NOTAM 04-2016 (Fitch)

Golden Eagle NOTAM
LtGen William H. Fitch, USMC (Ret)

Dear Golden Eagles,

It is my sad duty to inform you that LtGen William H. Fitch, USMC (Ret), 86 years old, made his Last Take-Off on January 19, 2016 in McLean, Virginia. Bill was born in Chattanooga, TN, on November 6, 1929 and grew up in Fort Meade, FL.  His father died at an early age and Bill, as the oldest of 4 children, became the patriarch of the family. His mother was a high school teacher at Fort Meade High School where Bill was graduated.  He was graduated from the University of Florida in June 1950 and enlisted as a NAVCAD in Sep ’50 at the age of 20.  He began flight training at Pensacola in Nov ’50 and flew the SNJ and F6F Hellcat. His first year out of flight school was spent flying F4U-5N Corsairs (VMF-114) from aircraft carriers: USS Wright, USS Coral Sea, and USS Tarawa. He logged over 100 arrested landings aboard USS Tarawa in the Corsair during a seven-month Med cruise. One of those landings was with the left landing gear full up and the right landing gear full down. He caught the # 7 wire (of 11 wires) with minor damage to the aircraft.  Three days after the incident, and after an engine, prop, left wing tip and left flap change he flew the aircraft from USS Tarawa on a maintenance test flight.  During the following 31 years he would fly accident free for over 6,500 hours. His second year out of Pensacola was spent flying the AD-4B Skyraider from USS Saipan operating in the Yellow Sea and Sea of Japan with (VMA-324), flying in support of the Korean War Armistice.  On Easter Sunday 1954, he launched from USS Saipan, flying an AU-1 Corsair into a small French airfield in Vietnam. That short, pierced steel matting airfield would later become DaNang, RVN. The Corsairs (20) AU-1’s) were given to the French to fly combat at Dien Bien Phu and against Viet Minh guerrillas. This 8-month cruise with VMA-324 aboard culminated in USS Saipan transiting both the Panama and Suez Canals and completing an around the world cruise during which he logged over 100 landings in the AD-4B.

In 1954 he went back home to Fort Meade, FL, where his mother introduced him to Margaret Williams, one of her high school seniors. Her parents allowed her to have one date with the older Bill Fitch.  On August 7, 1955 he married the former Margaret Marie Williams of Bartow, and they celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary last August.  In 1954 Bill checked out in the F9F-5 Panther jet and he had over a thousand hours in jets when he completed U.S. Naval Test Pilot School in class #19 at NAS Patuxent River, MD in Feb ’58.  He was assigned to NAS China Lake, CA, as a project pilot in VX-5 where he flew A-4C and FJ-4B on developmental flights for conventional and nuclear weapons. During that tour, he invented and flight tested the multiple carriage bomb rack (MCBR).  He received a US Patent and was awarded the Navy Unit Commendation Medal for his invention.  And he flew the first 13 test flights in the A-4 Skyhawk testing the MCBR.

In 1961 he deployed with an A-4B Skyhawk squadron (VMA-311) to Japan for a one-year overseas assignment.  He flew the A-4 from USS Coral Sea, USS Midway and USS Bon Homme Richard during this assignment and made his 300th arrested carrier landing.  After a brief tour on the A-4 engineering desk at BUWEPS, he served for 30 months as a staff officer in SECNAV Research and Development.  While on this shore tour, he checked out in both the A-6 Intruder and F-4 Phantom aircraft.  He commanded an A-6 squadron (VMA-225) in Cherry Point, NC, in ’66 and ’67, and in July 67, he was assigned to Chu Lai, RVN, where he commanded his second A-6 squadron (VMA-533) and where he flew night low level attack missions against North Vietnamese targets in all rout packages.  During this combat tour, he flew 310 combat missions, of which over 200 were in the A-6A and over 100 in the A-4 Skyhawk. He was awarded the Silver Star medal for a single plane A-6A low level night strike against a Hanoi target.

He was graduated from the National War College in ’71 and received a MS degree in International Affairs from George Washington University.  From April ’72 to September ’73, he commanded Marine Aircraft Group 14 and he flew F-4B/J, A-6A, EA-6A, TA-4F and RF-4B aircraft during that tour. From September’73 to July ’74, he commanded the 32nd Marine Expeditionary Unit in the Mediterranean Sea.  During this tour he flew UH-1N, AH-1J, CH-53D, and CH-46 Helicopters from USS Iwo Jima.  Bill next served as G-3, 2ND Marine Aircraft Wing for a year before moving to HQMC to serve as Executive Assistant to LtGen Tom Miller for his third Washington tour.

Promoted to brigadier general in April ’76, Bill served his flag tours sequentially as Assistant Wing Commander, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing; CG 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade in Korea; head of Marine R&D for three years at HQMC; CG, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing in Japan for two years; and head of Marine Aviation at HQMC for 26 months in his fifth and final Washington tour.  He is known as the father of the USMC “Cheap Night” program fashioned after the British RAF Hunter aircraft with a Forward Looking Infrared FLIR) and night vision goggles.  He retired as a LtGen on September 1, 1984.  Bill flew 6,895 flight hours in 121 different models of aircraft. His awards include the Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit with Combat “V” and 29 Air Medals (4 individual and 25 strike/flight) plus Vietnam Service Medals. After retiring, Bill consulted for various companies covering all USMC aviation matters.  He became a Golden Eagle in 1987 and was the Pilot for The Golden Eagles from Dec 2000 until April 2002.  LtGen Fitch will have a Memorial Service and burial at Quantico National Cemetery in early February 2016.  Details will be sent out separately after the Washington Snow Storm of 2016 clears up.  Bill was a tough warrior, a great Marine, a good friend, a fine gentleman and he will be missed!

Donald V. Boecker-Pilot