Ferguson, William

William Ferguson

Middle Island

Air Force

William Cashman Ferguson was born June 15, 1930, in Port Jefferson, the son of Donald V. and Eleanor Fullerton Ferguson of Middle Island. He grew up at Rainbow Ranch, the family fruit farm on Middle Country Road. He attended the East Middle Island Elementary School until 1942, when he was allowed to graduate at the end of seventh grade, skipping the eighth grade and entering Port Jefferson High School at age 12. The family made several moves during World War II because of his father’s service in the Army, and he graduated from high school at Carmel, NY in 1946.

He learned to fly at the age of 16. He studied Aircraft Maintenance and Operation at the L.I. Agricultural and Technical Institute in Farmingdale and earned his AAS degree there in 1949. He worked for Pan American Airlines at La Guardia until 1951.

            He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in January 1951, during the Korean War. After Basic Training he was sent to Officer Candidate School and trained to become a navigator. He was commissioned a 2nd Lt. in December 1951. After further training in Aerial Reconnaissance, he was sent to Korea in April 1952.  He flew 50 missions of night photo reconnaissance over North Korea, flying at low altitudes in a black, unlighted, unescorted, and unarmed plane. One mission was a secret flight into Manchuria, flying below the mountain tops, to photograph a dam on the Yalu River.

            After returning from Korea, he spent several years as an instructor in Observer School at Harlingen AFB in Harlingen, TX.  He was then sent to Nuclear Weapons School in Denver. In 1957, he was sent to Loring AFB in Limestone, ME, as a Nuclear Weapons Officer with the Strategic Air Command (SAC). At that time, during the Cold War, B-52’s carrying armed nuclear bombs were airborne 24 hours a day, ready for immediate retaliation against any nuclear attack. He oversaw the assembling, loading, and unloading of the bombs, as well as their frequent inspections and modifications. As speed and efficiency were essential in assembling and loading the bombs, he initiated a series of competitions among the loading teams. The crews responded with great enthusiasm, and similar competitions were subsequently held at other bases. Thirty years later, in 1987, a trophy for team proficiency was created and named in his honor.

            He spent three years in Germany, where he was in charge of the Weapons Arsenal at Ramstein Air Base. After returning to the U.S., he worked with the Defense Atomic Support Agency at Sandia Base in Albuquerque, NM.  Sandia Base was the principal nuclear weapons installation in the U.S., where research, development, testing and training were carried out.

            In 1964, he attended the University of Omaha where he completed the requirements for a Bachelor’s degree, finishing in 1965 with a B.S. in Military Science. He was then sent to the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright Patterson AFB in Dayton, OH, where he earned his M.S. w/ Distinction in Logistics Management in 1967.

            The U.S. was by then deeply involved in the Vietnam War, and he was sent to Tan Son Nhut Air Base in Saigon, South Vietnam, in the fall of 1967.  He was at the Air Base when it was attacked by the North Vietnamese during the Tet Offensive in January 1968. They had broken an agreed-upon 2-day cease-fire for the Vietnamese New Year holiday, and had launched a widespread offensive, taking the South Vietnamese and Americans by surprise. Luckily, a battalion of combat-ready South Vietnamese Army paratroopers happened to be at the Air Base awaiting air transport, and they successfully repelled the attackers. He was recalled to the U.S. and sent to the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., where he had been selected to serve on the Joint Logistics Review Board. This was a panel of officers from all the military services tasked with conducting an analysis of overall logistical support for the Vietnam War.

            In 1970, he was transferred to Hickam AFB in Honolulu, HI, as Deputy Director of Munitions, Pacific Air Forces (PACAF).  In 1972, he was promoted to full Colonel and was transferred to Peterson AFB at Colorado Springs, where he was made Director of Munitions for the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). NORAD is a cooperative bi-national organization that provides aerospace warning and defense for the U.S. and Canada.

            In 1975, he returned to Hawaii as Director of Munitions, PACAF, a position that he maintained for the remainder of his service. While in that position, he was in charge of all munitions, including all nuclear weapons, for the entire Pacific Region. He retired in 1981 after 30 years of service.

            He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star, Legion of Merit with one oak leaf cluster, Air Medal with two oak leaf clusters, Joint Service Commendation Medal with 2 oak leaf clusters, Air Force Commendation Medal, Korean Service Medal with 2 silver stars, Vietnam Service Medal with 3 silver stars, Korean Presidential Unit Citation, UN Service Medal, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with device, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, Air Force Longevity Service Ribbon with 6 oak leaf clusters, National Defense Service Medal with 1 silver star, Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon, and Humanitarian Service Medal.

             In 1987 he returned to Osan Air Base in South Korea as guest of honor and keynote speaker at the PACAF Sabre Spirit ‘87 competition for assembly and loading teams. The winning team for overall excellence in teamwork was awarded the newly created William C. Ferguson Trophy.

            He married Julie Milanovich of Minnesota in 1954, and they had two daughters, Paula and Pamela. Before his retirement, Julie died of cancer in 1979 at age 46. He later remarried, and spent his retirement years in Port Angeles, WA, with his second wife, Bette Musette Mankin. During retirement, he enjoyed a return to his old hobby of building model airplanes, but the high stress of his career had taken its toll -- his hair had turned white while he was still in his 40s, and in March 1988 he died of a heart attack at the age of 57.

Col. William C. Ferguson (right) receiving retirement documents from a 3-star General

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