William Hamilton “Bill” Gregory, a former naval aviator and member of America’s “Greatest Generation”; a gifted writer, reporter and editor, and a devoted husband and father, passed away on October 3, 2019 at the age of 95.
Mr. Gregory was born on April 15, 1924 in Kansas City, MO to Wesley Hall Gregory of Kansas City, MO and Margaret Rempe, of Plainville, KS. He lost his father at a young age, but was surrounded and supported by a large extended family. He spoke fondly of his uncle, Riddelle Gregory Sr., who took his role as a substitute father figure very seriously, and of time with his beloved grandmother and aunts and uncles in eastern Kansas. He especially enjoyed the somewhat dangerous combination of “farm cousins with resources and a city boy with imagination.” His love of airplanes developed early, after his mother took him on a short birthday flight at a local airport, which left her weak-kneed and thankful to still be alive and the young Bill pleading for more.
Bill enlisted in the U.S. Navy following the attack on Pearl Harbor at age 17, and entered flight training at Corpus Christi Naval Air Station, earning his wings as a Naval Aviator in 1944. Before being deployed to the Pacific, he did some of his flight training in Florida from the Banana River Naval Air Station, now Patrick Air Force Base.
Bill was assigned to the Navy Carrier Air Group 153/15 on board the Coral Sea (CVE-57) which was later renamed Anzio where he flew Grumman and General Motors versions of the Wildcat fighter. He once narrowly escaped death when landing on the carrier when his aircraft missed the restraining wire and went off the end of the deck into the Pacific, where the Wildcat exploded. Bill’s training kicked in as the aircraft sank and he was able to unbuckle and swim to the surface where he was rescued.
After that, he was reassigned to fly the legendary gull-winged Vought F4U Corsair fighter. Once again he escaped death when panicked U.S. Navy gunners fired tracers past his fighter, mistaking it for a Japanese enemy aircraft as he scrambled his aircraft off the carrier deck in the midst of a kamikaze attack. Lt. Gregory continued to serve as a Navy pilot until the end of the war.
After the war, Bill attended Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska where he met and fell in love with Virginia Marie Gregg. They married in 1946 and he graduated with a degree in Journalism in 1947.
Bill spent most of his professional life immersed in both aircraft and spaceflight both hands-on and through journalism. He began as a reporter for The Clinton Herald, Clinton, IA and then for The Kansas City Star, Kansas City, MO.
Wishing to get back into aviation, he joined the weekly McGraw-Hill magazine, Aviation Week in 1956, where he began as an Associate Editor based in New York City. In 1958, he was promoted to Managing Editor where he oversaw all of the magazine’s reporting operations. In 1960 with the advent of Soviet and US satellites, Russian cosmonauts and American astronauts, Bill recommended the name of the magazine be changed to Aviation Week & Space Technology. During the six Apollo Moon landings between 1969-72, he was able put his expertise as an accomplished amateur geologist to work by reporting in detail on the new lunar surface science operations. In 1972 he was appointed as Executive Editor, then in 1979 promoted again to Editor-in-Chief, this time based in Washington, DC where served until 1985, when he moved to Boston becoming the magazine’s Senior Editor Northeast. Bill retired in 1987 after 30 years with Aviation Week & Space Technology.
When the spinoff magazine, Commercial Space magazine was launched by McGraw-Hill in March 1985, Bill was invited to the White House to present then President Ronald Reagan with the first issue. He also was invited to the White House again several years later to meet President George H. W. Bush, where he was introduced as a “fellow Navy pilot”. Bill and President Bush joked back and forth, claiming each had been the youngest Navy pilot.
Mr. Gregory authored several books following his retirement: The Defense Procurement Mess (1989), The Price of Peace (1992), and Inside the Iron Works: How Grumman's Glory Days Faded (2004).
Bill was the grandson of William Hayden Gregory and Martha Jane Kinsey of Atlanta, GA. Mr. Gregory was predeceased by his two sisters; Virginia Rose Matthews and Laurel Lee Des Marteau and his half-brother Riddelle Lester Gregory Sr. (father of the late professional Formula 1 race car driver and 1965 winner of the 24 Hours of La Mans,) Masten Calvin Gregory, of Kansas City, MO.
While living in Westport, CT, Bill enjoyed going to the beach with his family, tending his apple and peach trees as well as his vegetable garden, and becoming a certified Master Gardener. His pies, prepared with his home-grown fruit and prepared using techniques handed down from his mother, were legendary. Many weekends were spent working on his MG’s, a TC and two TD’s, to keep them running for local car rallies, or in searching the backcountry for mineral specimens. Bill and Virginia continued to enjoy horticulture, rock hounding, and travel during moves to northern Virginia and Tucson, Arizona.
Bill and Virginia celebrated their 73rd wedding anniversary on September 4, 2019. Their long, happy marriage produced six children: Robert Douglas Gregory (Karah Stokes) of Frankfurt, KY, Peter Wesley Gregory (Kathleen Chisholm) of Phoenix, AZ, Susan Burness Cooke (David B. Cooke) of Ellicott City, MD, Nancy Gregory Covault (Craig Covault) of Viera, FL, Martha Ann Gregory of Viera, FL and Kathryn Gregory Wodzicki (Wojteck Wodzicki) of Vancouver, Canada; grandchildren, Sarah Frances Cooke of Ellicott City, MD, Emily Cooke Shreve (Aaron Shreve) of Columbia, MD, Andrew Cooke of Columbia, MD, and Gregory David Cooke (Kelly MacBride-Gill) of Baltimore, MD; Anne Covault Treverton (Raoul Treverton) of Houston, TX, Eleanor Covault Mims (Oscar Mims III) of Peachtree City, GA; Miles Masten MacGregor (Kim) of Los Angeles, CA; and Alexander, Anna, and Maria Wodzicki of Vancouver, Canada. Bill was also blessed with four great-grandchildren; Isaac, Miles, Wyatt, and Max. His family was blessed to have him in their lives for so many years.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial gifts be designated to the Blessed Mary Grotto Fund at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church. Gifts may be made online or mailed to: St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, Attn: Blessed Mary Grotto Building Fund, 5655 Stadium Parkway, Viera, FL, 32940.
St John the Evangelist Catholic Church
5655 Stadium Parkway, Viera FL 32940