William Stephen 'Bill' May was born on January 3, 1933 at Fort Warren, just outside Cheyenne, WY. Fort Warren later became Warren AFB following World War II.
Bill's dad, formerly from the Northeast (Philadelphia), was a regular Army officer who served in Europe in both world wars and became provost marshal of Tokyo during the occupation of Japan in 1945. Bill's mother was a first-generation American, born in Minnesota.
As a youth, Bill moved frequently throughout the country, even attending three different junior high schools in one academic year. To make up for this peripatetic background, Bill attended the Hill School, a boys' private boarding school (now coeducational) outside Philadelphia while his parents were stationed in Japan. Upon graduating in 1949 at age 16, Bill entered Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD, majoring in political science.
In 1951, Bill received a congressional appointment to the U.S. Military Academy. He successfully completed the examination process at Walter Reed General Hospital, although there was some doubt during the eye exam: When asked how far down he sat in theaters, his reply was, 'All the way, since I have weak knees'; when questioned about his judgment, he admitted some lapses, such as riding a skittish horse near the edge of a canyon; however, he was confident the horse had better judgment than he did. Bill entered West Point on July 3, 1951, graduating on June 7, 1955 as a second lieutenant, Infantry, with a June 3, 1955 date of rank (to keep abreast of the U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen).
After graduating from the Infantry Officer Basic Course, Airborne School, and Ranger School, Bill went to his first duty assignment with the 25th Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks, HI. It was there that Bill met Christine Cornelia Peschek. Christine had recently arrived in Hawaii to visit her older sister, who was married to an Army officer stationed at Fort Shafter. Christine, daughter of an Austrian father and Dutch mother, was raised in Vienna and Rotterdam during World War II. After the war, Christine immigrated to Australia with her parents and three brothers, leaving behind two older sisters who were already married. Later, travelling with Bill in America, she met and sang Austrian folk songs with Bill's grandfather of Austrian descent. Bill and Christine were married on June 1, 1958.
The highlights of Bill's infantry experiences were both with the 4th Infantry Division: first in 1960 with the 12th Infantry on special assignment in Alaska, where all members of his unit earned their 100-mile cross-country ski patch; and later in Vietnam with the 22nd Infantry in Vietnam as deputy battalion CO of a combat fire base in the Pleiku highlands.
However, Bill did not stay with the infantry career track, opting to use his affinity for languages and literature in the remaining major assignments of his military career: English instructor, West Point, 1965-68, with an M.A. in English language and literature from the University of Pennsylvania; chief, Conference Services, NATO Military Committee, Brussels, Belgium, 1970- 74, with French language certification; University Libre de Bruxelles and Institut de Formation de Cadres pour le Development, Brussels, Belgium; and chief, Army Section, Rio de Janeiro, Joint U.S./Brazil Military Committee, 1974-77, with refresher courses at the Defense Language Institute, Monterey, CA. During his assignment in Brazil, Bill acted as the U.S. liaison with the Brazilian Army Airborne Brigade, jumping with them in Brazil and at Fort Bragg, NC.
Bill retired from the Army on August 1, 1979 and moved with his family to Central Florida, where he worked for the Brunswick Corporation's Defense Division, 1980-89; for the Hall-Kimbrell Corporation, an environmental testing industry, 1989-90; and for HTE, Inc., as a technical writer in the information technology industry, 1990-2008. In 2008 at age 75, Bill retired for the last time. Bill and Christine moved to northeast Mississippi (Tupelo area). Jim Seay, Bill's former roommate at West Point, and Jim's charming wife, Sue, convinced Bill and Christine that this was a lovely retirement spot.
It must be noted that Christine was always an inspiration to Bill, not only for raising their family during his absence in Korea and Vietnam but for her support as his better half in assignments in other cultures. She added her fluency in German and Dutch to his background, additionally attending embassy classes to add French and Portuguese to her languages so she could flawlessly host people of other nations who often became their close friends. One of Bill's favorite stories concerns a NATO social gathering at the home of a British lieutenant general in Brussels. All guests were in civilian attire, so rank and nationality were not visible. Bill saw a close acquaintance of his on the Military Committee staff, Wolfgang Schreiber, a German air force lieutenant colonel who had learned English from British instructors, had been stationed at Fort Bliss, TX and loved Blue Grass music. Bill introduced him to Christine, saying, 'This is my friend Wolf from the Military Committee.' After Christine and Wolf exchanged pleasantries, Bill asked Christine where she surmised Wolf was from. Based on his beautiful British accent, she replied, 'British, probably Oxford educated.' After revealing that Wolf was German, Bill thought about it and asked Wolf where he thought Bill's wife, who had developed a soft American drawl, was born. Without hesitation, Wolf replied, 'In the South, around Charleston or Atlanta.' At that point, Bill knew that Christine and he were 'homogenized' world travelers.
Bill is survived by Christine; their three sons: Stephen, James, and Peter; and their sons' families.
TAPS Memorial Article