William J. Cruickshank, a rocket scientist at Aberdeen Proving Ground, died Saturday at University of Maryland Medical Center a week after leukemia was diagnosed. The Baltimore native was 74.
Mr. Cruickshank worked for 27 years at the proving ground's Ballistic Research Laboratories. He had a role in a variety of historic government science projects, from NASA's Mercury program -- during which he met Alan Shepard, the first American in space -- to hydrogen bomb testing at Johnston Island in the Pacific. He also worked for a time with German scientist Werner von Braun. Mr. Cruickshank retired from the proving ground in 1984.
After graduating from Polytechnic Institute in 1942, Mr. Cruickshank attended naval flight school in Pensacola, Fla., and piloted a naval bomber in World War II. He flew missions in the South Pacific that took him to battles in New Guinea, Okinawa, Japan, and the Philippines.
Upon leaving the military with the rank of lieutenant, he graduated from the Johns Hopkins University in 1956 with an electrical engineering degree and later took advanced courses there..
He lived in Ellicott City for more than 30 years with his wife, the former Ann Lambert, to whom he was married for 48 years. He was a Eucharistic minister at St. Paul's Lutheran Church near Randallstown, where he was a member for almost 50 years.
"He was a rock. If anything went wrong, he was the steady one," said Mrs. Cruickshank. "We were ideally matched. He was a very interesting person. He was a wonderful husband, and he couldn't have been a better father."
He was a director in the Youth Operatic Company of Howard County and a member of the board of Summer Theater in Howard County.
Although he was eager to be a pilot when he joined the service, Mr. Cruickshank was so disturbed by the violence he saw in the war that he avoided flying for the rest of his life. "They wanted him to stay in the reserves [after the war] and promote him to lieutenant commander, but he had had it by then," Mrs. Cruickshank said.
In the late 1950s, Mr. Cruickshank traveled to Canada's Fort Churchill to participate in the International Geophysical Year rocket program.
His latest passion was the computer, and he enjoyed surfing the World Wide Web. He also kept up with the activities of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Two days before he died, he watched on television as space shuttle Discovery took off from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla.
"He was pleased with it because it was a good launch," Mrs. Cruickshank said.
Services will be held at noon tomorrow at St. Paul's Lutheran Church, 7902 Liberty Road.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Cruickshank is survived by his daughter, Lydia C. Smith of Howard County, and two grandsons.