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Bill Thayer

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[image ALT: A head-and-shoulders photograph of a young man, clean-shaven and wearing a hat, in a very plain military uniform with a high-collared jacket. He is Walter William Vautsmeier, a West Point graduate and early aviator, whose career is detailed on this webpage.]

Major Walter William Vautsmeier

The preceding image, and the text that follows, are reproduced from (the report of the) Fifty-Third Annual Reunion of the Association of the Graduates of the United States Military Academy, June 12, 1922.

 p145  Walter William Vautsmeier
No. 4911. Class of 1910.
Died, February 21, 1922, near Norfolk, Va., aged 35 years.

Born in Illinois, June 21, 1886.​a

Military History:

(Second Lieutenant, Coast Artillery, June 15, 1910.)

At Fort Monroe, Virginia, with company, and taking preliminary officers' course at Coast Artillery School, September, 1910, to March 31, 1911; at Fort Crockett, Galveston, Texas, with 3rd Provisional Regiment, Coast Artillery Corps, to June 23, 1911; at Fort Wadsworth, New York, to November 7, 1911; at Fort Hancock, New Jersey, engaged on Progressive Military Map of the U. S., to December 21, 1912; at Fort Hancock, New Jersey, to December 23, 1912; at Fort Barrancas, Florida, to January 31, 1915; at Fort Stevens, Oregon, with Mine Company, September 10, 1915, to

(First Lieutenant, Coast Artillery Corps, July 1, 1916.)

July 14, 1916; at Laredo, Texas, with 4th Provisional Regiment, Coast Artillery, July 21 to September 4, 1916; at Fort Stevens, Oregon, to September 26, 1916; at Vancouver Barracks, Washington, October 1 to December 7, 1916; at Fort Monroe, Virginia, student officer at Coast Artillery School, December 31, 1916, to

(Captain, Coast Artillery Corps, May 15, 1917.)

(Aviation Section, Signal Corps, May 31, 1917.)

June 1, 1917; at Fort Winfield Scott, San Francisco, Cal., June 8 to 13, 1917; at Kelly Field, San Antonio, Texas, June 16, 1917, to

(Major, Air Service, Signal Corps, February 19, 1918.)

(Qualified as Reserve Military Aviator, Nov. 20, 1918;
as Junior Military Aviator, December 4, 1918.)

(Transferred to Coast Artillery Corps, June 18, 1919.)

June 18, 1919; en route to France, June 27 to July 4; at Camp Pontanezen, Brest, with Replacement Troops, to July 25; at Paris with Postal Express and Courier Service, to August 4; at Tours and Paris, with Liquidation Commission, to December 9; en route to U. S. to December 22; at Fort MacArthur, California, commanding company C. A. C. at March Field, Cal., undergoing flying training preparatory to re‑detail in Air Service; at Ross Field, California, taking lighter-than‑air flying training.

(Rated as Balloon Observer.)

At Airship School, Langley Field, Virginia, where he with 33 others, was killed in the crash of the ill‑fated Roma on February 21, 1922.

Vautsmeier's natural ambition was success in the Air Service of his country. Through many difficulties and in spite of various setbacks,  p146 he plugged away at this, qualifying first as Reserve Military Aviator, then as Junior Military Aviator, later as Balloon Observer, and but for his untimely death would have qualified as Airship Pilot with a few weeks more of training.

Vautsmeier was, in addition to his great professional zeal, endowed with the gift of rare business sense. He organized and managed to his credit and to the financial benefit of the Air Service organizations in and about Kelly Field, Texas, a chain of some sixteen Post Exchanges, winning the confidence and backing of bankers and business men of San Antonio.

We find in the Howitzer of 1910 this remark: "Our Vauts wears ever his happy smile, believing implicitly in brotherly love and fraternity." He possessed certain marked and outstanding traits of character which we who knew him will always remember. His love and reverence for his parents and family and his unfaltering attention to them; his business acumen; his sunny disposition; his attention to duty; his loyalty to his friends and his constant endeavor to increase his sphere of usefulness in the army — all these were admirable traits, the light of which will shine through long years of remembrance of him.

His death was sudden. The news of it came through the newspaper extras recounting the crash and destruction of the Roma and death of seventeen officers and men of his crew and passenger list near Hampton, Va., February 21, 1922. He had long been an applicant for this flight of the Roma, the first after the installation of Liberty motors.

The following is the letter from the Chief of Air Service written to the widow immediately after the accident:

"When the airship Roma crashed and was destroyed, this sad accident cost the lives of many of the very best men in the Air Service. Your husband was among those who were killed.

In the name of the entire Air Service, I send to you our heartfelt sympathy. All of these men were working to develop air craft and its use in order that this country of ours might be better defended in time of need. They were pioneers in the effort to navigate the air; in the course of their work they laid down their lives. Their sacrifice was made for the country, for our common welfare, and they are deserving of all honor for their devotion, which involved their giving themselves in full measure. We shall ever keep alive the memory of these brave men, and again assure you that we sympathize with you most sincerely in your own sorrow for the loss of him who was dear to you."

Besides his parents and sister, he is survived by his wife, Mrs. Frieda Furtner Vautsmeier, of San Antonio, Texas, to whom he was married in 1919.

Vautsmeier died as he had lived, ever eager, ever anxious and ambitious, his desire to know and serve ever first in his heart and thought.

A Classmate.

Thayer's Note:

a The first part of this obituary, reproduced here in smaller type, is a very close paraphrase of Maj. Vautsmeier's entry in Cullum's Register (q.v.), although containing some information not found there, which I've set off in a slightly different color.

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Page updated: 2 Feb 17