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University of North Carolina
Naval ROTC Alumni Association

LTJG William Gowan McWilliams, III

United States Navy

Date of Birth: 2 July 1942 Born in Miami Beach, Florida

Next of Kin:
William Gowan McWilliams, Jr. (father)
Joe Louise McWilliams (mother)
Peter McWilliams (brother)
Kirk McWilliams (brother)

Commissioned: 1 June 1964

Last Duty Station: VF-111, deployed on board USS Oriskany (CVA-34) - F8 Crusader pilot


Circumstances of Death:

LTJG William Gowan McWilliams, III, 24, died as a result of asphyxiation during fire on board his carrier the morning of October 26, 1966.

The USS Oriskany was on "Yankee station" off the coast of North Vietnam when a fire broke out in a locker containing illumination flares and quickly enveloped five decks in the forward portion of the ship. Thirty-four of the men who died, including LTJG McWilliams, were pilots who had just returned from missions and were sleeping in quarters forward of the flare locker. They were suffocated in the dense smoke.

Crewmen valiantly fought the fire, performing feats of amazing courage, jettisoning heavy bombs which lay within reach of the flames. Other men wheeled planes out of danger, rescued pilots, and helped control the fire. Medical assistance was rushed to the carrier from the USS Constellation (CVA-64) and USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVA-42). In the end, 44 sailors died and 156 were injured. After the fires aboard Oriskany, Forrestal and Enterprise (all occurred within a two year span), the Navy completely revamped its ordnance handling procedures. No accident of this magnitude has happened on an aircraft carrier since.

History of Service:

Officer Service

Jun 64 - Oct 65
NATC (SNA)
Basic Flight Instruction - Pensacola FL
Advanced Flight Instruction - Kingsville TX

Oct 65 - Nov 65
TAD to Attack Squadron FORTY FIVE as a replacement pilot undergoing Instrument/Survival Training. Completed the instrument flight syllabus and the COMNAVAIRLANT Flight Physiology and Swimming Maintenance Requirements.

Nov 65 - Apr 66
VF-174
Trained as a Readiness Pilot in F-8 aircraft

Apr 66 - May 66
VF-111
Component of CVW-16 temporarily shore based at NAS Miramar

May 66 - Oct 66
VF-111
Component of CVW-16 embarked in USS ORISKANY (CVA 34) serving in the combat zone off Vietnam.

If you have additional information or material (anecdotes, photos, etc.) about this alumnus, please contact our secretary.


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Information:  secretary@uncnrotcaa.org 

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