NEW MADRID - Mr. Bennett Collins Commer, a resident of New Madrid, Mo., passed away Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2006.
Mr. Commer was born Dec. 18, 1921, in Pope, Miss., to William Andrew Commer and Maggie Pearl Commer.
Upon graduation from high school, Mr. Commer enrolled at Mississippi State University. At the end of his sophomore year, during the Second World War, he joined the United States Army where he was selected for flight training and assigned to the Army Air Corp. He received the wings of an aviator and was appointed a second lieutenant on April 15, 1944. During his training, he met Bettye Taylor of Lakeland, Fla., whom he married on April 26, 1946, immediately following his return from the Pacific.
As a pilot, Mr. Commer served with the 458th fighter squadron / 506th fighter group flying combat missions from Iwo Jima and Tinian. A recently published book "Very Long Range P-51 Mustang Units of the Pacific War" by Carl Molesworthy details the service of P-51 fighter pilots such as Mr. Commer who were assigned to escort bombers on missions over Japan.
Among the longest missions undertaken by fighters during the war a round trip could be as long as 1,500 miles. Almost all of which was over the Pacific Ocean, Mr. Commer's collection of photographs and memorabilia from the war and his recollections of his Army Air Corp service was a valuable resource to the author who interviewed Mr. Commer on several occasions. Lt. Commer and his plane, a P-51 nicknamed "The Boll Weevil" participated in 10 very long range missions and 31 other combat missions. The 458th fighter squadron began its combat duties from Tinian on March 28, 1945. While the squadron was flying from Tinian, Lt. Commer was one of 6 P-51 pilots temporarily assigned to assist the Navy deal with high altitude reconnaissance by the Japanese of its installation at Ulithe Attoll. During his service in the Pacific, he once caught a ride on a plane piloted by the famous actor Tyrone Powers.
At the conclusion of the War, Mr. Commer returned to the States in 1946. He wed his sweetheart and re-enrolled at Mississippi State from which he graduated in 1948. Upon graduation, he accepted a position with the University of Missouri Agricultural Extension service and moved to New Madrid. In 1951 he began a new job that ultimately led to him becoming General Manager of Cypress Manufacturing in Portageville, Mo., where he worked until his retirement in 1987. He was a longtime member of the Board of Directors of Baughmann-Oster Inc. the St. Louis-based parent of Cypress Manufacturing.
Mr. Commer is survived by his wife Bettye; daughter, Linda Offerdahl of Minneapolis, her husband Nels and their children, Joseph, Angela and Kyle; daughter, Marsha Rainey of Memphis, Tenn., her husband Brad and their children, Collins, Austin and Nelson; a niece, Billie Mae Garner of Batesville, Miss.; and the widow and children of brother, Malcolm Commer of Jonestown, Miss., Louise, Malcolm Jr. and Lenora.
Visitation will be held from 5-8 p.m. Friday at Richard's Funeral Home in New Madrid. Funeral services will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at the First United Methodist Church in New Madrid.
Pallbearers will be his grandsons, Collins Walker Rainey, Austin Taylor Rainey, Nelson Tyler Rainey, Joseph Moschera, Kyle Unzicker; and his son-in-law, Brad Rainey.
Honorary pallbearers will be John Baker, Lindell Hoggard, Walter Ivy, Nels Offerdahl, Dick Phillips Jr., Craig Scobey, Frank Taylor and Jimmy Wilson.
Memorial contributions may be sent to:
First United Methodist Church 627 Mill St. New Madrid, MO 63869