Known as “Colonel” to his many friends and business associates in Petaluma, where he’s lived for the past 35 years, Morehead earned the moniker, “Wildman of Hamilton” for flying upside down from Hamilton Field to Sacramento in 1941. At 94, he still possesses the steely nerved self-confidence of the airborne warrior that earned a chest-full of medals, including two Distinguished Service Crosses (our country’s second-ranking decoration for extraordinary heroism), the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Silver Star and membership in the Legion of Valor.
His tales of flying the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk in air battles over the Pacific are mesmerizing, and well-documented in his book, “In My Sights: The Memoir of a P-40 Ace,” but even if you don’t read his book, you can listen to him speak of being among the highly selected pilots who were destined for aerial combat and how he “really laid into those enemy bombers,” and “just riddled that plane right up to the cockpit” with his six 50-caliber machine guns as he fought not only for his own survival but to protect our country’s freedom in the early stages of World War II.
Of his first taste of aerial combat as a P-40 pilot, Morehead said, “I was just hoping to get through it — to get experience for the next encounter.”
After the war, he became a squadron commander in Italy and base commander of Chico Air Force Base before going to Formosa (Taiwan), where he trained Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Chinese Air Force pilots to fly jet fighters. He then served at the Pentagon until retiring as a “full bird” colonel in 1967.
But there’s much more to Morehead’s story than being an ace fighter pilot and decorated war hero. In 1967, while living in San Rafael, he and his wife, Betty, purchased the F Street Apartments in Petaluma and operated them until 1975, the year they, along with son Jimmy and daughters Melanie and Myrna, moved to a ranch on Sonoma Mountain. Their company, Morehead Enterprises, then purchased a 38-acre parcel on Dynamic Way, which they developed into Petaluma’s first industrial park. Another of their projects included developing 22 acres near Industrial Drive and Petaluma Boulevard North.
As a kid growing up hunting in rural Oklahoma, Morehead became a marksman with a hunting rifle, a talent he says enabled him to survive in air combat. Those childhood hunting experiences and other opportunities enabled him to become a renowned big game hunter whose mounted trophies from around the world impressively fill his home. Included in Morehead’s collection is a cape buffalo from Botswana, an African lion, a baboon from Ethiopia, a dik dik and a grizzly bear. Among the various species of antelope on display in his museum-like living room is a record book verifying the 12th largest antelope ever taken in Africa. A hyena pelt covers the door to his “bird room,” where his talent for taxidermy is displayed on the walls. He’s one of just 27 people in the world to have taken the “grand slam” of all six subspecies of wild turkey in North America, which he has mounted on the walls of his den.