summerton and is survived by four children, seven grandchildren, and ten great-grandchildren. The surviving children are Rebecca Belser Hargreaves (Mike) of Columbia, Karin Belser Gleaton (Al) of Irmo, Bonnie Ann Belser of Columbia, and Ritchie Hugh Belser, III (Daniela) of Goose Creek. The grandchildren are Elizabeth Hargreaves Olson, Karin Hargreaves Cook, Amy Hargreaves Christ, Courtenay Lee Belser Gleaton, Brooke Alexander Corbett Gleaton, Meredith Harvin Gleaton, and Elliott Caldwell Gleaton.
Col. Belser was pre-deceased by his loving wife of 48 years, Lee Alexander Belser, and his grandson, Christian; and his siblings: Caroline Belser Rhame, Maysie Sue Belser, Anne Belser Burnett, Katharine Belser Shelor, Thomas Harvey Belser and Septimus Harvin Belser also pre-deceased him.
Col. Belser served the US Air Force for thirty years. He was a command pilot with over 6,000 hours of flying time. He entered WW II as a transport pilot and retired in 1973 after multiple combat tours in Vietnam. In January 1942, while attending The Citadel, he volunteered for Army Air Corp cadet aviation training. He was commissioned a second lieutenant at age 21 and sent to the China-Burma-India theatre to fly fuel and cargo over the “Hump”, or Himalayan Mountains. Flying at high altitude in freezing weather, his crews flew C-54 or B-24 aircraft from hastily constructed airfields in Burma and India. Asked to cite his “proudest moment in uniform”, Col. Belser replied, “flying the Hump”, citing the high morale and bravery of the young flight crews.
After WW II, he was assigned to Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio, at the aircraft escape and ejection systems directorate. Here, he met and married his beloved Lee. After Dayton, he was assigned to Norton AFB in San Bernardino, Calif., then the USAF staff at the Pentagon, and the Air War College, Maxwell AFB, Montgomery, Ala. From 1963-1966, he was assigned to NASA headquarters, Houston, Texas, where he served as liaison for the astronauts during the Gemini Project.
Beginning in July 1966, while based out of Naha, Okinawa, he flew special missions over Vietnam. After multiple tours, he transitioned to flying rescue helicopters and subsequently commanded the Central Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Center in Kansas City. The CARRC mission was search-and-rescue operations in the lower 48 states, Alaska, Canada, Mexico, and Panama.
His final assignment was to Clark Air Base, Philippines, from 1972-1973. For seven weeks in February-March 1973, C-141 and C-9 aircraft under his command flew medevac missions to repatriate 591 former POWs from North Vietnam.
Col. Belser was awarded the Legion of Merit (two awards), the Distinguished Flying Cross (for landing, rather than ditching, a severely damaged C-130 aircraft over Vietnam), the Meritorious Service Medal and seven Air Medals. He was awarded Command Pilot Wings from the Nationalist Chinese Air Force and the Philippine Air Force. He was a lifetime member of the China-Burma-India ‘Hump’ Pilots Association and the Order of Daedalians, an elite fraternity of WW I & II commissioned military pilots.
‘The Colonel’ was a loving husband, devoted father, and. lifetime sportsman. He loved hunting at Fairlawn, the family plantation north of Charleston. The Belser family thanks Kathryn Phillips and Annie Rivers, who loyally supported him and his family.
A graveside service will be held at 11:00 on Saturday, August 18, 2012 at Evergreen Cemetery, Summerton. Family and friends are invited to the Belser home in Santee afterwards. Memorials may be sent to Grove Park Hospice, Orangeburg, or Summerton Presbyterian Church.
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