Military News

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Oldest Rocketeer turns 100

by Airman 1st Class Ashley Williamson
4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

9/15/2015 - SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. -- Airmen from the 336th Fighter Squadron Rocketeers traveled to Albuquerque, New Mexico, Sept. 3, for the 100th birthday celebration of the oldest surviving Rocketeer fighter pilot, retired 1st Lt. William "Bill" Corbett Slade.

The celebration was an opportunity for six Rocketeers to learn about their squadron history, meet some war heroes and shake hands with a legend.

Slade, a native of Paris, Texas, turned 100 on Sept. 5, 2015, at Roswell Air Force Base, New Mexico. He was a member of the 133rd Pursuit Squadron when it changed its squadron number from the 133rd PS to the 336th FS.  The 133rd Pursuit Squadron, Royal Air Force, was the third Eagle Squadron formed from American volunteers serving in the RAF during World War II.

"We benefited just by going down there to meet upwards of 100 veterans, who were all World War II-type people, Korea and Vietnam vets," said Flt. Lt. Douglas McKay, an RAF pilot assigned to the 336th FS. "We got to chat with a guy who flew a Spitfire and a Thunderbolt. This guy was a pilot in our squadron when he transferred over from the Spitfire to the P-47 Thunderbolts."

At his birthday celebration, Slade met the current youngest Rocketeer, 1st Lt. Benjamin Bowman, an F-15E Strike Eagle weapons systems officer.

"It was humbling to meet a Rocket, who at the same age I am now, was flying combat missions in Europe against the Nazis during World War II, particularly the Battle of Britain," Bowman said. "There is a lot of history with our eagle squadrons at Seymour Johnson that we all know about, but to hear it firsthand really brought it to life. Bill Slade helped lay the groundwork for the fighter pilot ethos that lives on today in the 336th FS."

Slade first flew the Spitfire for the 133rd Pursuit Squadron in April 1942 during tense times on the Western Front as the Allied forces fought to maintain superiority while wielding an effective, strategic bombing campaign against the Nazis.

"The most rewarding part of the trip was hearing his stories," Bowman said. "He was still remarkably sharp for turning 100 years old. He clearly enjoyed flying back in the day and still loves talking about it. Telling us all of his stories and talking about his plane, the Spitfire, seemed to be the part he enjoyed most of the night."

Members of the 336th FS presented Slade with a photo of the squadron in front of a Spitfire, which stands tall in front of the Heritage Hall at Seymour Johnson AFB, and picture of an F-15E Strike Eagle signed by all the current Rocketeers.

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