William S. “Bill” Emerson, 96, of Columbia, passed away on Friday, Sept. 28, 2018.
Burial with full military honors will be held at 2 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2, at the Missouri Veterans Cemetery in Jacksonville, Missouri. On Saturday, Nov. 3, at the First Baptist Church, 1112 E. Broadway, in Columbia, friends and family will be received from 1 to 3 p.m., followed by a celebration of life memorial service at 3 p.m.
Bill was born May 12, 1922. During the Depression in the 1930s, his father’s career took the family to several cities in several states, so he attended many schools and learned to adapt. Having played baseball and football in five high schools, a college football scholarship was in the offing after graduation, but World War II changed that, and he entered the U.S. Navy.
He was commissioned as an ensign in 1943 and was assigned duty as a bomber pilot. During World War II, he served in combat aboard the USS Lexington and took part in bombing strikes in the Pacific. In 1944, he was shot down and was rescued by the USS Shark. Later that year, he participated in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, where he was credited with a direct hit on an enemy aircraft carrier. Shortly thereafter, he was wounded as the result of a Kamikaze attack on the USS Lexington.
During the Korean Conflict, he served as an All Weather Controller with a Night Fighter/Attack Detachment. In 1962, he was released from flight status in the U.S. Naval Reserve. All told, he flew 17 aircraft and logged over 3,500 flight hours during his military career. He retired as a Lieutenant Commander in 1969.
After he and his wife, Kathy, earned their bachelor’s degrees from Northwest Missouri State University in 1967, the family moved to Columbia, where Bill began his next career teaching history at Hickman High School. He later earned his master’s and educational specialist degrees from the University of Missouri. He served as President of the Columbia Community Teachers Association in 1973-1974 and was Director of Field Services for the Missouri State Teachers Association in 1974-1975. He taught history at Oakland Junior High School until his retirement in 1987. Even after his military and teaching careers, he was very active in retirement.
In 1992, nearly 50 years after his action in a hazardous dive-bombing attack on enemy aircraft in World War II, it was discovered that he was eligible to receive the Navy Cross but that the paperwork for his medal had been misplaced in the confusion after the Kamikaze attack in 1944. Finally, in a ceremony at the University of Missouri Naval ROTC unit, he became the recipient of the Navy Cross, the highest award given by the U.S. Navy.
In 1995, he was invited to the dedication of the Submarine Wall of Honor in Groton, Connecticut, where he represented the more than 500 naval aviators who were rescued by submarines in WWII.
He was a popular speaker at many Naval ROTC events, clubs and classrooms in Columbia, and was sought by the news media for his perspective after the events of 9/11. He was an annual participant in Columbia’s annual Salute to Veterans, in both the Memorial Day ceremonies and parades. In 2002, he was the Grand Marshal of the parade. In 2003, the Naval ROTC wardroom at the University of Missouri was named the “Lieutenant William S. Emerson, United States Navy Midshipman Wardroom” in his honor.
Bill is survived by his wife, Kathy; four sons, Michael, Barrow, Hank and Hugh; four grandchildren, Autum, Michael, Mary Helen and Sam; and two great-grandchildren, Sam and Max.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests contributions to the Alzheimer’s Association, the Salute to Veterans Corporation, or the Disabled American Veterans.
Arrangements are under the directions of Parker-Millard Funeral Service and Crematory 12 E. Ash St. Columbia, MO 65203. Condolences may be left online at www.parkermillard.com