5 December 1956 – A Northrop XSM-62 Snark, 53-8172, N-69D test model, fitted with a new 24-hour stellar inertial guidance system, launches from Cape Canaveral Missile Test Annex, Florida. It wanders off-course, ignores destruct command, disappears over Brazil. It is found by a farmer in January 1983. The Day They Lost the Snark By J.
William Wilson Douglass, Jr.
Born in New Hampshire, Bill Douglass was of sturdy New England stock: proudly independent, but helpful and generous. Despite decades of living throughout the United States, his voice sometimes carried a faint accent of the Northeast, especially when he was excited about a new project or the latest outrage by Democrats. When you grow up in a state with the motto, “Live free or die,” it is not surprising if you develop a bit of an edge: an attitude of defiance, a spirit of liberty, a taste for adventure. So, after attending Bowdoin College for a while, Bill joined the Air Force at age nineteen.
At the time, as he would say later, he was attracted above all by the ideal of service, the honor of earning his wings, and the thrill of being at the controls of a jet fighter. He flew fighters out of the RAF base in Lakenheath, England, where he was known as much for his exuberant spirits as his flying skills. If anyone ever lived life abundantly, it was Bill Douglass. He was the sort of person of whom it can be well said: “Ever he sought the best, ever he found it.”
Flying about ten stories above the jungle during his first tour of duty in Viet Nam, his airplane, in Bill’s words, “got ventilated with about 25 holes,” then he added almost as an afterthought, “and I got ventilated also.” He managed to land with a shaken South Vietnamese observer in the back seat; then he spent months recovering in the hospital. But he didn’t just leave it at that, take his Purple Heart, and go home. Instead, after his release, he signed up for another tour of duty, this time not only as an observer of enemy positions but also as an aggressive attacker of hidden gun sites.
When he arrived in Vietnam for his second tour of duty, Bill became second in command of a brave, skilled, intrepid, and slightly crazy set of pilots that comprised the Fast Forward Air Controllers called “Misty” for the favorite song of their commander, Bud Day, who later wrote, “Bill Douglass was a dynamo; nothing was too difficult.” As Bill put it, “we concentrated on the AAA order of battle.” Later he flew F-105s or “Thuds” over North Vietnam with the same focused courage. In his contribution to the published collection of Misty stories, Bill wrote, “I am eternally proud of the fact that I have witnessed the heroic actions of American aviators. I have traveled in the company of courageous men.” He retired from the US Air Force as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1974.
After military service, he graduated from the University of Albuquerque with honors and later took a course in Chemistry at Cornell College to strengthen his credentials as a nuclear power plant operator at Duane Arnold Energy Center in Cedar Rapids. Folks there remember Bill as an effective and sensitive manager.
Bill retired a second time in 1997 as Director of Fossil Generation at Iowa Electric Utilities. He and Jackie moved to Colorado Springs within view of Pike’s Peak, whose beauty he found inspiring. Bill was an avid skier and golfer and loved to be out of doors, feeling his spirit expand at the spectacle of nature and the wind blowing through those white, curly locks. He once said that his religion was a profound reverence for nature and the humbling effect of its magnitude and magnificence.
(source: Eulogy for Bill by David Weddle, Professor of Religion, The Colorado College)