Gen. LeMay's lead operational bombing planner dies at 101, family makes unique donation

  • Published
  • By D. P. Heard
  • 55th Wing Public Affairs
When the family of a man who lived to see the age, 101, served his country for 30 years in the Army, Army Air Corps and Air Force through World War II, asks to donate something, the answer is easy.

Col. John Watters Sr., a Selma, Alabama native, graduated from Auburn University in 1940 and immediately commissioned into the Army horse-drawn artillery. A few years later, he found himself in the Army Air Corps as a B-17 bombardier and navigator, completing more than 25 combat bombing missions when life expectancy was ten.

During WWII in England, he met his wife, Jean, who served in the Women's Royal Naval Service with the ENIGMA code-breaking program. Some estimates say the ENIGMA program shortened WWII by several years. Since the program was classified, Watters had no idea she was involved in the program until it was declassified 30 years later.

It wasn’t long until the Air Force was established and he made another switch. His final assignment was as Gen. Curtis LeMay's, Strategic Air Command commander, lead operational bombing planner.

He commanded many units and during his career was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star and Purple Heart. Watters retired in 1970 and remained in Bellevue, Nebraska. In 2018,, he passed away leaving behind his wife of 72 years, six children, eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Throughout his life journeys, one of his pastimes was collecting military literature.

It was his family, specifically his son, retired U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Robin Watters, who suggested leaving the extensive collection of military books to Offutt Air Force Base. Robin spoke with retired U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Regis Urshler, former 55th Wing commander, 55th Wing Association’s president, retired U.S. Air Force Col. Joe Spivey and the 55th Wing Historian, John McQueney.

As soon as the connections were made, the ball started rolling. McQueney and Robin met at Robin’s parent’s house. They spent a few hours going through the books before McQueney took possession of them and brought them to base.

With approximately a hundred U.S. and Air Force history books from the Watters’ collection in tow, the next step was to find a way to not let the donation go to waste. McQueney decided to open a professional development reading library in his office.

“I think it is something nice to offer young Airmen and a good tribute to Col. Watters.” McQueney said.

The books can be checked out by anyone on the base interested in learning about history.

“After decades of affiliation to the fightin’ fifty-fifth mission, I know the Watters’ family library collection will be a significant resource for the 55th Wing,” said Spivey. “It was an honor to facilitate the donation on behalf of all 55th Wing alums—past, present and future. Through the Wing Historian’s office, each volume serves as a reminder of the Watters estate, their family’s generosity and an enduring treasure from the greatest generation.”