1st Lt. William H. Nellis

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Air Force photograph

1st Lt. William Nellis

William Harrell Nellis was born on March 8, 1916, and was a United States fighter pilot who flew 70 World War II combat missions. He was shot down three times, the last time – on Dec. 27, 1944 — fatally.

On April 30, 1950, the Las Vegas Air Force Base in Nevada was renamed Nellis Air Force Base in his honor.

Soon after his birth in Santa Rita, N.M., Nellis and his parents Cecil and Marguerite, moved to Searchlight, Nev., and, when he was 13, to Las Vegas. He graduated from Las Vegas High School. He did not go to college, but subsequently joined the Army Enlisted Reserve Corps on Dec. 9, 1942, training in Albany, Ga. He was commissioned a flight officer on Jan. 7, 1944. On July 9, 1944, Nellis was assigned to the 513th Fighter Squadron, in support of Gen. George Patton’s Third Army.

On Dec. 27, 1944, flying a P-47 Thunderbolt during the Battle of the Bulge, he was shot down by ground fire while strafing a German convoy in Luxembourg. He was too low to bail out. Nellis’ remains were recovered from his wrecked aircraft the following April. He was buried at Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery and Memorial near Liège, Belgium.