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Retired Air Force Gen. William Momyer dead

Retired Air Force Gen. William W. Momyer, a World War II combat ace who oversaw all U.S. air operations in Vietnam and Laos during the military's buildup in the Vietnam War, died of a heart ailment Aug. 10 at an assisted living center in Merritt Island, Fla. He was 95.

The death was confirmed by a grandson, Paul Pilipovich.

During a 35-year military career, Momyer clocked more than 4,000 flying hours. As a child, he had been captivated by Charles Lindbergh's historic solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927. In 1938, directly after college, Momyer joined what was then the Army Air Corps.

"Spike" Momyer, as he was nicknamed during flight training, distinguished himself as a fighter group commander during the North Africa campaign of World War II. He was credited with eight aerial kills, seven in one battle in which he single-handedly attacked a formation of 21 German aircraft.

After the war, Momyer ascended through the command ranks of the Air Force. Starting in July 1966, then-Lt. Gen. Momyer held dual roles as deputy commander for air operations in Vietnam and commander of the Seventh Air Force in Saigon. He reported to Gen. William Westmoreland, then commander of U.S. troops in Vietnam, who once described Momyer as "nonemotional, logical and pragmatic."

Momyer, known as a competent technician, was best remembered for championing the consolidation of aerial firepower under tight central control.

The concept was applied during the battle of Khe Sanh, an area near the North Vietnam border where about 5,000 Marines were stationed at an isolated base. Westmoreland hoped to lure the Communists into a large battle, overwhelm them with firepower and inflict large numbers of casualties.

The siege lasted from January to April 1968, as tens of thousands of North Vietnamese tried to overrun the Marines. Making heavy use of the B-52 bomber, U.S. forces unloaded 100,000 tons of explosives on Khe Sanh. Westmoreland named the operation Niagara "to invoke . . . cascading bombs and shells."

The North Vietnamese suffered heavy losses and ultimately gave up their attempt to overrun the bastion. The Americans, who suffered hundreds of casualties, shut down the base soon after. The battle coincided with the Tet Offensive, in which tens of thousands of North Vietnamese troops attacked South Vietnamese cities, further complicating and lengthening the war.

He moved to Florida in 2003. His wife of 69 years, Marguerite Willson Momyer, died in 2004. Survivors include daughter Jean Pilipovich of Merritt Island; three grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

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