Retired Air Force Brigadier General William W. Spruance, a highly decorated military aviator and founding father of the Delaware Air National Guard, passed away at age 94 on Saturday night January 15 in Las Vegas, Nev., where he lived.
Born December 5, 1916, in Wilmington, Delaware, General Spruance became a pilot in the Army Air Corps under General Patton in World War II. Already a civilian pilot, he joined the military and trained as a military aviator. He qualified as a fighter pilot, but was assigned to fill a need as a transport pilot to fly the Hump over the Himalayas in Northern India to resupply Chinese forces fighting on the side of the Allies against the Imperial Japanese Army.
General Spruance was an original member of the Delaware Air National Guard, organized in September, 1946. He is recognized as one of the seven founding fathers of the unit, and served in various positions flying the C-45 and the C-47 Skytrain and supporting a fighter squadron. He was named assistant adjutant general for air, Delaware National Guard, with the rank of brigadier general, in 1956. He retired from that post in 1976. He came to the New Castle, Delaware ANG Base in July 2003 at a ceremony to greet hundreds of unit Airmen returning home after months of combat duty in Southwest Asia.
After surviving a near-fatal crash as a passenger in a T-33 aircraft in 1961, resulting in extensive burns, he began a lifelong and legendary safety mission that took him to dozens of bases in the U.S. and around the world to make over 2,000 presentations on flying safety and crash survival. He was the first reserve officer awarded the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal for one of his three trips to Vietnam when he gave 100 presentations to over 10,000 people, at 58 bases, in 60 days.
"Members of the American military from Delaware and from across the nation will gather in the near future to pay appropriate tribute to this great aviator, colleague, friend, mentor and inspiring leader," said Maj. Gen. Francis D. Vavala, adjutant general of the Delaware National Guard. 'We've lost a true icon."
"As a mentor of Airmen, General Spruance was at his finest, always looking for motivated young Airmen to encourage in their military careers. His desire to make young troops into the finest Citizen-Airmen warriors in the nation was equal to his love of the Air National Guard," said Maj. Gen. Hugh T. Broomall, special assistant to the director of the Air National Guard.
General Spruance was commissioned in 1939 as a second lieutenant in U.S. Army Field Artillery upon his graduation from the Princeton University Reserve Officer Training Corp. He entered active duty a year later, assigned to the 2d Armored Division at Ft. Benning, Ga., as a field artillery forward observer. First Lieutenant Spruance completed military flight training in 1943, transferred to the Army Air Corps and graduated "top gun" from flight training class 43A. He was assigned as a transport pilot to the Troop Carrier Command. Flying into Burma, he experimented with all-weather supply drops flying the C-46 Commando. He flew the "High Hump" in Burma in the C-54 Skymaster, and completed 362 missions in the China-Burma-India Theater ferrying troops and supplies. He was released from active duty in 1946.
For three decades he served on the governing board of the Air Force Association and was the Board Chairman for 17 years. He was Chairman Emeritus at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and served on the Advisory Council of their Center for Aerospace Safety Education. He also served on the Board of the Aerospace Education Foundation, and the National Guard Educational Foundation. He was a regular lecturer at the International Center for Safety Education and the Air National Guard Training and Education Center. He served the National Guard Association of the United States for over half a century, including its board of directors and the NGAUS Insurance Trust.
After his first wife passed away, General Spruance married Eunice, his second wife, in 1989. She passed away in 2009. Funeral arrangements have not been announced. This office will release more information as it becomes available.
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