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William "Bill" Fink Jr. '56 June 3, 2020 8:57 AM updated: June 3, 2020 9:09 AM

Lt. Col. William Wesley Fink Jr.
DECEMBER 1, 1933 – MAY 2, 2020

Lt. Col. William Wesley Fink, Jr., age 86, of Austin, formerly of El Lago, Texas, passed away on May 2, 2020. Known to family and friends, Bill was born on December 1, 1933 in Springfield, Illinois to Lorena Mason and Bill Fink (Sr). The last of three children, he was both a surprise bundle of joy and the only son. He was lovingly doted on by his older sisters Betty (Matthews) and Jean (Lee). His family moved to Houston when he was 2 years old. Bill was active in scouting and was a member of the Order of the Arrow and the Air Scouts. Bill graduated from Milby High School in Houston in 1952.

Bill attended Texas A&M as part of the Class of ’56 Corps of Cadets. He was a member of his battalion staff, lettered in fencing, and earned a pilot’s license. Bill graduated with a degree in aeronautical engineering. During his retirement years, he attended weekly Aggie lunches, class reunions and became a member of the Sul Ross Group.

After college, Bill worked briefly for Douglas Aircraft as a design engineer while waiting for his military active duty assignment. During this time, Bill met and fell in love with Joanne Richardson. They married on April 5, 1958, in Houston, Texas and they welcomed their first child, William Wesley, III, (Billy) in September 1959.

Bill served in the United States Air Force with distinction. After navigator training, he was assigned to the 84th Fighter Interceptor Squadron at Hamilton Air Force Base and flew F101s. Nearing the end of that assignment, he and Joanne had their second child, Deanne Marie. Bill next attended Squadron Officer’s school and then received an assignment to the 18th Fighter Interceptor Squadron at Grand Forks Air Force Base. Bill was granted time to earn an MBA from the University of Southern California which he completed in 1966, after which he was assigned to the 13th Bomb Squadron at Clark Air Force Base, Philippines. Bill received a Silver Star for gallantry in Southeast Asia as a B-57 (Canberra) navigator/bombardier on a night, single aircraft attack mission. He also earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Meritorious Service Medal (earned 3 times) and the Air Medal (earned 14 times). Bill was extremely proud to serve his country, but he learned that he hated war and never again wanted to leave his family or his country. He felt a part of the carefree easy-going person he had been was lost during that time. When he returned from Vietnam, he thought people understood him less and he was less patient with others.

Despite the unseen wounds of war, Bill continued to serve in the Air Force using his aerospace engineering skills at NASA. He was one of 150 Air Force members assigned to duty with NASA in 1968 in support of the space program. Bill worked in flight operations for six Apollo mission from 1968 and 1971. His role in the Apollo 11 mission earned him the Air Force Commendation Medal for outstanding achievement as a flight controller. His efforts included monitoring the primary guidance system for the lunar landing module and providing technical support as needed to the flight director.

In the second to last duty assignment in the Air Force, Bill was assigned to the Air Staff Headquarters at the Pentagon with the primary responsibility for long range planning and coordination of major USAF space programs for intercontinental warning, communications and Air Force participation in the NASA Space Shuttle program. His final duty assignment was as a student, then faculty at the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama. His duties included preparation and planning of curriculum in leadership and management.

Bill retired from the Air Force after 22 years in 1978, but he did not retire for good. Bill spent a brief stint as a corporate pilot and then returned to NASA as a contractor with Ford Aerospace and United Space Alliance for another 20 years. During this second time at NASA, Bill worked in the Flight Director’s office as a Senior Software Engineer and as a Payload Safety Specialist.
Bill had a variety of interests in flying, boating and fishing and building things. Bill could build or fix almost anything. He volunteered his time as a youth leader at the local YMCA and was a volunteer pilot for the Medical Benevolence Foundation. He loved working on his boat the Lucky Jo. He was very active for many years in the Galveston Bay Power Squadron for which he taught celestial navigation courses. He was also a member of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.
Bill was preceded in death by his wife of nearly 50 years, Joanne, and his son, Bill (III). He is survived by his daughter, Deanne Fink, and son-in-law Matthew Rienstra, granddaughters, Rebecca and Sarah, and grandson Dan. He is also survived by his nephew, nieces and loving friends. Everybody who met Bill loved him. He will be dearly missed by all. His family wishes to express deep appreciation for those who cared for him during the last few months.

Services will be held on Saturday, May 9, 2020. Bill will be interred at Houston National Cemetery on May 13, 2020. The National Cemetery is not currently allowing graveside services. A memorial tree will be planted at the end of the year at Johnson Space Center memorial grove for former employees. Donations in Bill’s memory may be made to the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets Foundation or The Samaritan Center of Austin.

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