By Sgt. Dylan Bowyer, Defense Media Activity
TRIANGLE, Va. -- Lieutenant Gen. William H. Fitch (ret.), the former Deputy Commandant for Aviation and a 32-year Marine veteran, died Jan. 19, 2016. A ceremony to celebrate his life was held at the Quantico National Cemetery in Triangle, Virginia, Feb. 4, 2016.
With approximately 50 people, including family, friends and service members, gathered under a gazebo, Fitch’s family took time to reflect on what he meant to them.
“When I look back at it, Uncle Bill was a patient and deliberate force in my life; when I needed it the most, he helped guide my life in and out of the military,” said Cmdr. Jason Fitch, Fitch’s nephew. “By living life on his terms, [he] has reinforced everything I know about living life; how to honor and love your wife, take care of family first, and how to serve your country with integrity.
“So really, truly everyone should grow up with an Uncle Bill like I did,” said Jason.
Fitch was commissioned as a Marine Corps second lieutenant April 1, 1952. As a pilot, Fitch flew 310 combat missions in Vietnam and logged more than 6,800 flight hours in various aircraft, to include the F4U-5N Corsairs fighter aircraft, the AD-4B Skyraider attack aircraft, the A-4C Skyhawk attack aircraft and the FJ-4B fighter aircraft, of which the last two were still in development.
During his tour in Vietnam, Fitch flew a night mission to take out a communication installation. Fitch was awarded the Silver Star for the bombing of the installation and maneuvering through dangerous terrain.
Fitch was also the commanding officer for Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 225, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 533, Marine Aircraft Group 14 and the 32nd Marine Expeditionary Unit. He also served as the commanding general of 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade and 1st Marine Aircraft Wing before his final assignment as Deputy Commandant for Aviation until his retirement in 1984.
“A lot of the things the Deputy Commandant for Aviation has to do is drive programs to make sure tomorrow’s Corps is set up for success,” said Lt. Gen. Jon M. Davis, the current Deputy Commandant for Aviation. “General Fitch did that better than anyone I know.”
During Fitch’s time as the Marine Corps top aviator, he voted to bring in the F-18D instead of the A-6F. Fitch felt the A-6F would not be up to what the Marine Corps needed in the future, despite being awarded his Silver Star while flying this aircraft.
“Everyone I knew and everyone I met who worked with him speaks of his ability to directly express what he wanted to see and what he expected of you,” said Jason.
Fitch was known for his unique leadership capabilities, according to Davis. An example of this is when he was at VMA-533, where he took them to Yuma, Ariz., and conducted more than 900 flight hours in 30 days, improving the young Marines’ confidence and experience with the aircraft in their unit. He then took them to Vietnam, where the squadron flew some of the most dangerous missions in North Vietnam.
“He was a visionary; his whole career was about supporting the Marine on the ground with Marine aircraft,” said Davis.