William Taft (W.T.) French, Jr. (Lt Col, USAF, Ret.), 88, passed away Sept. 25, 2019. He was born April 27, 1931 in New Market, Jefferson County, Tennessee, to William Taft French, Sr. and Sara Olivia (Manley) French.
W.T. was a 1949 graduate of New Market High School, and a 1953 graduate of Carson-Newman College, where he obtained degrees in mathematics and history, and earned credentials in teaching and coaching. He was a member of the Carson-Newman Letterman’s Club, having lettered in football.
Upon graduation from college, W.T. embarked on a career in the United States Air Force, entering the Air Force Navigator Aviation Cadet Program. After his initial assignment as a Navigator with the 310th Air Refueling Squadron, Schilling AFB, Salina, Kansas, flying KC-97 Stratotankers, French was accepted into the Air Force Institute of Technology where, upon graduation, earned the designation of Air Force Meteorologist.
Assignments in the U.S. Air Force Air Weather Service included Andersen AFB weather station, Guam; Headquarters Air Weather Service, Scott AFB, Illinois; Operations, Training, Evaluating, and Advising European and Asian weather service operations; Weather Squadron Commander, Ramstein AFB, Germany; supervised eight weather stations in Europe, as well as supervised war-planning at Air Weather Service headquarters. French’s last assignment was as Commander of the Norton AFB, San Bernardino, California, weather station and Staff Weather Officer to the base commander.
French earned the designation of Master Navigator having accumulated more than 4,000 flight hours in various Air Force aircraft, including 100 combat missions over Southeast Asia as Navigator with the 553rd Reconnaissance Squadron “Batcats,” flying the EC-121R “Super Constellation.”
In his 22-years of service in the U.S. Air Force, French was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross; Air Medal (4 awards); Air Force Commendation Medal; Air Force Meritorious Unit Award; National Defense Medal (2 awards); Vietnam Service Medal (4 awards); Air Force Longevity Service Award (w/ four oak leaf clusters); Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon; the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, and numerous personal achievement commendations.
Lt. Col. French retired in 1975.
W.T. French continued his educational pursuits while on active duty earning a second master’s degree in Operations Systems Management from the University of Southern California during his off-duty time. He, also, completed all requirements, except dissertation, for a doctorate in Leadership and Human Behavior from United States International University, San Diego, California.
W.T. French’s post-military career was spent in education, teaching a variety of courses at the community college level, and coordinating the on-campus student work program at Berry College, Rome, Ga. He retired from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale after coordinating and teaching in SIU’s off-campus program aboard Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida; Naval Air Station Cecil Field, Jacksonville, Florida; Navy Base, Orlando, Florida; and Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, Jacksonville, North Carolina.
French was a life member of the Air Force Association (AFA); the American Legion; the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA); Toastmasters; the Carson-Newman Alumni Association; and a 40-year member of Lions Club International.
Among his interests were reading, aviation, meteorology, agriculture, history, sports, travel, friends, and family.
W.T. French was preceded in death by his parents; infant sons, David and Richard; infant granddaughter, Sara Elizabeth Hand; a brother, Fred Curtis “Teezer” French; a sister-in-law, Mary Ann (Dowling) French.
He is survived by wife, Betty and two children, daughter Amy (Tom) Ray, and son Brian French, both of Rome, Ga.; two step-children, Suzanne (Kevin) Morton and Johnny (Karri) Mauldin of Lake City, Fl.; five grandchildren, Ian (Amy) Hand; Megan Hand; Bob Hand; Daniel Hand; and John French; six step-grandchildren, Tegan (Katie) Ray; Scott (Lindsey) Morton; Lindsey (George) Pridgeon; Jessica (Jeremy) Hunter; Dalton Mauldin; and Kellan Snider; one great-granddaughter, Lili Hand; six step-great-grandchildren, Lucas and Caleb Morton; Gavin Pridgeon; Abbey, Olive, and Jax Hunter. A sister, Phyllis (Don) Finchum, of Strawberry Plains, Tn., also, survive, as well as nieces and nephews.
W.T. was of the Baptist faith. A funeral service with full military honors to honor the life of Mr. French will be held at 10 A.M. Monday, Sept. 30,in the Chapel of Guerry Funeral Home with Rev. Mike Tatum, Pastor of Parkview Baptist Church, officiating. Interment will be in Memorial Cemetery, Lake City, Florida. Visitation and gathering with the family will be from 5 to 7 P.M. Sunday, Sept. 29, GUERRY FUNERAL HOME, 2659 S.W. Main Blvd., Lake City, Florida. www.guerryfuneralhome.net