From USNA Virtual Memorial Hall

William Watkins, III '89

Date of birth: December 17, 1965

Date of death: April 7, 2003

Age: 37

Lucky Bag

From the 1989 Lucky Bag:


From USA Today via The Military Times:

William R. Watkins, 37, of Danville, Va.; assigned to the 333rd Fighter Squadron based at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C.; killed in action when the F-15E he was in went down during a combat mission in Iraq. The incident remains under investigation.

In his 37 years, William Watkins tried to experience as much of life as he could. As a boy growing up in rural South Boston, Va., Watkins dreamed of flying, said his uncle Jeff Haley. But Watkins also wanted to sail the ocean, perform on stage, sing in the choir and play football.

“He truly enjoyed life,” his uncle said.

Air Force Maj. William “Salty” Watkins III, a weapons officer on an F-15E Strike Eagle, died April 7 while flying a combat mission near Tikrit, Iraq. Watkins was one of two officers killed when the jet went down. The pilot, Capt. Eric Das of Amarillo, Texas, also died. His remains were identified last week.

The Pentagon has not said whether the jet was shot down or was lost under other circumstances. The cause is under investigation.

Watkins had transferred into the Air Force from the Navy two years ago to be near his wife, Air Force Maj. Melissa Watkins, an intelligence officer. Their son, William, is 11 months old, and another child is due in August.

“Bill’s legacy will continue in the lives of his two children as it will in the memories that each of us holds dear of this truly caring and loving man,” Melissa Watkins said in a written statement.

Watkins served 12 years in the Navy as a flight officer. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1989.

He attended Woodberry Forest School, near Orange, Va., where he played football, sang in the school choir and was active in drama. “He was a big fellow but very artistic,” said Edward Blain, who taught Watkins’ senior English class.

“He was such a model for so many people,” another uncle, Tucker Watkins, said. “He was the peacemaker in the family. Even as a kid, he was the adult in the group.”

Watkins is also survived by a younger brother, Barksdale, in Richmond, Va., and a sister, Mary Garrett, in Philadelphia. His mother, Amy Atkins, lives in Danville, Va. His father died at a young age.

“The average American will know him as a war hero,” Haley said. “For his family and friends, we knew him as a hero in other parts of his life: as a great dad, a family man, a brother and a friend.”

William is buried in Virginia and has a shared grave with additional remains in Arlington National Cemetery.


From the Naval Academy Alumni Association's updated "In Memoriam" page:

Bill just loved to fly. Whether it was a fighter jet or his own bug smasher he was never happier than when he was slipping the surly bonds of earth and touching the face of God. Melissa Watkins

From Old Halifax:

Additional comments published in the Gazette-Virginian, April 25, 2003:

Mary Garrett Watkins, the airman's sister, offered the following memories of her brother: "My brother was one of the most loyal and generous people I've ever known. He was a wonderful father, husband and brother. He will be missed by all who knew him." She said her brother truly enjoyed the life he lived.

"He loved flying," she said. "He's wanted to fly as long as I can remember. As a child, our dad took us to air shows and he never wanted to leave.

"There aren't many people who knew what they wanted to do with their life when they were five," she said. "My brother did."

But one thing stood out in her mind - "Not only was he a gentleman, he was a gentle man."

Tucker Watkins, an aide to U.S. Sen. George Allen and the airman's uncle, said yesterday that the family "had hoped for a couple of weeks the outcome might be different."

"We were fortunate to have him 37 years," said Tucker Watkins. "And he was a fortunate man to find the wonderful wife he did, she has been a strength throughout this."

"He (Watkins) did not view himself as a warrior," Tucker Watkins said. "He felt it was what he needed to do to give his children and wife safety. He didn't go into war in anger, he went out of duty."

Sen. George Allen offered words of comfort to the family. "Major Watkins is a courageous airman, husband and father who lost his life and his future so that our families can now live in greater security and freedom," Allen said. "Our hearts ache for the tragic loss they will have to endure without their husband and father."

William Powell, a lifelong friend of the airman's, remembers his friend's loyalty, "always connecting" wherever life's journey took the two old friends. "William was a true friend," Powell said, adding that he didn't expect to experience another friendship like theirs.

"Honor" is the word Elizabeth Robertson Wetmore, a family friend, associates with Watkins. "He was intelligent and kind," she added.

Other Information

From researcher Kathy Franz:

At the 1983 Commencement Amici Night he performed with choir members called the “Dozen.” He was also a member of the Audio-Visual Tech Crew.

From The News Leader, May 4, 2003: William’s funeral service was at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Halifax where he attended as a youth and married his wife Melissa five years ago. They have a 10-month-old son, William, and were expecting their second child in August.

Distinguished Flying Cross

Heroes of the United States Naval Academy states that William was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.


Class of 1989

William is one of 6 members of the Class of 1989 on Virtual Memorial Hall.

The "category" links below lead to lists of related Honorees; use them to explore further the service and sacrifice of the alumni in Memorial Hall.