William W. Graham III, 79, bomber pilot

March 18, 2002|By Jim Haner | Jim Haner,SUN STAFF

Lt. Col. William Worth Graham III, a career Air Force officer who won distinction during World War II by pummeling Japanese positions with his B-25 bomber Dirty Dora, died Thursday in Lake City, Fla., after a long battle with Parkinson's disease. The longtime Harford County resident was 79.

A photograph of his plane attacking an enemy barge is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution.

"He was 6-foot-4-and-a-half, with perfect teeth and a pile of blond hair," recalled his wife, the former Yvette LaVarre, who met her husband in a Long Island, N.Y., summer school when she was 6 years old. "He was just gorgeous."

Born in Baltimore, Mr. Graham spent much of his youth living with his aunts and attending schools on Long Island and in Tryon, N.C., after doctors decided that the damp Maryland winters were worsening his respiratory problems. Upon graduating from high school in Tryon, he returned to Maryland and worked briefly at Edgewood Arsenal as a dispatcher.

Then, almost on a lark, he and a group of friends enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1941. After graduating from a Georgia flight school, he shipped out for the Pacific as one of the youngest pilots in the 499th Medium Bomb Squadron, the swashbuckling "Bats Out of Hell" who undertook daring low-level assaults on ground and sea targets.

Two years, 79 combat missions and a chest full of distinguished-service ribbons later, Mr. Graham, then a lieutenant, returned to the States as a flight instructor before being discharged to attend the Washington and Lee School of Economics, where he graduated in 1949.

But he did not stay earthbound long.

With the onset of the Korean War, he re-enlisted and fulfilled his goal of completing an 80th combat mission before taking command of the air station at Point Barrow, Alaska, in 1950.

In 1953, while he was home in Bel Air visiting his family, an old friend stopped by while traveling through Maryland. It was Yvette LaVarre. A year later, the couple married.

Specializing in communications and airway management, he began a whirlwind of appointments that took him to nearly every major Air Force base in the country before depositing him at Yokota, Japan, where he established the first Air Traffic Control School and designed an enlarged flight pattern for Tokyo's Hanada International Airport.

In February 1965, he retired from the service as a lieutenant colonel and moved into Paradice Plantation, a 17th-century monastery in Harford County.

There, he took up Christmas tree farming and became president of the Maryland Christmas Tree Growers Association.

Mr. Graham also continued to work for the government with the Systems Research and Development Service at the Federal Aviation Administration in Washington for many years until he resigned because of failing health.

In 1990, he moved to Lake City to seek treatment for his advancing Parkinson's disease at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, where he died.

He was a dedicated Chesapeake Bay sailor whose 30-foot Hunter sloop Seahorse was renowned for its garish yellow dinghy. He was also a member of the Society of Colonial Wars, the St. Andrews Society of Baltimore and St. Mary's Episcopal Church of Emmorton in Abingdon, Harford County.

Services will be held at the church at 11 a.m. Friday, followed by burial with military honors in the church cemetery.

In addition to his wife of 48 years, Mr. Graham is survived by a daughter, Alice E. Schoenig of Charlottesville, Va.; two sons, James C. Graham of Bethesda and William W. Graham IV of Churchville; and six grandchildren.

Mr. Graham donated his brain to the McKnight Institute at the University of Florida. His family suggests contributions in his name to the institute at P.O. Box 100015, Gainesville, Fla. 32610-0015.

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