WORLD WAR II
WILLIAM DOLE ECKERT, Lieut. General U. S. Air Force
William Dole Eckert was born in Freeport, Illinois in 1909. His parents, Frank and Harriet Rudy McClure Eckert moved the family to Indianapolis in 1910 but shortly thereafter they settled on the Michigan Road just north of Madison, Indiana. Frank, Harriet, William, and William’s half sister and brother, Mary and Robert A. McClure (the subject of another article in this section) settled down in the little river town. The children attended school in North Madison and William played first base and outfield on the high school baseball team.
In 1924, when 15 years old, William enlisted in the Indiana National Guard and in 1926 he entered the United States Military Academy at West Point. While at West Point he played on the football team and earned the nickname “Spike”. He graduated in 1930 as a second lieutenant of field artillery. He entered flying school and after graduating as a pilot he transferred permanently to the Air Force. While in the initial years of his Air Force career he was a flight instructor and later he entered the Graduate School of Business Administration at Harvard University, one of only two men who were selected to do so, where he graduated with a master’s degree in 1940.
In 1938, while serving as a flying instructor at Randolph Field, he met Catherine Givens, the daughter of an Army officer. They fell in love and married in 1940.
William became involved in logistics, maintenance and supply during World War II. He had an aptitude for organization and implementation that served him well. In 1944 he entered the Army and Navy Staff College and after graduating he was assigned as commander of the 452nd Bomb Group of the 8th Army Air Force. He was promoted to colonel in August of 1944. He was then assigned to the office of Secretary of the Air Force. He was promoted to Brigadier General in 1948 and in 1949 he became comptroller of Air Material Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio and in 1951 he assumed additional duty as deputy commander of the Air Material Command. He was transferred to Air Force Headquarters in 1952 and he reported to Tactical Air Command at Langley Air Force Base in 1956 to assume the duty of deputy commander. In 1960 Eckert was assigned to Headquarters, U. S. Air Force as comptroller of the U. S. Air Force. He retired in 1961 after a slight heart attack.
During his term of service he received the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters, the Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star Metal, Air Medal and several foreign medals.
After retirement, William and Catherine settled outside of Washington, DC. He was in demand after his retirement from the Air Force serving as director of the Logistics Management Institute, an advisory group for the Department of Defense and as a consultant for aviation firms and he was on the board of electronic and real estate companies.
In August of 1964 Baseball Commissioner, Ford Frick announced his intention to retire. A list of potential replacements was drawn up and, to his surprise, and everyone else’s, Eckert’s name appeared. In one of those twists of fate happenings that sometimes takes place, William Dole Eckert found himself elected to the position of Baseball Commissioner. He was ill prepared and out of his depth from the beginning. He was a complete unknown to the players and managers and his low-key, dignified style didn’t suit many of the club managers. He did prove to be a good organizer and administrator and he threw himself into the job full force. He hung around the club houses and batting cages speaking with coaches, umpires, players and sports writers. He studied the game and steeped himself in the history of it but it was a mismatch from the beginning.
While he brought a solid background in business and finance to the job he just couldn’t get over the hurdle of being an “outsider”. Club managers and owners “squeezed” him out and in 1969 they bought him out of his contract and Eckert once more found himself in retirement.
He left office in 1969 and he and Catherine traveled and enjoyed life until April 16, 1971, while in the Bahamas, he was stricken with a heart attack that ended his life. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery where Catherine joined him 1995.