SAN ANTONIO – When asked to reflect on his life, William V. McBride said he has had many opportunities and privileges that he appreciates and doesn’t take for granted.
“I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve had many opportunities. The world has been good to me,” he said recently. “My country has been good to me. They’ve given me many, many opportunities, and I enjoyed it.”
McBride, who was born and raised in Wampum, and currently lives in San Antonio, Texas, turned 100 years old on May 25.
He served in the U.S. military from 1943-78, achieving the rank of a four-star Air Force general, and served as the Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force from Sept. 1, 1975, to his retirement on March 31, 1978.
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“It’s an honor. I didn’t think I would ever live this long,” McBride said. “I’ve been blessed with pretty good health. It’s a special honor to be able to live to 100 years, no doubt about it. I’m proud.”
Wampum – the best training
McBride said he and his family, which included his father, Ray, mother, Iva, and sisters June and Joyce, grew up in Wampum during the Great Depression, and were very poor as a result, much like a lot of the community.
Despite that setback, McBride said he had a great upbringing in Wampum, calling it a “very special privilege,” as “everybody knew each other.”
McBride attended the former Wampum Public Schools system, graduating from the former Wampum High School in 1939. He said he had one of the best grades in the school.
“I still remember the name of every teacher I ever had. They did a good job on me,” McBride said. “It was the best training I think I could have gotten anywhere.”
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There were 26 students in McBride’s graduating class, of which two were former Lawrence County Commissioner, the late Frank Vitril and the late Lois Martin, the mother of current Lawrence County Commissioner Dan Vogler.
“Even with his distinguished career, my mom always referred to him as ‘Billy.’” Vogler said.
McBride’s nephew, Richard Flynt, said his uncle has fond memories of being in the Boys Scouts of America in Wampum, earning different merit badges.
Flynt said McBride’s upbringing, from his parents, church, school, and community, instilled in him the qualities he would need to be a four-star general and vice chief of staff.
“Some of his most notable qualities are, in my opinion, his loyalty, self-discipline, integrity, patriotism, a strong work ethic, being a good listener and modesty,” Flynt said.
Many opportunities in the service
McBride’s daughter, Kathy McBride Davis, said her father signed up for the U.S. Army the day after the Dec. 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor attack. He was 19 years old.
“Every young man in the country had an opportunity to participate in the war, and I think everybody did,” McBride said.
Davis said McBride’s father was a veteran of World War I.
According to his biography on the U.S. Air Force website, McBride, in July 1943, joined the 387th Bombardment Group in the European Theater of Operations as squadron navigator, and later served as group navigator.
He helped to plan and flew in important missions in support of the ground offensive for the Allies, including operations for D-Day.
Following World War II, McBride said he signed up to join the military as part of a regular commission, working throughout the years in the Air Force, serving in the Korean and Vietnam wars.
He had many different jobs and responsibilities throughout his years of service.
McBride gradually worked up the ranks, becoming vice commander-in-chief of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe in September 1971, assumed command of Air Training Command in Sept. 1972, became commander of Air Force Logistics Command and a four-star general in Sept. 1974, and became vice chief of staff on Sept. 1, 1975, where he served until his retirement.
“I enjoyed every responsibility I was given. I worked for some great people, and it was a very special education for me,” he said. “That’s the reason why I made the decision to stay for 36 years.”
Added McBride: “I think I did well. It was a very enjoyable career.”
McBride said as vice chief of staff, he had many significant responsibilities, and was very busy, stating he was able to work and contribute on every national and defense problem at the time.
“I found it enjoyable at the same time. It was a very special privilege,” McBride said.
His military decorations and awards include the Distinguished Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters, Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters, Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with 13 oak leaf clusters, Presidential Unit Citation Emblem, Air Force Outstanding Unit Award Ribbon with oak leaf cluster, and French Croix de Guerre with gold star. He was also a command pilot and navigator.
Flynt said back when McBride was a wing commander at the Charleston Air Force Base, as a one-star general, he visited McBride, who gave him a tour of the base and some of the aircraft there.
“I watched him interact with officers and enlisted personnel under his command, and it was very apparent to me that he had a lot of respect for the men and women who worked there in a variety of disciplines, to keep operations running efficiently and effectively,” Flynt said. “This support and respect for those who worked for him was another noteworthy quality of my uncle, and I believe he was highly thought of for this quality.”
Just as busy in retirement
Following his retirement from the military, McBride and his wife, the late Kathryn McBride, moved to San Antonio, as Davis said it is a big Air Force town, and he had stayed there previously during his time in the Air Force.
Davis said despite his retirement, he chose to not take up many hobbies, other than golf. Instead, he chose to stay busy working and volunteering his time with different community groups and organizations.
This included serving as president of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce for five years, was on the board for the United Services Life Insurance Company, as well as with the Southwest Research Institute, the San Antonio Medical Foundation, and many more.
He was also a part of the first Texas board of education, for 5-6 years, as he was appointed by then Gov., the late Bill Clements, as Clements knew him from the Pentagon when he was the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense.
“Everything that I did I was invited to. People came to me and asked if I would do certain jobs, take certain positions, and I felt that was another very special privilege,” McBride said. “I never turned anybody down.”
Added Davis: “He was always asked to give input for all different types of businesses and foundations. He just remained active.”
Continuing to be self-sufficient
Davis said her father currently lives in a retirement community in San Antonio that was started by the Air Force Officers Wives Club.
She said he continues to be self-sufficient, still residing in an apartment in independent living.
He was married to Kathryn McBride for 76 years, who was also from the Ellwood City area, before she died in 2021 just shy of her 99th birthday.
“My uncle was a devoted husband to my Aunt Kathryn, and they traveled the world together,” Flynt said.
They have one child, Davis, who currently lives in Alabama with her husband, Don, and they have grandchildren and great-grandchildren as well.
Davis said she talks to him every day, and, to her surprise, is proficient enough to join in on Zoom every Sunday to speak with the family.
She said she is proud of her father, who she describes as very soft-spoken and modest, and very seldom likes to talk about himself.
“He’s a great listener. He wants to know about people,” Davis said.
McBride said despite his very busy life, which didn’t have a lot of free time, he still enjoyed everything he did, and every responsibility that he had along the way, calling his life a great one.
“I tried to do my best, and most of the time I did pretty well,” McBride said.
Nicholas Vercilla is a staff reporter for the Beaver County Times and Ellwood City Ledger. He can be reached at email@example.com.