William Johnson Rutledge
December 6, 1931 – July 23, 2020
William Johnson Rutledge came into this world as Billie Johnson on Dec 6, 1931 in Blakely, GA and left peacefully on July 23, 2020 at his Merced home with his wife and children at his bedside. Born to William Johnson and Julia Mae Lewis, he soon adopted the name William Johnson Rutledge at age 4, when his mother remarried to Henry Thomas Rutledge. Known to friends and family as Billy Rutledge, he was raised in the Central Florida town of Avon Park, graduating from Avon Park High School Class of 1949. As a member of the high school baseball team, Billy helped lead the Avon Park team to the Florida state championship in 1948, quite the feat for a small high school like Avon Park. Although Billy had an offer to play minor league baseball, his real dream was to be an aviator. As a teenager he used to build powered model airplanes and often visited the local airfield to watch the pilots train during WW2. His heroes were the men flying their machines in the skies over Europe and the Pacific to defend America and all that it stands for. Upon high school graduation, Billy enlisted in the United States Air Force, was soon recommended for pilot training, graduated and was commissioned an officer in 1953. While undergoing pilot training in Bainbridge, Ga, he had the good fortune to meet the love of his life, a local farm girl and college student named Iva Annette Davis from the nearby town of Colquitt. They were soon married and off to different station assignments, raising 3 children, and living the military career life until 1971 when then Lt. Col William J. Rutledge retired from the USAF at Castle AFB, Merced, CA. William received many awards for military achievement during his career, including two Air Medals. The first Air Medal was awarded for piloting a B-47 in the 1956 Operation Redwing nuclear testing program and the second was awarded in 1966 for he and his crew’s superior performance in leading the entire B-52 bomber strike force on 10 missions over targets in the Vietnam War.
Life after the Air Force was a mix of pursuits in farming, assisting son Greg in the construction business, and mostly just being a Grandpa to eleven grandchildren, and fourteen great grandchildren. William’s passion was his wife Iva, their family, and time spent visiting with his siblings, nieces and nephews, and extended family. William said recently that he had lived a good life and expressed the importance of making one’s life purposeful. His life was lived with honor, adventure, bravery, and love for his family, to which he will be greatly missed and will always be remembered for his great big smile. William was preceded in death by his parents William, Julia, stepdad Henry T. Rutledge, brother Wendel Rutledge, and grandson Stephen Rutledge. He is survived by his sister Yvonne Leveque of Charlottesville, VA, brothers Wayne Rutledge of Tampa, Fla and Gene Rutledge of Ozark, Ala., his loving wife of 66 years, Iva, sons Gregory (Melanie) of Mountain View, Ca, and Glen (Carrie) of Chowchilla, Ca, and daughter Pamela Navares (Desmond) of Merced, Ca., and grandchildren Regina Rutledge, Dale Rutledge, Aaron Rutledge, Kimberly Fox, Sarah Mankin, Christopher Rutledge, Bradley Rutledge, Andrea Covert, Lindsay Coleman, and Kaleigh Navares.
Per the family’s wishes a private family memorial service with military honors will be held at the Castle Air Museum. Donations in his honor may be made to the Castle Air Museum, Atwater, Ca.
William Johnson Rutledge
July 26, 2020
Dear Rutledge Family, I just want you to know how sad I am at the passing of Mr Rutledge. It’s hard to believe that I first met him some 52 years ago! Bill was always a bit of a hero to me because he was a B-52 pilot. Even though he seemed larger than life to me as a young kid, he always took the time to talk to me and to have a kind word to say. I have not been around him much in recent years but the times I did see him he was still the same person I knew as a young boy. He has left a hole that can never be filled, nor should it be. He will live on in all of you and I will never forget him!