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Columbia Missourian

William 'Slim' Somerville, 85, loved his family, had passion for aviation

June 12, 2012 | 11:46 p.m. CDT

William H. “Slim” Somerville, a dedicated family man, patient teacher, sponsor and adviser who had a passion for aviation throughout his life, died Monday, April 23, 2012 at Virginia Hospital Center. He was 85.

Mr. Somerville was born January 26, 1927, in Jameson, Mo., to J.R. and Edna (Doll) Somerville. He graduated from Jameson High School in 1943 and went on to attend MU. He was the first person from his hometown to go to college.

He married his wife, Helen (McClymond) Somerville, on December 24, 1949. They met while he was attending MU and she was taking classes at Stephens College.

After one year at MU, Mr. Somerville enlisted in the Navy. He was working in a dead letter mailroom in Pensacola, Fla., when he stumbled across his acceptance letter to the United States Naval Academy. He had 36 hours to report to Annapolis, Md.

Mr. Somerville graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1949 and was a 30-year career veteran.

He served during World War II, the Vietnam War and Korean War, and retired as a commander. After receiving his Naval Aviator Wings of Gold, Slim participated in commissioning a new patrol squadron, VP-9, in March 1951. The squadron deployed to Alaska, flying the four-engine P4Y-2 aircraft, which patrolled along the Aleutian Chain and the Bering Sea. Within three months, the squadron had three major accidents in which 26 pilots and crewmen were killed. A year later it would be deployed to Japan and Korea, where in addition to patrols throughout the area, it conducted flare-drop missions along supply routes and front lines of the battlefields. On November 26, 1952, Slim was designated a patrol plane commander.

He later flew the A3 and A3D Skywarrior off the USS Ranger with the heavy attack squadron VAH-6. He flew the A-6 Intruder on the USS Enterprise in 1963 on the world's first nuclear-powered task force. It was formed when USS Long Beach and USS Bainbridge joined USS Enterprise. On July 31, 1963, the three ships were designated Task Force One and sent on "Operation Sea Orbit," a historic 30,565-mile voyage around the world, accomplished without a single refueling or replenishment.

He finished his distinguished flying career at Whidbey Island Air Station with the squadron VAH-123, a fleet pilot replacement training unit for heavy attack aviation. He also taught economics at the United States Naval Academy.

During his career he and his family lived in San Diego, Coronado, Calif., Monterey, Calif., Oak Harbor, Wash., Norfolk, Va., Pensacola, Fla., and Stuttgart, Germany. He lived in Arlington, Va., for the past 40 years.

Mr. Somerville worked briefly for several defense contractors in cost analysis before fully retiring. Upon retirement, he volunteered for the Virginia Hospital Center’s addiction treatment programs.

He was a certified pilot and pilot instructor for more than 20 years upon retirement. He shared his passion for aviation with his wife and taught her to fly in their Cessna airplane. Mr. Somerville was also a docent at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum and the Steven Udvar Hazy Center for 25 years. In his spare time, he taught math as a high school substitute teacher in Arlington County and taught during summer school.

He is survived by his wife of 62 years, Helen Somerville; his three children, Sydney Brandt and husband, Jeff, of Arlington, Va., Susan Moon of Kahoka, Mo., William Somerville Jr. and his wife, Susan, of Fairfax, Va.; six grandchildren, Zander Brandt, Kate Moon, Audrey Moon, Maggie Brandt, Neal Moon and Nell Somerville; and a sister, Barbara Foley, of Kansas City.

One grandson, William Moon, and a brother, Jack Somerville, died earlier.

Military services will be at 9 a.m. Thursday, July 26, 2012, at Arlington National Cemetery. Services are at Ft. Myer Old Post Chapel, 204 Lee Ave., Building #335, Ft. Myer, VA 22211, followed by a reception at the Officers' Club.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Honor Flight Network by check or credit card to in honor of William “Slim” Somerville.