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Spruance Hall namesake passes away

McGHEE TYSON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Tenn. - Portrait of U.S. Air National Guard Brig. Gen. William W. Spruance which hangs here in Spruance Hall on the campus of The I.G. Brown Training and Education Center.  (U.S. Air Force photograph by Master Sgt. Kurt Skoglund/Released)

McGHEE TYSON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Tenn. - This portrait of Brig. Gen. William W. Spruance hangs in Spruance Hall on the campus of The I.G. Brown Air National Guard Training and Education Center. (U.S. Air Force photograph by Master Sgt. Kurt Skoglund/Released)

LOUISVILLE, Tenn. -- Brig. Gen. William W. Spruance, the namesake of The I.G. Brown Air National Guard Training and Education Center's Spruance Hall, passed away, Jan. 15, at the age of 94.

Beginning in 1971 and continuing for more than thirty years, Spruance was a fixture at the TEC, delivering a powerful message on safety to the students who attended officer and enlisted professional military education courses here.

Spruance's entertaining, yet sobering presentation, along with his personal story of surviving a near fatal accident captivated his audiences.

In 1961, Spruance was severely burned when the T-33 jet he was a passenger in crashed after take-off at Scott AFB, Ill.

He turned that experience into a message on crash survival and safety that he delivered more than 1,500 times worldwide. Designed to have impact and change behavior, Spruance received many testimonials crediting him with saving lives.

One came from former TEC staff member, retired Chief Master Sgt. Wayne Smith, chief of the instructional development branch here, from 2000 to 2005.

As a young man, Smith said he was inconsistent about wearing his seatbelt...until he attended the NCO Academy here and heard Spruance speak.

From that day on, Smith said, "Seat belts were a must, and not just for my family, but anyone who got in my car."

Fortunately for his first wife and their infant son, that principle saved their lives. If they had not been buckled up when they went under a tractor trailer on a foggy morning, the police told Smith, they would have been killed.

Chief Master Sgt. George Vitzthum, the second commandant of the now Paul H. Lankford Enlisted Professional Military Education Center here, knew Spruance for nearly 50 years. Interestingly, in 1961, Vitzthum was a young Air Force staff sergeant working on the flight line at Scott AFB, Ill., when he witnessed and responded to Spruance's accident.

Years later, as a member of the Training and Education Center's heritage committee, Vitzthum was directly involved in naming Spruance Hall.

"He was a big proponent of safety," said Vitzthum. "We felt, as an individual, he had more impact on more people than anybody we had ever had at this academy."

Spruance Hall was officially named on April 13, 2002, in honor of Spruance's contributions to the center. It houses the TEC-TV television studios and a 259 seat lecture hall, where Spruance often gave his presentation.

"Brig. Gen. Spruance had a passion for service," said Col. Bradley N. McRee, the commander of the Training and Education Center. "He served generations of military members with his message. He was a national icon and will be missed."

William W. Spruance was born on Dec. 5, 1916, in Wilmington, Del. After graduating from Princeton University in 1939, he was commissioned in the U.S. Army and assigned to Fort Benning, Ga., as a field artillery forward observer in the 2nd Armored Division, commanded by General George S. Patton.

He completed military flight training in 1943, and transferred to the Army Air Corps, later serving in the China-Burma-India Theater during World War II, where he flew 362 missions.

In 1945, Spruance left active duty service and helped found the Delaware Air National Guard. He served his unit in various positions until he was named Assistant Adjutant General for Air, with the rank of Brigadier General, in 1956. He retired from that post in 1976.

Spruance had a command pilot rating, with more than 4,500 hours of flight time. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal; the Distinguished Flying Cross with one oak leaf cluster; the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters; and the Conspicuous Service Cross of Delaware with three oak leaf clusters.

At the time of his death, Spruance was an Air Force Association national director emeritus. He was also a chairman emeritus of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, after having been chairman for 17 years.