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Colonel Frederick William “Bill” Francke, III, fondly known as "Colonel," was born on July 11, 1931, in East Orange, New Jersey, and gave his final salute on November 3, 2023, in Mission Viejo, California. The Colonel lived a life that was as grand, spirited and robust as the man himself. His life was a testament to his unwavering passion for his country, sports, travel, adventures, and, most importantly, his faith, family and friends.
Colonel's life journey began in East Orange, New Jersey, where he grew up and attended Clifford Scott H.S. earning multiple letters in football, basketball, baseball and track and was voted Best All Around and Most Athletic in his 1949 graduating class. His athletic passion and ambition led him to Rutgers University, where he played football, basketball and lacrosse, was a proud member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity, and discovered his love for the military as part of the Air Force ROTC Program. At Rutgers, Bill would have the great fortune to meet his bride-to-be Jane Francke, a student at nearby Douglas College for Women.
After graduating in 1953, he joined the United States Air Force as a commissioned officer and was a radar navigator. His 26 years of service to his country was steadfast, honorable, and heroic. He served in the Strategic Air Command, 100th Bomb Wing and his B47 crew, with Colonel as the navigator/bombardier, won the USAF Bomb Comp as the top bomb crew in the nation. His service included two tours in Vietnam flying combat missions in B52s, a tour of duty in the FB 111, and command positions at the Air Force Academy, Westover AFB and Pease AFB. It was at the Air Force Academy that Bill converted to Catholicism. His faith would remain a constant for the rest of his life.
Colonel’s last military service years were spent on the campus of the University of Southern California as a professor of aerospace studies and the Commander of the USAF ROTC program at USC after which he retired as a full Colonel in 1979 . His legacy in the Air Force also included many commendations including, among others, the Bronze Star, Air Medal, Combat Readiness Medal and Air Force and Army Commendation Medals.
After retiring from the military in Irvine, California, Colonel embarked on a second career in the private air charter business serving as the Director of Operations at Executive Air, Martin Aviation, Air Rutter International and JetFlight International. His leadership skills, honed during his military service, were evident in his successful air charter career that spanned over 32 years and included, among many highlights, managing the charter operations for Frank and Barbara Sinatra’s jet. His professional accomplishments were a testament to his tenacity, commitment, and innate ability to lead.
Colonel's life was not all work; he was a man who also knew how to enjoy life. He could frequently be found on his bike or a boogie board at the beach and was an avid skier and tennis player and big sports enthusiast who coached college lacrosse at the Air Force Academy and youth sports for many years. He also participated in men's league basketball and softball throughout his military and post-military life until he hung up his softball cleats at age 84!!! Colonel loved attending USC Trojan football games, PGA golf tournaments, and baseball at any level, MLB, college, high school, Little League or whiffle ball games with the grandkids. His love for adventure was evident in his passion for travel and exploring new places around the USA and the world.
But what truly lit up Colonel's life was his family. After meeting in college, the Colonel and Jane quickly fell in love and embarked on a beautiful journey of marriage that lasted over 50 years until her passing from cancer in 2005. Their love story was one for the ages, filled with faith, laughter, travel, shared dreams, and enduring support for each other and for their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Colonel’s support of his family only strengthened after losing Jane in 2005, traveling anywhere at any time to be at a game, event, or show where the grandkids were competing or performing—he never missed a baptism, first communion, confirmation, graduation, wedding or other special family gathering. “Gramps,” “Gpops, or “Papa” was a major force in all of their lives. Despite being diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia in late 2015, Colonel remained resolute in his life journey and never let that physical setback interfere with his enthusiasm, humor and love for life that he shared with family and friends.
Colonel is survived by his two sons Brad and David, their wives Kelly and Clare, and his daughter Mary Beth and her husband Jack Walsdorf. He was a beloved grandfather to ten grandchildren, Allison, Kevin, Brian, Matthew, Michael, Colleen, Christopher "Kicker," “triplets” Joseph, Peter and Jane, and a cherished great-grandfather to Quinn, Cameron "Cam," Callahan "Cal," Elizabeth "Ellie," and William "Liam." His family was his pride and joy, and he loved being surrounded by them, sharing stories, and making memories that they will cherish forever.
Colonel Frederick William Francke, III was a man of courage, spirit, faith, and passion. He was a strong leader who made things happen. He was always on the move, always ready for the next adventure, always eager to share a story or a laugh. His life was a grand adventure that inspired everyone who knew him. He is beloved and will be remembered by his family and friends not just for his accomplishments, but for his infectious spirit, his resolute optimism, and his boundless love for his family. His legacy will continue to motivate and inspire not only his existing family and friends, but all future generations.
In Lieu Of Flowers
Please make donations in Colonel FW Francke's name to either of his designated charities
Lewy Body Dementia Association
Air Force Aid Society