Dedicated to the Preservation of the
U.S. Air Force Helicopter History
William R. Knapp, Major, USAF (Retired)
March 22, 1933 – March 10, 2017
William R. Knapp, Air Force pilot, builder, and devoted family man died March 10, 2017, twelve days before his 84th birthday. He was forever charming, armed with his blue eyes, quick grin and strong handshake.
Born in Van Nuys, California to Fred and Irene Knapp, he grew up surrounded by extended family and enjoyed hunting, football and riding his Cushman scooter.
Bill enlisted in the United States Air Force soon out of high school and was accepted into Officer Flight School. He flew KC-97 Stratofreighters, KC-135 Stratotankers. Refueling missions over Europe for NATO as part of a SAC tactical air crew, training new pilots stateside and flying helicopters out of Thailand were highlights of his 20 year career.
While a young pilot, he met and married the love of his life, Patricia Graham Knapp. The military stationed him and his young family in California, Idaho, Nebraska, Texas, France, England, and Indiana.
His specific assignments took him all over the globe and with top secret security clearance, several of his missions involved “black ops” and are now declassified by the military and the CIA. At the height of the Vietnam War in his last overseas duty, he was stationed at Nakhon Phanom in Thailand. He learned to fly a Sikorsky CH-3 helicopter, a military troop transport which was part of the 21st Special Operations Squadron, the Dust Devils. He carried troops who dropped listening devices on the Ho Chi Minh trail and rescued many under enemy fire. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and retired as a Major after 20 years of service.
Bill then returned to Merced and joined the construction firm of Graham and Jensen building many well-known structures in Merced and the surrounding areas. Subsequently, he worked as a civil servant in construction at Castle Air Force Base and as a building inspector for the Merced County School District.
Bill was very active in the community and in his church. A child saw him working in the rafters of the church annex as it was being constructed and was overheard to say “You know, I think he must be the smartest, strongest man ever!” He enjoyed square dancing and was a dedicated docent at the Castle Air Museum.
If asked, he would say that family was the most important thing in the world to him. He is survived by his four children; daughter Elizabeth Toms (Rob), son Kristopher Knapp (Terry), daughter Suzanne Howell (Don), daughter Kathryn Hill (Andy), eleven grandchildren, many great grandchildren and sister Shirley Ruatta – all who will miss him. He was preceded in death by his sister, Nila Rasmussen in 2002 and his wife, Patricia in 2006. He and Patricia were particularly fond of Cambria, CA where they will be laid to rest together. It is a joy for family and friends to know they are joined forever with their Savior, Jesus Christ.
Services are as follows:
Graveside at Cambria Cemetery on Saturday, April 1 at 11am located at 6005 Bridge Street, Cambria, CA, tel:1-805-927-5158
Celebration of Life at Central Presbyterian Church on Sunday, April 2 at 2pm located at 1920 Canal Street, Merced, CA, tel:1-209-723-0491
Donations may be made to the following, or any charity of your choice:
Castle Air Museum, 5050 Santa Fe Drive, Atwater, CA 95301 209-723-2178 www.castleairmuseum.org
Community Hospice Foundation, 4368 Spyres Way, Modesto, CA 95356 209-578-6300 https://give.hospiceheart.org
Published by Modesto Bee & Merced Sun Star from Mar. 25 to Mar. 29, 2017.
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