Bill Burkett, 90, of Buchanan, MI, “Headed West” peacefully on Sunday, August 9, 2020, at home, surrounded by his family. He was born on April 22, 1930, to William and Jean Burkett in Flint, MI. He graduated from Buchanan High School in 1948. On March 27, 1952, he married his high school sweetheart, Charlotte Batchelor.
Bill left the University of Michigan in 1951 to join the United States Air Force as an Airman with Aviation Cadets. He attended Flight School and Officer training together and received his wings on June 16, 1953. This began his passionate service of 30 years as a fighter pilot and officer in the United States Air Force.
Bill served in many capacities in the Air Force, beginning as a fighter pilot. He flew many different airplanes during his career including the F-86 and F-100. During his USAF career, he was on the front lines of the Cold War, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. From 1957-1958 Bill was assigned to the 3601st Fighter-Interceptor Squadron out of Luke AFB, AZ where he flew the F-86 Sabrejet. In 1958 he was assigned to the 4511th Combat Crew Training Squadron out of Luke AFB, AZ, where he flew the F-100 Super Sabre until 1966. In 1977 he became the Commander at Eglin AFB in Florida.
Bill decided to attend college to earn a degree in Civil Engineering to ensure upward movement in the Air Force. He continued to fly until 1971 and then continued his career in Civil Engineering. By this time he was promoted to Lt. Colonel, and the remainder of his career found him in high leadership positions – from the DC area, where he worked on the space shuttle program, to base commander at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, and finally at Vandenburg Air Force Base in California, serving as the commander of the West Space and Missile Center, where he ended his career as a full Colonel in 1981. Bill’s family was an integral part of his life. Under his leadership, his family – wife Char and children, Bill and Jean – lovingly survived and enjoyed the 23 moves of Bill’s Air Force career.
Bill cherished his family and instilled a love and respect for country and mankind in his children. He lived his life a proud American and has been an extremely important model to his family and his communities. He will be sorely missed.
Bill is preceded in death by his wife of 68 years, Charlotte Burkett. He is survived by his daughter, Jean (Drew) Jepsky; son, William (Debra) Burkett; 7 grandchildren; 2 great-grandchildren; and brother, James Burkett.
A public Celebration of Life service was held onFriday, August 14, 2020, at Swem Chapel in Buchanan, MI. Burial followed in Oak Ridge Cemetery, Buchanan, with full Military Honors rendered by the Buchanan American Legion and the United States Air Force.
Memorial contributions may be made to First United Methodist Church or Redbud Area Ministries. To leave your condolences and memories, please go to www.swemchapel.com. To Plant Memorial Trees in memory, please visit our Sympathy Store.
Excerpted and edited from Bill’s obit published in South Bend Tribune on Aug. 12, 2020.