Richard Halsey Best was born 24 March 1910, in Bayonne, New Jersey. While attending Stevens Institute, Best won a competitive appointment to the Naval Academy. After graduation from Annapolis in 1932, he was assigned to the light cruiser, USS Richmond. But he couldn’t forget the thrill of attending the 1927 parade honoring Charles Lindbergh. Dick Best made his way to Pensacola, Florida in November 1934 for naval flight training. Flying a variety of trainers, from single-engine biplanes to multi-engine float planes, and getting dive bombing and gunnery practice along the way, he earned his gold wings in December 1935.
His first operational assignment was to Fighting Two, embarked on the USS Lexington. Flight training had not included any actual carrier qualification landing, so he made his first with Fighting Two. Flying the F2F, Best spent the next two years participating in fleet exercises, including a Hawaiian attack scenario. In the summer of 1938, he was posted back to Pensacola as a flight instructor. Curriculum had expanded, and trainers had become more modern since Best’s tour as a student. Activity was hectic; everyone at Pensacola believed war was inevitable. He received orders for Bombing Squadron Six (VB-6) in May 1940. On 10 June 1940, Best assumed duties as Operations Officer of VB-6, assigned to the USS Enterprise and operating out of Pearl Harbor. VB-6 received the SBD Dauntless in the summer of 1941, and the fall was spent practicing battle procedures as the fleet steamed at night, under blacked-out conditions. On 28 November 1941, the Enterprise squadrons departed Pearl and joined their carrier southwest of Hawaii. After a mission to take Marine aircraft to Wake Island, the Enterprise battle group was delayed by a refueling accident.
Originally scheduled to arrive back in port on 6 December, this fortunate accident caused Enterprise to be at sea on the morning of 7 December 1941. The months after Pearl Harbor saw Best involved in scouting patrols and in attacks on the Marshalls, Wotje, Taroa, Wake Island, and Marcus Island. A rendezvous with the USS Hornet revealed the Doolittle raiders aboard, shortly before their daring Tokyo raid. In reserve for the Battle of the Coral Sea, Enterprise and Best were at the heart of the Battle of Midway. On 4 June 1942, Best and his wingmen sank the Japanese carrier Akagi on a morning sortie and left another carrier, the Hiryu, a burning hulk on an afternoon sortie. These were to be his last missions; he was medically retired in 1944 as a lieutenant commander. Dick Best retired in 1975 from a second career with the RAND Corporation.