Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

Pete Knight's Record.
A look back at the full life of an American hero.
Antelope Valley Press, May 9, 2004.

Nov. 18, 1929: William J. Knight is born in Noblesville, Ind. Knight, whose Depression-era family home has no indoor plumbing, spends summers working on his grandparents' grain farm.
    Knight earns the nickname "Pete" when, in grade school, he wiggles his nose like Peter Rabbit to get a girl's attention.
    Knight attends Butler and Purdue universities before entering the armed forces.

1950: Knight is drafted into the Air Force. "I became interested in flying ... in high school and so forth," Knight said. "But it was never a burning desire." Nevertheless, Knight launches himself on what will become a long and storied flying career, earning the descriptor "unflappable" from his peers.

1952: Knight enters the Aviation Cadet Program.

1958: Knight graduates from the Experimental Test Pilot School.

1964: Knight graduates from the Aerospace Research Pilot School.

June 29, 1967: Knight's X-15 plane suffers a total power failure at 107,000 feet. Knight safely reenters the earth's lower atmosphere, according to one report, by "flying the crippled rocket plane by the seat of his pants."
    Knight recalled, "Anybody who says they are not scared is either lying or they are not too bright. You're scared, but you control your fear."

Oct. 3, 1967: Knight flies Mach 6.7, 4,520 miles per hour, twice the speed of a 30.06 bullet, in an X-15 rocket-powered airplane, earning the title of "fastest man alive." The record stands for fixed-wing aircraft.
    During the far-from-routine flight, Knight's plane suffers severe heat damage; the hydraulic lines that connect to the speed-brake actuators are damaged, but do not burn through. A witness to the flight describes the exterior of the X-15 as resembling "burnt firewood." During his series of X-15 flights, Knight ascends to 280,000 feet above the earth.

Vietnam era: Within 48 hours of finishing the X-15 program flights, Knight has orders cut for Vietnam. He flies 253 combat missions over Vietnam, including 223 in an F-100 Super Sabre squadron.

1982: Knight retires after 32 years in the Air Force, having reached the rank of colonel. He flew as the test-pilot on more than 100 types of aircraft, served as vice commander of Edwards Air Force Base and earned his astronaut wings on a trip of more than 50 miles above the earth's surface. His many honors include the Distinguished Flying Cross and enshrinement at the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

1984: Knight begins serving on the Palmdale City Council.
    A diminutive man, Knight is often low-key in public. Joe Davies, a former Air Force officer who met Knight in 1964, said his friend was motivated to enter the world of politics "by a desire to serve his state and his country, just the same as he did in the service."
    Of his transition from the military to politics, Knight remarked, "Government is a strange animal."

1988: Knight becomes Palmdale's first elected mayor. He is re-elected to a second two-year term in 1990, serving until 1992.
    Planning Commission member John Mayfield says of Knight, "I feel that Pete Knight is an outstanding leader and he set Palmdale on a course of integrity and leadership that embodies teamwork and working together for the good of the city."

1992: Knight wins a seat in the state Assembly, where he serves until 1996; his voting record and proposed bills are distinctly conservative.
    Among the causes he champions are forcing non-English-speaking students into regular classes within three years, eliminating teacher tenure and abolishing several government panels in the interest of efficiency. In state office, Knight earns the respect of political friends and foes alike.
    Oxnard Republican Nao Takasugi describes Knight as "not a very flamboyant, garrulous type of person. He thinks things over before he speaks, but when he does speak he gets attention." Democrat John Burton says Knight "participates, but he doesn't feel a necessity to get up and spout off on every issue."

1993: Knight apologizes publicly for distributing a poem that mocked Latino immigrants and offended lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

1996: Knight is elected to California's 17th Senate District, geographically the state's largest Senate district. He describes his voting record as "pro-family, pro-job creation and anti-tax."
    One of his controversial bills includes a measure to make it much easier for Californians to carry concealed weapons.
    Faced with pending disclosure in the press, Knight acknowledges that he has an adult son who is gay and a brother who died of AIDS.

2000: Knight sponsors a March ballot initiative to bar recognition of same-sex marriages in California. Denying that is he out to bash gays, Knight says he simply wants to "maintain the status quo of the family unit." Voters overwhelmingly approve the measure.

Aug. 9, 2001: An initial rendering of a mural dedicated to Knight, created by artist Val Benavides, is unveiled on the Lancaster Aerospace Walk of Honor. The mural, which will adorn a wall at the corner of Lancaster Boulevard and Elm Avenue, up the street from Knight's Walk of Honor monument, is officially dedicated on Sept. 22.
    "We're really pleased to have Pete now adorn the Walk of Honor," says Lancaster City Manager Jim Gilley. "He truly is one of America's heroes."
    Knight was accompanied by his second wife, Gail. He has three sons from a first marriage and four stepchildren; the Knights share 15 grandchildren.

Sept. 2, 2003: William J. "Pete" Knight High School, the Antelope Valley Union High School District's seventh comprehensive high school, opens for 850 freshmen on 70th Street East and Avenue S in Palmdale.

March 9, 2004: Knight's 42-year-old son David, a custom furniture maker in Baltimore, is married to his longtime partner, Joseph Lazarro, an architectural designer, in San Francisco, two days before the California Supreme Court shuts down same-sex weddings in the state. San Francisco had tested state law by sanctioning almost 4,000 gay and lesbian marriages.
    The elder Knight declines to talk about his son's legally uncertain marriage, though he insists his drive to keep gays from marrying doesn't make him anti-gay.
    David Knight is the only one of "Pete" Knight's three sons to follow his father into a career as a military pilot. David graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy and flew jets in the first Persian Gulf War.
    "My father was certainly proud of me. He spoke at my pilot training graduation," David Knight recalled.

April 7, 2004: Knight is diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia, which develops when there is a defect in bone marrow.

April 12, 2004: Knight takes a leave of absence from his Senate duties for rigorous medical testing related to his illness.

May 4, 2004: Knight spokesman David Orosco announces that the senator "will be undergoing appropriate treatment for this sudden ailment." Acute myelogenous leukemia is often treated with chemotherapy and radiation.

May 7, 2004: Knight passes away about 7:30 p.m. at City of Hope National Medical Center in Duarte. "The worst thing about this is he wanted to keep working, going, contributing," said Knight's wife, Gail. "He wanted to live. He wanted to try. God had a different plan."

    Knight's lifetime honors include a 100% pro-taxpayer voting record, as recognized by the California Taxpayers Association; a 100% pro-jobs voting record, as recognized by the California Chamber of Commerce; a Taxfighter Award from the National Tax Limitation Committee; a Distinguished Citizenship Award from Palmdale Elks Lodge #2027; a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Palmdale Education Foundation; a Legislative Achievement Award from the Law Enforcement Alliance of America; a Defender of Freedom Award from the National Rifle Association; and a Recognition of Outstanding Contribution from the California Pilots Association.

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