In Memory of
U.S. Air Force First Lieutenant Canistota, South Dakota
McCook County

March 5, 1928 – September 6, 1952
Died in the crash of a T-33 Jet Trainer near Moab, Utah


Donald Wingert was born on March 5, 1928, in Canistota, South Dakota, to Mathias and Adelaide “Lyda” (Doeden) Wingert. Donald’s siblings were Klaas, Veronica, Velna, Marvin, Robert, and Marcia. Donald went to school in Canistota, graduating from high school in 1946. From there, he went to General Beadle State Teachers College in Madison for a year and then to USD in Vermillion for another year. For a time he was in the South Dakota Air National Guard. He loved to play basketball, football, and track, and he took flying lessons. Donald also loved to sing and dance and be with family and friends. He was very active in the Catholic Church. His family also remembers that he was handsome and went on lots of dates.

Donald Wingert joined the U.S. Air Force on January 16, 1950, and had basic pilot training at Perrin Air Force Base in Sherman, Texas and after rigorous training, graduated as a pilot and received his wings from Williams Air Force Base in Arizona on February 10, 1951, in Class 51-A, 3525th Pilot Training Wing. According to a letter sent from the headquarters at Williams AFB, “the mission of the Fighter School is the development of the finest fighter pilots and officers in the world.” Among other requirements, Wingert had to get 65 hours of flight training on the B-25 bomber and the F-80 jet fighter and complete 150 hours of classroom work. Because Donald was a talented clarinetist and vocalist, he and other pilots-in-training formed a dance band and played at base parties.

After receiving his commission, 1st Lt. Wingert was stationed in the 51st Fighter Interceptor Bomber Squadron in Korea from May to December of 1951. During this time he flew his jet fighter bomber which he had named “The Canistota Clipper,” on sixty two combat missions and had clocked 89 combat hours as of November 24, 1951. During that time, Lt. Wingert had been awarded the Korean Theater ribbon and the Air Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster “for meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight.”

1st Lt. Wingert returned home from Korea and was first sent to Larson AFB to Val Dasta, Georgia, and then on to Panama City, Florida, before returning to Larson AFB, to be permanently assigned at the beginning of May in 1952.

On September 6, 1952, while flying a T-33, twin-seated jet trainer on an instrument navigation training flight from Odgen, Utah to El Paso, Texas, 1st Lt. Wingert and Lt. Harsh had engine malfunctions in their T-33 near Grand Junction, Utah. Wingert radioed that since they could not restart the engine, they were bailing out. For a short time, the two men were missing and their fate was not known, although the telegram indicated that it was thought Donald had bailed out safely, so the Wingert family waited for more news. Within 48 hours, however, word was received through the Commanding Officer of the 82nd Fighter Inceptor Squadron that Donald had not survived the bail out; Lt. Harsh did survive but was badly injured. Specifics of the accident were then learned: the plane had caught on fire, the controls had been burned off, and was out of control and too low of an altitude by the time that Donald was able to bail out and he couldn’t get his chute open in time to break his fall. The crash occurred about 20 miles southwest of Moab, Utah. According to the Air Force, “The elapsed time from when the plane went out of control until Donald was killed could not have been over three minutes.”

1st Lt. Wingert’s body was returned with military escort and he was buried with military honors at Wellington Cemetery near Canistota. The Chaplain of Larson AFB wrote a long letter to Donald’s parents and included were these words: “His duty towards God came above everything else, and he performed it nobly.” And from the Commanding Officer of the AFB, a letter, which had these lines: “Don was a well liked, highly respected, Christian gentleman and will always be fondly remembered by all of us.”

His brothers and sisters who survived him were Klaas Wingert, Veronica Hurry, Velna Tieszen, Dr. Marvin Wingert, Col. Robert Wingert, M.D., and Marcia Williams. Even after 52 years, his family misses him still.


This entry was respectfully submitted by Cody Silvernagel and Brett Ross, 8th Grade East, Spearfish Middle School, Spearfish, South Dakota, May 25, 2004. Information and documents were provided by Velna Tieszen and Marcia Williams, sisters, and newspaper clippings. Profile approval by Marcia Williams on behalf of the Wingert family.