"The greatest honor is to wear the uniform of an American soldier. I am grateful that this opporunity came to me." Colonel William Ashley Chapman to Gen. W.H. Ecker upon Col. Chapman's retirement, May 7, 1973.
Col. William Ashley Chapman USAR (Ret.) died Friday, March 26, 2010, at the Forum at Rancho San Antonio, not far from his Los Altos home.
Chapman was born in Birmingham, Alabama to Mary Evelyn Wilson and Joseph Roy Chapman. He was raised in nearby Homewood, where his father, manager of Alabama Outdoor Advertising, was president of the city council.
Graduating from Auburn in 1941 with a degree in engineering and an ROTC commission, his unit was called to active duty that same summer. When America entered World War II, in December 1941, he was in for the duration.
He served in both the Atlantic and the Pacific theatres. On Ascension Island, with the 38th Engineer Battalion, he worked to build Wideawake Field, which served 25,000 planes making the jump across the ocean to the China-Burma-India theatre. Wideawake Field is still in use today.
In the Pacific, he landed on the island of Ie Shima one day after reporter Ernie Pyle was killed there and built and maintained runways with the 1902 Engineer Aviation Battalion, as the Battle of Okinawa raged. When the war was over, he toured the devastation of Nagasaki and wrote home to his family: "Anyone who had the starting of a war in mind should see Nagasaki and I think he would change his plans."
On leave at Geiger Field in 1944 he married Faye Ellyn Latta of Spokane, Washington after a six-week courtship. Reunited after the war, the couple's marriage lasted sixty-five years, until Faye Chapman's death December 11, 2009.
The couple settled in Los Altos, California where Chapman found work as an engineer, and spent his weekends building their first home. He continued in the Army Reserves, winning awards as a sharpshooter with the Sixth Army Pistol Team, later joining the 351st Civil Affairs Command, headquartered in Mt. View, California. A graduate of the Command and General Staff College, he retired from the 351st in 1973, later serving as president of the 351st Alumni organization.
For more than two decades, Chapman worked for the City of Palo Alto. During that time he also went back to school and earned his Master’s Degree in Civil Engineering from San Jose State University. Late in life, after a gap of 37 years, he re-qualified as a private pilot and began flying again. He owned his own sailboat, restored a classic Jaguar sports car, was an avid gardener, and was an active member of Peace Lutheran Church in Santa Clara for more than forty years, serving as president of the congregation. After the Loma Prieta Earthquake of 1989, he served on the City of Los Altos Emergency Preparedness Committee and helped his community write its first Emergency Plan.
He is survived by: daughters Kimberly (Mrs. Daniel D.) Moore of Denver, Colorado, and Robin Chapman of Los Altos; granddaughters Devon Moore Cole, Dana Moore McKnight, and Lena Moore; and three great grandchildren. Services are being planned for Alta Mesa Cemetery in Palo Alto, where he will be buried next week with full military honors.
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