John Niemela

Obituary of John Richard Niemela

Fighter Pilot and Gentleman Farmer

Colonel John Richard (Dick) Niemela U.S.A.F (Ret.), a pioneer in the advancement of jet aviation, and in retirement a single-digit handicap golfer and gentleman farmer passed away Saturday 28 August 2021 in Reston, Virginia. He was 92.

John was born in Peterborough, New Hampshire in 1928 to a large Finnish farming family of strong Lutherans. He was the oldest of 10 children. He attended Peterborough High School and upon graduation attended Suomi College (now known as Finlandia University) in Hancock Michigan. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Omaha and a master’s degree in political science from the University of New Hampshire. He was also a graduate of the Air War College.

John’s life was spent in service to his country. He entered the U.S. Air Force in 1950 and two years later joined the Air Corps.  During the Korean War he flew the F100. In the Vietnam War he flew the 01 Bird Dog as Forward Air Controller (FAC) serving with the 1st Australian Task Force in Vietnam.

He was one of the daring pilots who ushered in the era of jet aviation, testing the F86, F100, F104 and F105 aircraft. In one test run over the Sierra Mountains in California the aircraft malfunctioned and he managed the second successful downward ejection in the F104. As one of the original F104 pilots he was signed into the Order of Starfighters International F-104 Society. While stationed at Tactical Air Command at George Air Force Base in 1956 he flew the F100-C Super Sabre in the Bendix Trophy Race in a dash from George Air Force Base, California to Will Rogers Air Field, Oklahoma. He also flew the C46, C47, Beechcraft 18, DC3 and other aircraft. He was a recipient of several medals including the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star, and the Air Medal. John retired from the Air Force in 1978 as a full colonel.

As a farmer every year he planted a 30’x200’ vegetable garden that was so prolific the vegetables at times became overwhelming.  Even to his last days he applied farming and animal husbandry skills learned as a youth that are still tried and true. His love for animals was apparent as he would build strong shelters for the horses as protection from the storms, and ensuring their fields were full of clover. His peach and pear trees are prolific and especially so this year.

He is survived by his wife JoAnn Huston Niemela of 65 years, their five children, and seven grandchildren.  He also leaves a part of his heart to his surviving sisters and brothers, nieces and nephews. He was a hero to his children, a rock to his wife and a great leader to his country where great leaders like him are always needed. He will be terribly missed.

A burial at Arlington National Cemetery will take place in the coming year.

In lieu of flowers donations can be made in John’s memory to Veterans Build Habitat for Humanity.

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