He was known simply as “The General” when the National Fraternity of Military Pilots held their Order of Daedalians meetings at the Nellis Air Force Base Officers Club.
He always sat at the front table, always toasted to “the United States of America” and, as a plane crash survivor, retired Air Force Brig. Gen. William W. Spruance was always grateful to be alive.
He died Saturday at a local hospice. He was 94. His friend Bob Shawhan said he had suffered from complications from a fall at his Las Vegas home in October.
“He was the true patriot, loved his country and was a very benevolent guy,” said Shawhan, the Daedalians’ flight captain and an F-86 Sabre fighter jet pilot.
“I know he’s roaming the skies leading a posse of his peers.”
Shawhan said Spruance was “very strong on education” and provided funds for others to attend college.
As an Army Air Corps lieutenant in World War II, Spruance flew rented Piper Cubs as a forward observer for Gen. George S. Patton’s tank division. He had met Patton when he was assigned to the 2nd Armored Division as a field artillery forward observer. At the time, the two were learning to fly private aircraft at a local airport.
He later was transferred to the Army Air Corps and assigned to fly cargo planes over “the Hump” to Burma to make supply drops . He flew 362 missions in the China-Burma-India theater.
William Willing Spruance was born Dec. 5, 1916, in Wilmington, Del. He graduated from Princeton University, where he was a member of the Reserve Officer Training Corp. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1939.
After the war, he became a founding member of the Delaware Air National Guard, establishing the unit in 1946.
In 1961, as a passenger in a T-33 jet trainer aircraft, he was severely burned when the plane crashed.
“That’s when he made lemonade out of lemons,” Shawhan said, noting that he made more than 3,000 presentations to pilots worldwide on flight safety and his survival experience. “Pilots have personally thanked the general for saving their lives from what he had said about crash survival.
“He told good stories and was just an interesting guy.”
Spruance also received the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal for one of this three trips to Vietnam to brief troops on the subject.
He served on the governing board of the Air Force Association for 30 years and was a member of the National Guard Association for more than 50 years, including a stint on its board of directors.
He had lived in Las Vegas for about 25 years.
Spruance was a lifetime member of the Daedalians, Red River Valley Fighter Pilots, the Hump Pilots Association, the Republican Men’s Club and Quiet Birdmen, a low-key pilots organization.
In addition to the Distinguished Service Medal, his medals include the Distinguished Flying Cross with one oak leaf cluster, and the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters. He logged more than 4,500 hours as a command pilot.
He is survived by sons William Spruance Jr. of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Thomas Spruance of Wilmington, Del., and four grandchildren.
The family prefers contributions to the Air Force Association, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and the National Guard Educational Foundation.
At the general’s request, no memorial service will be held.