1922 – 2022
William T. Watkinson Jr. (Bill) passed away peacefully at home, surrounded by family on Wednesday, May 25, 2022. Born on January 23, 1922 in Blawnox, PA, he was predeceased by his wife of 65 years, Gladys, and by Peter Moyer for whom he was a guardian. He is survived by three sons, Tom, Ted (Ed) and Drew, all of the Hunterdon County area, four grandchildren, Chad, Rachel, Kevin and Garrett, two great-grandchildren, Connor and Harper, and a sister, Dottie Schalin.
As a young boy, his family relocated to Maplewood, NJ, where he attended Columbia High School, graduating in 1941. He then enrolled at Bucknell University as an Electrical Engineer in Lewisburg, PA.
While sitting in the living room of his fraternity at Bucknell, having his first date with his wife to be, listening to the radio, they both learned of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Later in 1942, Bill enlisted in the US Navy and was trained to be a fighter pilot. He first became a test pilot, flying every single engine fighter plane built for the US Navy. He later became a decorated carrier night fighter pilot with over 67 combat operations, seeing action in the Pacific from the battle for Okinawa until the end of the war. His last mission was to fly patrol over the Japanese surrender signing on the USS Missouri.
After the war Bill continued at Bucknell. In 1946, he married Gladys and started a family. He graduated from Bucknell in 1948.
In 1950, Bill joined Eastern Airlines and flew with them until he retired in 1982. During his career at Eastern he flew every type airplane that Eastern had, from the DC-3 through the Lockheed 1011. His aviation career was interrupted by the Korean conflict, when he was recalled back to active duty as a fighter pilot instructor at the US Naval Air Station in Pensacola, FL for a year and a half.
After the Korean conflict, he and his family returned to Chatham, NJ, where he continued his career with Eastern Airlines.
In 1960, Bill and Gladys purchased the family farm in Raritan Township, NJ, where he spent the rest of his life. During his time on the farm, he raised chickens, sheep, beef cattle, horses, homing pigeons, honey bees and crops.
Bill was active in the Hunterdon Harmonizers, Hunterdon County homing pigeon club, the Quiet Birdmen, the Tailhook Association, the Haflinger Association and the USS Yorktown Association. Upon the passing of his wife, Gladys, he continued his aviation career as a seasonal volunteer museum docent at the USS Yorktown, his carrier in WWII and now a museum in Charleston, SC. He provided education about all the aircraft, taking special pride in showing and educating visitors about the F6F Hellcat, which he flew off the Yorktown in WWII.
Funeral services will be held Friday, June 3, 2022, at 11:00 AM in the Flemington Presbyterian Church, 10 East Main Street, Flemington, NJ followed by interment in Prospect Hill Cemetery, Capner Street, Flemington, NJ. Calling hours will be Thursday, June 2, 2022, 6:00 PM-8:00 PM at the Holcombe-Fisher Funeral Home, 147 Main Street, Flemington, NJ, and Friday, from 10:00 AM-until the time of the service at the church.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Hunterdon Health Care Foundation, attention to the Gladys Benfield Watkinson Scholarship for Nursing Education, 9100 Wescott Drive, Suite 202, Flemington, NJ 08822.
For further information or to send an online condolence, please visit www.holcombefisher.com.