State Rep. John Rogers (D-Mentor-on-the-Lake) today announced the passage of House Bill (HB) 276, legislation designating the bridge spanning the Grand River and leading into Fairport Harbor as the “Col. Donald Blakeslee Memorial Bridge.”

“We recognize those who grew up during the depression, going on to labor or fight in World War II, as the Greatest Generation in our nation’s history,” said Rogers. “Col. Blakeslee’s exploits certainly distinguished him as being one at the top of that class of those Americans. This recognition ensures that his service to our country is never forgotten.”

The proposal, originally introduced by Rep. Rogers as House Bill (HB) 26, was subsequently incorporated into HB 276, an omnibus legislation addressing several other honorary road and bridge naming bills. 

Born in Fairport Harbor on September 11, 1917, Donald James Matthew Blakeslee became fascinated with planes as a child while watching the Cleveland National Air Races in the mid-1930s. As a young man, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, serving in England with the 401st Squadron and flying Spitfire’s during the early stages of the war. 

Once the United States entered the conflict, he joined the United States Army Air Force, where as a fighter pilot, he earned the distinction of being one of the most highly decorated Flying Ace’s of World War Two. While commanding the Fourth Fighter Group of the Eighth Fighter Command in the European Theatre, he was responsible for three squadrons, each consisting of 16 P-51’s that quickly became one of the most effective fighter groups fighting the Luftwaffe.

On March 6, 1944, Colonel Blakeslee’s fighter group became the first American fighter squadron to reach Berlin as the Allies ground down the German Luftwaffe. In his four years in flying over Europe, Col. Blakeslee flew nearly 500 missions, served a combined 1,000 combat hours, while destroying 1,020 German aircraft – “more missions and hours than any other American fighter pilot of World War II” according to the American Fighter Aces Association.   

In all, Blakeslee received two Distinguished Service Crosses, seven Distinguished Flying Crosses, two Silver Stars, six Air Medals and the British Distinguished Cross. Continuing his service into the Korean War, he went on to receive the Legion of Merit, another Distinguished Flying Cross, and four Air Medals.

After gallantly serving his country, Col. Blakeslee settled in Florida where he went on to marry and raise a family. Col. Blakeslee died at the age of 90 in 2008.

The legislation, strongly supported by the Village of Fairport Harbor, now moves to the Ohio Senate for further consideration.

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