Profiles of Valor: Farewell, Lt. Col. Bill Gauntt (USAF, Ret.), POW
Blue skies and tailwinds, my friend.
We lost a fellow Patriot and longtime friend this morning, former Vietnam POW Lt. Col. Bill Gauntt (USAF, Ret.).
I profiled Bill’s return to Vietnam in 2018, “Miraculously, We Found Bill’s Crash Site.” In 2015, he provided care and fellowship for a fellow fighter pilot, my own father, in his final months of life.
Bill’s friend and former Air Force Academy ‘68 classmate, Lt. Gen. Charlie Coolidge Jr. (USAF, Ret.), offered: “Bill was a friend to all — a great American Patriot and hero! He was a superb Airman and a brave Vietnam POW, a humble giant of a man and a God-fearing Christian. He was respected and admired by all. We will miss him mightily!”
Gen. B.B. Bell (USA, Ret.), chairman of the National Medal of Honor Heritage Center Advisory Board on which Bill served, added: “We’ve lost the very best of the best. He was a fearless pilot with three Distinguished Flying Crosses, 130 combat missions against a determined enemy, and a survivor of brutal enemy prisoner of war treatment. Bill Gauntt was the epitome of an American Combat Warrior. I thank God for this man and pray our LORD will bless and keep his family.”
A few years ago, Bill wrote a brief bio to be included in the archives of his Air Force Academy alumni profiles.
“I grew up in a really small-town kid from East Texas, and only military experience was from most of the men in town who were WWII veterans. Two uncles were in the Army Air Corp and another was a Seabee in the Pacific. Watched the "Long Gray Line” show on our small black and white TV and decided the only way to go was as an Officer, probably as an Engineer. Missed getting appointment to USMA or USAFA because our Congressman made a direct appointment of a kid who made it all the way to September before leaving the program. Alternatively, I was appointed to USAFA Preparatory School to brush up on math and chemistry. It must have worked. I joined the class of '68 and started out in CS-14 followed by two years in CS-5 and then joined CS-26 for graduation.
“During our final physical, I headed toward the engineering line, but got redirected to the flight school line. At Reese AFB the flight surgeon thought I might be a little too tall to fly, but after crawling in and out of T-37 and T-38 seats we agreed I would not eject out of the T-38 back seat and I went merrily on my way. First assignment was to T-33s at Tyndall AFB and then they called from Vietnam. On to Shaw AFB SC for RF4-C transition and then Udorn RTAFB. Almost completed 12 months but got diverted to Hanoi for a short tour of the local Hilton.
"Returning to the US, I continued flying the RF4 at Bergstrom AFB and then the Engineering Degree caught up with me and I completed a MS in Facilities and Environment Management. Direct to TAC HQ to get low level routes, Military Training Areas, and Supersonic Areas approved by EPA. On to the Pentagon to help manage all Military Airspace and then across the river to liaison with Congress. Any constituent problems with drugs, sex, money or the environment were mine to solve. After two years of solving problems I was sent to Zwiebrucken AB FRG for rest and tours of Europe including all the ski slopes. Following three years of the hardship tour, headed back to the Pentagon to assist in preparing a recommended list of Air Force bases for closure. I retired in September of 1989.”
I will remember him most for his gentle spirit, stubbornness and humor.
Bill has already rejoined formation with his wingmen, but his remains will be interred with honors at the USAFA POW memorial grounds on 18 April – the 80th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid.
Please join us lifting his wife Nancy and their family, up high in prayer.
Farewell, “Atlanta 10.” Blue skies and tailwinds, my friend.
William Aaron Gauntt (USAF, Lt. Col, ret.), of Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, went to heaven on February 24, 2022, surrounded by his family and his beloved dog, Gracie.
Born May 15, 1945 in Greenville, TX and raised in Mount Pleasant, TX, “Bill” was a 1968 graduate of the United States Air Force Academy. As a Captain and pilot in the RF-4C Phantom II, he was shot down over North Vietnam on his 121st mission and captured by the enemy. He was forced to walk 300 miles with no boots on to the prisoner of war camp in Hanoi and was there for 9 months until released. His career as a pilot extended to duty as a combat pilot, instructor pilot, Pentagon assignment, and as an Assistant Base Commander in Germany.
Bill received a Master’s Degree from the USAF Institute of Technology. His Air Force career earned him many accolades, including three Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Bronze Star with a V for Valor, two Purple Hearts, four Meritorious Service Medals, nine Air Medals, two Air Force Commendation Medals, the POW Medal, the National Defense Medal and the Vietnam Service Medal.
He retired from the Air Force in 1990 and began a career in Knoxville, Tennessee as an environmental engineer. His final career was in home healthcare, where he had the honor of caring for and spending time with the elderly, often sitting by their bedside in their final moments of life, knowing that one day, others would do the same for him.
Bill was loved and admired by people of all ages, including his many grandchildren. His adventurous spirit will live on in each of them as they cherish the memories of him taking them camping, cheering them on during a sporting event, or speaking to their classmates on Veterans Day. Their stories abound of the numerous times he showed up for them.
He was preceded in death by his parents, William Andrew and Ardelia Gauntt and his brother, Michael Gauntt.
He is survived by his daughter, Andrea Gauntt, of Wake Forest, NC, and grandsons, Braedon, Carson and Lucas Stoy; his son, Peter (Jennifer) Gauntt, of Woodrow, SC; his sister Gean Chapman, of Mt Pleasant, TX; his brother Don (Carol) Gauntt of Midwest City, OK; his wife of 33 years, Nancy Powell Gauntt and family, Chris Wilson, Debbie Wilson, Brooke (Andy) Pippenger and Ashley (Drew) Vonderahe and grandchildren, Parker, Barrett, Lizzie and Carter Wilson; Wiley, Janie and Marguerite Pippenger; Annie and Wilson Vonderahe.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to Tunnel to Towers Foundation at t2t.org or to Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church, 316 North Bragg Avenue, Lookout Mountain, TN 37350.
(Visit the National Medal of Honor Heritage Center website.)
Semper Vigilans Fortis Paratus et Fidelis
Pro Deo et Libertate — 1776
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