Cover photo for Lt. Col. William  (Bill)  Crabtree's Obituary
Lt. Col. William  (Bill)  Crabtree Profile Photo
1941 Lt. Col. William 2022

Lt. Col. William (Bill) Crabtree

March 17, 1941 — August 18, 2022

Beloved husband, father, Air Force Veteran

Lt. Col. William (Bill) Crabtree, a decorated Air Force pilot and Vietnam Veteran, died Thursday, August 18, 2022, with his loving family by his side after a long medical struggle. He was 81.
Born on March 17, 1941 in The Dalles, Ore. to Margaret and Richard Crabtree, he grew up in Portland, Ore., spending his time playing football and basketball, attending Presbyterian youth camps, and enjoying summers and free time at his uncle’s turkey ranch in McMinnville.

Bill developed a deep love of nature and animals through time spent on the ranch with his uncle’s border collies and growing up surrounded by the rugged beauty of the Pacific Northwest.

But it was his fascination with airplanes and flight and devotion to his family that shaped his career and life ahead.
After graduating from Jefferson High School, he attended Oregon State University, where he met his wife Peggy of 58 years. The next year Peggy was hired for a teaching position in Portland, so he transferred to Portland State University. The couple married a year later in March of 1964.

While taking his remaining college classes, a Navy recruiter approached Bill and explained that he could qualify for pilot training if he passed their written and physical tests and finished his degree.
“Well, I thought if Navy was a possibility, why not the Air Force?” he recalled in a short auto-biography written a few years ago for the local branch of the Military Officers Association of America. “Becoming an Air Force pilot had been a dream that I had given up on years earlier, so this sounded too good to be true.”

Bill passed the tests with flying colors, finished his college courses, and graduated in June of 1967.
He was soon off to flight school in Big Springs, Texas, where he earned his pilot wings and ranked high enough in his class to choose his aircraft, the C-130 Hercules. The C-130 qualification training was located at Sewart Air Force Base, near Nashville, Tenn., where they welcomed the birth of Kathryn, their first daughter.

A month later, Bill shipped out for what would become a 2+-year tour in Vietnam. Many wives were coming to Taiwan, where his squadron was based, to spend downtime with their husbands. It only took a few months and several pricey phone bills before Bill convinced Peggy to join him there with Kathryn, just nine months old at the time.
“The Vietnam flying was great, if not pretty hairy at times,” he wrote in his bio a few years ago. “Some of the more challenging missions transiting hostile areas occupied by the ‘bad guys’ or dealing with severe weather and dangerous terrain still pop into my thoughts, but most of the more routine missions have faded from my memory.”

During his service in Vietnam, Bill earned a Distinguished Flying Cross, a medal awarded to pilots who distinguish themselves by acts of heroism or extraordinary achievement in aerial flight.
After leaving Vietnam, his next assignment was in Topeka, Kansas, where their second daughter, Susan, was born. That position involved flying over the plains of the American Midwest interrupted by 45- to 90-day rotations to an air base in Frankfort, Germany. From there, he flew resupply missions supporting U.S. forces in Spain, Italy, Greece, and Turkey.
Bill’s next several assignments in Arkansas, Northern California, and Hawaii involved far less time away from the family. He became an instructor pilot, teaching U.S. and several foreign pilots how to fly the C-130. He also planned and helped execute the first joint special operations exercise with the Army forces that would eventually develop into present-day Delta Force.
For years, the Air Force had taken Bill away from his beloved West Coast. But the next assignment as a tactical airlift pilot at Travis Air Force Base near Vacaville, Calif. brought him back. From Travis, he spent three years in Hickam, Hawaii, where he was the chief of the Airline Command Center, keeping track of all the military aircraft and their movements around the Pacific and Indian theaters. His daughters were impressed by his workplace with its immense screen and array of lights representing aircraft positions and movements across the region.

Bill’s final assignment took him to Norton Air Force Base outside of Redlands, Calif. There he served in the Inspection and Safety Center and later as the assistant director of resource management where he was involved in shipping out forces all over Southern California in support of Desert Storm in Iraq.
Bill retired in the summer of 1991. Soon after, he held several jobs for defense contractors. His favorite was at Northrop Corp, working on training pilots to fly the B-2 stealth bomber, the flying wing.
He rose daily at 3 a.m. to avoid traffic during his hour-long commute to Northrop’s offices near Los Angeles. But he never complained; Bill loved working on the B-2 program and learning its complicated engineering systems until the company fulfilled its military contracts and the job ended.

Now fully retired, Bill returned to his favorite hobbies of birding and learning military aircraft history. Friends and family appreciated Bill’s clever wit, intelligence, love for words – (he tackled crossword puzzles every day), passion for politics, and writing talent. He loved puns and plays on words, which he often delivered with a twinkle in his eye.
Although he would frequently offer his opinion without flinching or apology, Bill had a soft side many close friends and family got to know and appreciate, especially his love and devotion to Peggy and his daughters.

Although several spinal surgeries over 20 years wore away at his health and mobility, he cherished his summers spent at their Eagle Crest condo, near Bend, Ore., close to Kathryn, her husband, and two boys, Billy and Joey. When Susan returned to the East Coast with her husband and young daughter, Hailey, Bill and Peggy enjoyed trips to San Diego for holidays and other events.

Bill is survived by his wife Peggy Crabtree of Redlands, Calif.; his children, Kathryn Brant (spouse Lance) of Bend, Ore., and Susan Crabtree (spouse Paul Hennebury) of Encinitas, Calif.; his grandchildren, Joseph Brant (23), Billy Brant (25) and Hailey Hennebury (6), and his brother David Crabtree.

There will be a military memorial service at National Cemetery in Riverside, Calif. at 10:15 a.m. Sept. 12th, followed by a celebration of life service at First United Methodist Church in Redlands at 2 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Orange Empire Military Officers Club Scholarship Fund: P.O. Box 9074, Redlands, CA 92375 or the Flight 30 Order of Daedalians: 17050 Arnold Dr. H-101, Riverside, CA 92518.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Lt. Col. William (Bill) Crabtree, please visit our flower store.

Service Schedule

Past Services


Monday, September 12, 2022

Starts at 10:15 am (Pacific time)

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Celebration of Life

Monday, September 12, 2022

Starts at 2:00 pm (Pacific time)

First United Methodist Church

1 East Olive Avenue, Redlands, CA 92373

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