Waters named Alumnus of the Year

(10-02-2006)

photo of Bill Waters

Bill Waters poses next to the presidential helicopter, which he piloted for presidents Eisenhower, Nixon and Johnson.

Bill Waters '59 felt a tap on his shoulder.

"Major, I hear this is your last flight."

"Yes, sir, that's correct," Waters responded.

"I understand you're going back to Vietnam for the third time."

"Yes, sir, that's correct," Waters again replied.

"I thank you for supporting our country's cause. God speed, and hurry back home."

Years later, Waters fondly remembers the conversation with Richard M. Nixon, whom Waters flew 33 times during his service as a Marine presidential helicopter pilot. "Here's the president of the United States talking to this hick from Canon City," Waters said. "He was really a great gentleman.

"I got to fly President Eisenhower," Waters said. "He was very nice and would come back and talk to us. I got to fly the astronauts when they came back from the moon. I was pretty lucky. I was in the right place at the right time."

Before enrolling at Adams State College, being a witness and participant in history seemed a distant possibility for Waters.

"I wasn't even thinking about college," he said. I had a job and thought I was in seventh heaven. Then August came, and all my beer drinking buddies had gone off to college." Waters quickly decided to investigate college life. He talked with the basketball and baseball coaches at Adams State, who told him of the possibility of scholarships. "I'm glad I did," Waters said. "Adams State did a lot for me."

Waters joined the Army Reserves in high school, where he remained through college. Upon graduating from Adams State with a degree in heath and physical education, he decided to join the Marines, where he received his Wings of Gold as a naval aviator in 1961. In 1966, Waters completed his second tour of Vietnam before returning to the United States to attend the Amphibious Warfare School.

"It was a long war, and if you were a career marine, deployment was every two years," Waters said.

In 1968, Waters was designated a Marine presidential helicopter pilot and flew President Lyndon Johnson six times and Nixon 33 times.

"Nixon was always very considerate," Waters said. "One afternoon, he called and said, 'Major, this is the president, I'm going to be late. Is that OK?' I said, 'It's your plane, come when you want!'"

When Waters retired from the Marines in 1983, he ended an impressive career where he received the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars, Single Mission Air Medal, 54 Strike Flight Awards, the Navy Commendation Medal and many awards for his three tours of duty. His experience with helicopters led to a career with tg Bauer Associates, Inc., a support contractor to the Naval Air Systems Command, where he later became executive vice president.