Dr. William Mapes celebrates the 100th anniversary of naval aviation

Monday, November 7, 2011
Curtiss SOC-1 scout observation aircraft in flight July 2, 1939. (Photo courtesy of the 100th Anniversary of Naval Aviation Foundation)
Dr. William Mapes, who served in the Air Force and Navy Reserves, displays some of the naval aviation clippings he has collected. Naval aviation is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. (Kristin Eberts)

Dr. William Mapes spent six years in the Air Force and 28 years in the Navy Reserves. When the Cape Girardeau dentist retired and sold his practice in 2004, he bought a condo near Pensacola, Fla., known as "the cradle of naval aviation." It wasn't long before Mapes took a special interest in naval aviation history, and especially its 100th anniversary this year.

"This anniversary is important for esteem, for being proud of our country," says Mapes. He's been collecting photos and news clippings about naval aviation for several years, and always makes a point to visit or even stay on military bases when he travels. And, of course, he spends plenty of time at the U.S. Naval Air Station in Pensacola.

"When I go to bases, I pick up on what they do there, what the function of each base is. Pensacola is the naval aviation base and they educate all the pilots," says Mapes.

Mapes was born in Louisiana, went to school in Kansas, Chicago and Memphis, and bought a dental practice in Cape Girardeau, closer to his wife's hometown of New Madrid, Mo. Two years later, at the suggestion of a friend, he joined the Navy Reserves.

"I thought it was appealing. It gave me the opportunity to see bases all over the place," says Mapes.

While in the reserves, Mapes took active duty assignments as a dentist on military bases. He went to Camp Pendleton in California, Little Creek in Virginia, Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, and even worked aboard the U.S.S. Savannah as it traveled from Virginia to Spain. On that ship, Mapes brought the soldiers' dental readiness level from 79 percent to 98 percent. Another time, while assigned to Memphis, Mapes' dental team received the Admiral Vaughan Award for the Most Outstanding Reserve Dental Unit in the nation. His team completed more than $17,000 worth of dental work in only eight days.

"In order for a unit to function, you have to have good people who want to serve, want to work, want to get the job done. That's the most important thing I remember," says Mapes. "It was nice to be invited to the awards banquet for the Vaughan Award. You don't get places like that unless you have people that work hard. That was most important to me, and what I miss the most -- the comrades I spent a lot of years with."

Mapes still keeps in touch with his "comrades," many of whom live in the St. Louis area. They get together regularly to play golf, and they exchange letters and Christmas cards.

"You get that with any unit," says Mapes. "They meet and keep in touch because they've developed relationships. My service was during peacetime -- think about the relationships guys form when there are guns blasting at you and a buddy gets killed. That's where a lot of stress and turmoil comes from."

A Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat fighter has its six .50 caliber machine guns tested on the flight deck of the U.S.S. Enterprise on April 10, 1942. (Photo courtesy of the 100th Anniversary of Naval Aviation Foundation)

Mapes plans to spend time in Florida near the end of the year, hopefully attending some naval aviation anniversary activities. Many people don't know they can tour military bases and aircraft carriers, says Mapes, and he encourages them to visit wherever they can.

"Different bases do different things and they have different functions. You can learn a lot about the military," says Mapes. "It's just something you can do. Take the opportunity when you have it, and when you get the opportunity for a tour, do it. I think people don't know they have the chance to do this stuff."

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