“He who loves the Workman and his work, and does what he can to preserve and improve it, shall be accepted of him.”
– John Adams
In a world with very few heroes truly worthy of the name, one of mine just passed away. Although I do not presume to intimacy, I have spoken to this gentleman at length on occasion and watched his life unfold with awe. If most men his age would content themselves with no challenge greater than par, this man among men assumed the largest and the loneliest challenge of all – the struggle for truth in the case of TWA Flight 800.
Many of you knew him as well. He was Cmdr. William S. Donaldson, III, USN (Ret), 56, a retired Navy attack pilot, a nationally recognized aircraft crash investigator and – important to someone who believed in good citizenship – a local member of the Planning and Zoning Commission. Cmdr. Donaldson died of a brain tumor August 22, at the Charlotte Hall Veterans Home in St. Mary’s County, Maryland.
Bill Donaldson joined the Navy and entered flight school in 1965. In 1968, he flew more than 70 strike missions over North Vietnam and Laos in an A-4 Skyhawk off the aircraft carrier Intrepid. In later years, he was the Air Traffic Control Officer on the carrier Forrestal and flew an A-6 Intruder off the carrier Eisenhower.
In the mid 1980′s, Cmdr. Donaldson was assigned to NATO in Naples, Italy, as a nuclear weapons targeting officer. Over his career, he held assignments as a safety officer and had extensive training in aircraft crash investigation. Bill was awarded the Defense Meritorious Service Medal; the Air Medal, 7th Award; Navy Commendation Medal (with Combat “V”) and numerous other medals and awards.
Bill retired from the Navy in 1991, and moved back to his family home on St. Clements Bay, where he took up farming and was appointed to the St. Mary’s County Planning and Zoning Commission.
Like many people his age, Bill could have dedicated himself to the good life and let the affairs of the nation sort themselves out. But that’s not who he was. In 1997, Bill sent a letter to the editor of The Wall Street Journal and, in so doing, launched a four-year effort to shed the light of truth on one of America’s darkest chapters: the downing of TWA flight 800.
Although he was not alone in this crusade, Bill Donaldson carried the fight forward like no one else could or would. His very presence bespoke a strength and integrity that sent a shudder down the spines of those who knew neither. At the end of the day, no contemporary of his or mine has made me more proud to be an American, and I am sure I speak for thousands more who share this sentiment.
Bill refused to accept deceit as normative or dishonesty as American. Neither should we. The greatest tribute we can pay to his memory is to sustain the battle and assure that his gallant struggle will not have been in vain.