Brig. Gen. William W. Spruance (USAF Ret.)
William W. "Bill" Spruance, a pioneer in the early use of aircraft in the forward air
control role, flew 362 missions in the China-India-Burma Theater and continues to be
a major force in aviation. A native of Wilmington, Delaware, Spruance received his
commission in the US Army Field Artillery Officers Reserve Corps from Princeton
University in 1939. He was assigned to Fort Benning, Georgia, as a field artillery
forward observer in the 2d Armored Division commanded by George S. Patton. In his
spare time Spruance flew his own aircraft, a low-wing Culver Cadet, at the municipal
airport where Patton was also learning to fly. Spruance and Patton met, and discussed
the role of light aircraft on the battlefield. Patton was duly impressed with the young
officer's innovative ideas and understood their applicability. Reporting directly to
Patton, Spruance was given authority to develop new techniques, train observers, and
fly leaders over their units during maneuvers. Lacking light Army Air Corps (AAC)
aircraft, he flew his personal Culver or rented private aircraft. His pioneering work
promoted the use of light aircraft throughout Europe in WW II, laying the foundation
for today's forward air control mission.
At Patton's suggestion, Spruance joined the USAAF in 1942. Enrolled in the first
aviation class of officers, he reported to training in his own aircraft asking, "Where do
I go to learn how to fly?" He received the top score in class 43A in aerial gunnery but
was assigned to fly the C-47 Skytrain because of a shortage of transport pilots. In 1944
he activated and commanded the 4th Combat Cargo Squadron, flying the C-46
Commando. Spruance completed his 362d combat mission while flying the High
Hump in the C-54 Skymaster.
In October 1945 he left active duty and in 1946 helped found the Delaware Air
National Guard. He was later named Chairman of the Delaware Aeronautics
Commission. In 1961 Spruance received extensive burns in a near-fatal T-33 crash. He
has since delivered a powerful safety message to over 150,000 people in over 1,500
presentations. Spruance was awarded the first AF Distinguished Service Medal given
to other than a Regular officer for his work in Vietnam, where in 1968 he briefed over
100 times to more than 10,000 people at 58 bases in 60 days. Other honors include two
Distinguished Flying Crosses, four Air Medals, and three Delaware Conspicuous
Service Crosses. Spruance is a command pilot with over 4,500 hours. He is Chairman
Emeritus of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, having been Board Chairman for
17 years. He is a permanent member of the Board of the Air Force Association and is
on the Board of the Aerospace Education Foundation. *
General Spruance passed away at age 94 in January 2011.
Delaware Air National Guard honors memory of founding leader Gen. William W.
Spruance: General recalled as hero, joker, safety advocate
Mar. 26, 2011
As the Delaware Air National Guard paid tribute Friday to one of its founders, the late
Brig. Gen. William W. Spruance, the sweetest moment was an unexpected one.
After speeches, displays and a video at Guard headquarters at New Castle Airport
hailed Spruance as a one-of-a-kind hero, aviation pioneer, safety advocate and
philanthropist, it was time to unveil his portrait.
Then the guest who knew him longest, not set to talk because of his health, thrilled
the crowd by asking to say a few words.
Retired Lt. Gen. Clarence E. "Ed" Atkinson -- like Spruance, a founder and former
adjutant general of the Delaware National Guard -- said they met in 1946 during talk
of starting the Guard, initially a fighter-jet unit. "We became dear friends," he said, and
their families also grew close.
Atkinson recalled that Spruance -- who died Jan. 15 at 94 -- was stoic after barely
surviving a 1961 jet crash that killed the Guard's commander, Lt. Col David F.
Spruance became a crash survival and safety advocate after his massive injuries and
burns so bad that his hand was sewn into his abdomen to try to save it and he still
lost several fingers.
"With all he went through, all the pain, I never heard him complain," Atkinson said.
He also teased Mike Castle, the former governor and U.S. representative, who spoke
Castle called Spruance "an incredible human being ... a great general and a great hero."
But he phoned so much about getting new planes, Castle said, "sometimes I just
couldn't handle it."
Atkinson, who knew Spruance as brilliant but ornery, said, "If there's a phone in
heaven, Mike Castle, you're going to get some calls."
Atkinson told of Spruance pranking a guy who fell asleep on a plane.
He got the other guys to don parachutes and they woke the sleeper with the jump
He was such a joker, Atkinson said, he asked him for some jokes. Spruance sent him a
DVD full -- some a bit risqué.
"He was a great friend," Atkinson said. "I think we're all going to miss him who knew
him and loved him and sometimes put up with him."
by Robin Brown
Extracts from Wartime Form 5 (Individual Flight Record)
William W. Spruance from Preflight to Discharge ( a handwritten note found among
his flight records)
Glider (CG4A) 3:15
Less that 200 hp (L3, 4s etc.) 27:25
BT9 and 14 83:80
Total Flying School 220:45
DC-3 (C-55, C49, C-47) 663:20
Approximately 900 hours operational (combat)
100 hours routine = 1000 overseas in one year
Missions: 341 so called combat missions (one way) into Burma, 30 round trips over the
hump. Civilian time prior to war, approx. 300 hours
Colonel William A. Spruance
Father of William W. Spruance
William A. Spruance (1873-1935) was an engineer and executive whose skillful
management helped DuPont make its transition from explosives manufacturing to
diversified chemical production in the early 20th century. He joined DuPont in 1903 as
a consulting engineer in the High Explosives Operating Department and headed that
department's new Light, Heat and Power Division for several years before becoming
Director of the Explosives Manufacturing Division. When the United States entered
World War I in 1917 the U.S. Army urgently sought Spruance's expertise in munitions
production. He took a leave of absence from DuPont to serve as Assistant to the Army
Chief of Ordnance and also as Chairman of the Army's Commodity Commission on
Powder and Explosives. Colonel Spruance received the Distinguished Service Medal for
his wartime contributions.
When Spruance returned to DuPont in 1919 he was appointed to the company's Board
of Directors as well as to the Executive Committee as Vice President in charge of
production. Spruance was among several executives who helped reorganize DuPont in
1921 to allow greater day-to-day flexibility for manufacturing divisions while freeing
the Executive Committee to consider long-term, company-wide issues. Spruance
encouraged diversification of DuPont's products by supporting its fledgling rayon
business in the early 1920s, and by visiting France in 1923 to assess the potential for
cellophane manufacturing in the United States. Later that year he led negotiations to
acquire the U.S. rights for cellophane production and helped form the DuPont
Cellophane Company. Spruance served as Chairman of the Board of Directors of both
the DuPont Cellophane Company and the DuPont Fibersilk (later, Rayon) Company,
two cornerstones of DuPont's diversification effort. The company's Spruance plant,
opened in 1929 at Richmond, Virginia, was named in his honor.
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