Obituary of William Gast Jr.
"They carried all they could bear, and then some, including a silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried." ? Tim O'Brien, The Things They Carried
On April 4, 2018, the world lost a gentle, yet strong, man who quietly carried the burdens of a difficult and challenging past while forging success, by any measure, as a husband, father, civic leader, and friend.
William Richard Gast, Jr. was born on August 18, 1946 in Chicago. He was the third of five children born to William, Sr. and Huldah (Kilmer) Gast. As a child from the South Side, Billy was loyal to his mother, a teammate to his brothers, protector of his sister, and always on the move. Thus, it was no surprise that he decided to volunteer for the Army immediately after graduating from Calumet Senior High School in 1964. Bill attended basic training as an artilleryman at Fort Sill in the Summer of 1964, where his audacity led him to volunteer to become a paratrooper. After graduation from U.S. Army Airborne School at Ft. Benning, Bill was assigned to C Co., 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade. May, 1965 meant a deployment to Vietnam and, on November 8, 1965, Bill fought in Operation Hump; the first major battle of the Vietnam War, which was a deadly and oft-forgotten precursor to the more famous Battle of Ia Drang.
Following Vietnam, Bill received orders to the remote duty station of Dugway Proving Ground, Utah. There, he met a cute and irreverent young woman, who was much more interested in horses than Army boys. Eventually, his good looks, charm, and relentless effort finally got her to look his way. On a snowy March 17, 1968, Bill married Bonnie Marie Burns at the little chapel in Dugway.
Bill's marriage and new look on life propelled him. He and Bonnie soon left Utah, horse trailer in tow, and arrived in Carbondale, Illinois. There, he would be the first in his family to attend college, thanks to the G.I. Bill. Through sheer grit and determination, Bill graduated with his Bachelor of Science in Forestry in 1971 from Southern Illinois University. Motivated by his academic achievement, Bill and Bonnie decided to move "back home," where Bill enrolled in Utah State University to earn his Master of Science in Forest Management.
It wasn't long before Bill felt the call of the outdoors, so he found work with the U.S. Forest Service. One of his first postings was in Oakridge, Oregon. Again, the young couple moved. Shortly thereafter, in 1974, his daughter, Amanda, was born. Two moves later, in 1976, his daughter, Gretchen, joined the family. Bill was an ambitious man who succeeded at balancing both career and family. He volunteered for duty during every forest fire and accepted any challenge he was presented. As a result, as he was offered promotions into the senior management levels of the Forest Service. Although the jobs called on the family to constantly move around the Mountain West, he made certain that his wife and girls always knew they were safe and secure. He never failed to attend his daughters' sporting events and music recitals, while also ensuring that they knew how to throw a football, erect a camping shelter, prevent erosion while hiking, escape from a bear, explain "offsides" vs. "false start," and drive a stick shift.
In 1988, Bill made his final move with the Forest Service, serving as the Deputy Forest Supervisor for the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest in Baker City, Oregon. While there, he became an avid and active member of the Elks Club, Rotary Club, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Baker County, Baker High School Boosters, and Veterans of Foreign War (VFW). Additionally, he found an outlet for both his personal motivations and athletic drive through weightlifting. He was a natural, and he soon began participating in, and winning, regional Masters-level tournaments. Sensing his family had finally found their home, Bill happily settled in Baker before retiring from the Forest Service in 1999. At that time, Bill became a successful real estate agent and he and Bonnie continued to enjoy friends, civic commitments, and their horses in Griffin Gulch.
In 2014, feeling the itch the move one last time, Bill and Bonnie decided to seek the sun in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. It was there that Bill could finally relax and stop moving. He enjoyed playing catch with his grandsons and watching his granddaughter turn cartwheels.
Throughout his journey as a devoted husband, loving father, and proud "Pop-Pop" to his grandchildren, Bill bravely and quietly carried the heavy, silent wounds of his experiences in war. It is only with his passing that he is finally able to shed his pack, and rest peacefully, after a life well lived.
Bill is survived by his wife, Bonnie (Burns) Gast, of Lake Havasu City, Arizona; his daughter, Amanda O'Neil and her husband, Sean, of Newport, Rhode Island; his daughter, Gretchen Dionne, of Lake Havasu City, Arizona; as well as five grandchildren: Brenden, Grady, & Cormac O'Neil and Reagan & Chase Dionne. Bill is also survived by his siblings: Robert (Mariann) Gast of Crestwood, Illinois; Richard Gast of Oak Lawn, Illinois; and Sandra Gast, of Oak Lawn, Illinois. He was preceded in death by his parents and his brother, Ronald. Bill will be interred during a private, family ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery later this year. Those wishing to remember Bill may consider a donation to the Disabled American Veterans, Chapter 27, Lake Havasu City, Arizona.
Services were placed in the care of Lietz-Fraze Funeral Home. Thoughts and condolences can be sent to Bill's family at www.lietz-frazefuneralhome.com. To send a free card to the family go to www.sendoutcards.com/lietzfraze.