Col. William Walter M. Deale, 77, pilot, Vietnam veteran


Retired Air Force Col. William Walter M. Deale, a decorated Vietnam War combat pilot who later helped to develop radar systems and the world's fastest jet, died of complications after heart surgery May 21 at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. The Towson resident was 77.

Born and raised in Baltimore, Colonel Deale was a 1947 graduate of McDonogh School. After two years at Massachusetts Institute of Technology on a wrestling scholarship, he transferred to the U.S. Naval Academy and graduated in 1953. Colonel Deale was commissioned into the Air Force, which did not yet have its own academy and developed its officer corps from graduates of the Naval Academy and the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.

After a distinguished 20-year military career that took him from Europe to Southeast Asia, a weapons systems center in Los Angeles and the Pentagon, Colonel Deale retired in 1973.

In civilian life, he worked for the Hood Vinegar Co. in Baltimore, where he served as vice president-general manager and as president for five years, until the operation was sold to an overseas company. He retired from Hood in 1992.

Colonel Deale did not come from a military family, but in school he was a member of the McDonogh Cavalry and became taken with the idea of flying.

"It was the new thing" when he was growing up in the 1930s, said his son, Air Force Col. Thomas H. Deale of Fairfax, Va. "When he came out of the Naval Academy, the Air Force was six years old. It was an opportunity to get in on the ground floor."

As an Air Force major stationed at Bien Hoa base, northeast of Saigon in 1966 and 1967, Colonel Deale flew 203 combat missions, logging nearly 450 combat hours in the extremely dangerous role of forward air controller, his son said.

In a single-engine propeller plane, the Cessna O-1, also known as the "Bird Dog," he would fly low over the jungle, looking for enemy targets, firing white phosphorus rockets to mark spots for the much faster, higher-flying jets that would streak overhead, usually dropping 500-pound bombs. As the smoke cleared, the O-1 pilot would stay behind, gathering information for damage reports.

Colonel Deale's action leading air strikes against heavy Viet Cong ground fire in a mission near the Mekong River Delta on Jan. 15, 1967, earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross. According to his son, the citation says Colonel Deale "flew in extremely low" to accurately assess enemy positions and acted "without regard to his personal safety."

He later earned the Bronze Star for Valor for his actions in support of the 25th Infantry, calling in air strikes from the ground on a portable radio.

Before his year in Vietnam, Colonel Deale earned a master's degree in engineering management from George Washington University, then transferred to a weapons systems center in Los Angeles. He worked there for the Air Force with Lockheed engineers who were developing the YF-12 fighter, which became the SR-71 "Blackbird," a long-range spy plane that could reach speeds of more than 2,100 mph. Retired from service in the late 1990s, the SR-71 is identified in news reports as the fastest plane that ever flew.

When he returned from Vietnam, Colonel Deale worked in engineering at the Pentagon, where he helped develop a radar system called the IFF, for "Interrogate Friend or Foe," that is still used in military and commercial aviation, his son said.

Colonel Deale married Dickie Sue Alexander in 1962. The marriage ended in divorce in 1974.

The younger Colonel Deale said his father was "old school. ... He was private with his emotions. He'd been through a lot in his life, and it seasoned him and toughened him up. He wasn't the type of father who when you stepped off a plane he'd want to give you a big hug. He'd shake your hand."

Still, Thomas Deale said that when he was cleaning out his father's home in Towson this month, he found drawings that he and his sister had done in kindergarten, and "every letter I had ever written. ... It really touched us because we didn't know how sentimental he was."

Colonel Deale pursued an active retirement, traveling, playing golf, sailing the Chesapeake Bay and skiing with Baltimore and Miami ski clubs. Around his 77th birthday in February, he skied the Italian Alps one last time.

He was a gracious golfer, never yelling or throwing a club, said Thomas Deale, who often played with his father.

Services were held Friday at the Trinity Episcopal Church in Towson.

In addition to his son, survivors include a daughter, Monica Iva of Las Cruces, N.M.; a sister, Lillian Horner of Sparks; two granddaughters; two cousins; and a niece.

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