By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer
Before a bunch of medals adorned his U.S. Air Force uniform, he was the star of a group of Belton friends who called themselves the Magnificent Seven.
The late Lt. Col. Raymond Roessler had a dynamic personality, said Mike Beevers of Belton, one of the Magnificent Seven graduates from Belton High School's class of 1982.
'He was outgoing, popular, witty and fun,' Beevers said. 'He was our alter ego. He was the way the rest of us wanted to be.'
Roessler, 43, died early Friday morning while piloting a single-engine plane that crashed near the top of Cajon Pass, between the San Bernardino Mountains and the San Gabriel Mountains in Southern California. Being the only two boys in their high school clique, Beevers said he and Roessler would often go to parties together.
'Most of the time - stag,' Beevers said. 'I never had a girlfriend in high school. He did - once, but it didn't last too long. So whenever there was something to do, it was us two guys together.'
Group projects and homework assignments often took place on the living room floor at Jane Anne Cox's childhood home in Belton. Her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Joe Baisden, remember those years fondly.
The seven were always welcome in the house, no matter the reason, and Mrs. Baisden said she always enjoyed their company. She described the bunch as well-mannered and polite.
'I can't tell you how many times Ray stepped over my feet,' Baisden said, laughing.
Baisden remembers asking Roessler not too long ago how many times his feet got in Roessler's way.
'The boy said it was too many times to count,' Baisden said - still tickled by the old memory. 'Come to think of it, I can't even remember why I was in the living room.'
His grown daughter started giggling at him.
'It was because you fell asleep watching TV,' Mrs. Cox said. 'And your legs would be stretched out in the way of everything. But Raymond would go 'no big deal' and step over you.'
Baisden will give the eulogy at Roessler's service set for 10 a.m. Friday at the Church of the Visitation in Westphalia.
After graduation, the friends stayed close but the demands of adult life took them in different directions.
'But we seem to run into each other every five years or so, and we pick up right where we left off,' Mrs. Cox said, noting that the last time all seven were together was in 1998 at Roessler's wedding.
A member of the U.S. Air Force, Roessler was, of course, not someone his friends would happen to bump into at the grocery store. His job took him across the globe, from one adventure to the next.
But he had his way of keeping touch.
Beevers recalls one random visit in 1990 that started with a 1:30 a.m. CB radio call from emergency response headquarters at West Cliff Park No. 2.
'Raymond was at Belton Lake with an Air Force buddy, watching the water from Ray's truck,' Beevers said.
Roessler had parked his truck on the boat ramp, Beevers said, and apparently didn't notice the change in tide.
'It dawns on Raymond that there's water around them, all the way up to the windows,' Beevers said. 'He convinces emergency response call - not the police - but me instead.'
Beevers did what any good friend would do. He set out to rescue Roessler, choosing not to be annoyed at being disturbed in the middle of the night.
'So I get in my truck - it was a big 1-ton,' Beevers said. 'I drove down there and pulled his silly butt out of the water and gave him a ride back to his mama's house.'
Beevers shook his head, his cheeks slightly reddened from laughing.
'That's Raymond,' Beevers said, shaking his head. 'Silly... A jokester and prankster. All the things he did were just for good ole' fun. They never were malicious.'
Some of Roessler's pranks, Beevers said, were putting potatoes in exhaust pipes and throwing flaming bags of horse manure in neighbors' yards.
'It was for laughs, not to be mean to anyone,' Beevers said with a straight face, quick to admit he was Roessler's partner in crime.
Roessler's parents, Nelda and Marvin (Buddy) Roessler of Belton, are on their way to Utah today for Wednesday's memorial service in their son's honor at Hill Air Force Base - where Roessler had been stationed.
Still trying to understand the tragedy that claimed their son's life, the couple said the first order of business was to get the word out.
'Everything he did during his school years, he did in Belton,' Mrs. Roessler said. 'He was a good kid who went out his way to help everyone.'
Activities that sparked her son's attention were action-packed, she said, like scuba diving, motorcycle riding - and plane flying.
'I've known Raymond since the eighth grade,' Beevers said. 'And being a pilot was something he always wanted. The year we graduated he found out that his eyesight was too bad for him to fly for the military. That crushed him.'
His eyesight wasn't too poor to obtain a civilian's pilot's license, though. As a civilian pilot, Roessler was licensed for more than 20 years.
The last plane trip Roessler took started at midnight from Long Beach, Calif.
On official business from Hill Air Force Base, he had talked to some contractors from Boeing about airplane design, a base spokesman said.
His one-man flight was headed for Henderson, Nev.
Reports from the Associated Press say air traffic control lost contact with Roessler's plane at 12:42 a.m. The first sighting of the plane wreckage at Cajon Pass was reported just before 6 a.m.
The cause of the crash is still under investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration.
The weather that night was bad, with heavy fog and rain, according to Associated Press reports.
Local pilots interviewed by the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, a newspaper that services residents near Cajon Pass, said Roessler must have been scud running - or flying underneath the clouds. Since communication was halted, those pilots said he must have been using visual flight rules.
Maj. Bob Keilholtz of the Civil Air Patrol said visual flight means a pilot 'flies with his eyes and brain, not instruments.'
That was a situation Beevers said Roessler could have handled.
'There had to have been a mechanical failure,' Beevers said. 'There was nothing that surprised that man. He was meticulous, always prepared for everything.'
'He was a fun-loving, high achiever who wanted to do everything,' Mrs. Roessler said about her son, perhaps pinpointing why he would relish the challenge of piloting a plane through difficult conditions.