Friday, March 26, 2010

Colonel William Ashley Chapman December 22, 1919--March 26, 2010

"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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Jack said...

Hi, Robin:

Thank you for sharing this most painful of journeys so intimately with all of us. Those of us who have been there before, and will be again, have learned from your experiences. Your father was an engineer, and as such, if you read your Mars & Venus, you will know he was not predisposed toward sensitivity and emotional intimacy. A good share of his distance may have been less against you, than simply in his nature. As he allowed himself to let go of the goal line, the next big task, he opened his heart this past year to see his daughters there for him, loving him, and he responded to your love in a way he simply wasn't wired to in the past. In moving to California to be with him, you finally achieved that ultimate goal that has been with you since those early pictures you showed us: the acceptance and love of your father. Don't feel obliged to grieve on anyone's schedule. It takes as long as it takes. You'll find yourself laughing at jokes one minute, crushed with the emptiness the next. Over time, the ratio shifts; that's all anyone can promise.

Robin Chapman said...

When he began to grow fragile several years ago, he reached out to me and I will beforever thankful for that. Your comments mean so much. The last two weeks have been truly difficult as he faded from my sight.

Lisa said...

Jack's words are indeed wise. I cherish every moment I can spend with my dad, who also is much softer. But don't tell him! He's still a Marine and tough as nails.


anne said...

Do you happen to be the Robin Chapman who graduated from UCSB around 1971? ~Anne Swigart Davis

Robin Chapman said...

Send your question to me at my blog email box

William Ashley said...

Hi Robin,

I came upon this due to his name being similiar to my own. I'm wondering if Ashley was part of a his last name Ashley-Chapman or if Ashley was his middle name. I am also wondering if I can add the information to my website archive, as I have a section on "William Ashley's"

Can you let me know at my email

William Ashley

Paul Meitner said...


Your father and mother we very special people to me as a young boy at Peace Lutheran Church. I used to sit with them on Sunday mornings for church, and your father and mother were gracious enough to take me to the Air Base and show me the planes. In many ways, they were my surrogate grandparents while I lived in Santa Clara. I'm now a Lutheran pastor in LA with a family of my own, but whenever I think of the words "honor" or "graciousness" I immediately think of your mom and dad. Thanks for posting this.

Paul Meitner