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Cass, Former National Commander, Blue Beret Founder, Passes at 87

Brig. Gen. William B. Cass, who served as Civil Air Patrol national commander from August 1984-March  1986 and two terms as Iowa Wing commander and also founded what has evolved into the National Blue Beret special cadet activity, died May 13. He was 87.

Before his tenure as national commander, Cass served as national vice commander from August 1982-August 1984. He previously served IAWG_Patchas Iowa Wing commander from February 1968-December 1970 and May 1972-June 1975.

More recently, he served as assistant chaplain of the Florida Wing’s 89th MacDill Aviation Cadet Squadron,flwingA having filled that position since November 2009. He previously served as chaplain beginning in May 2004 and also as chaplain of Florida Wing Group 3.

Cass joined Civil Air Patrol in 1957 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Over the next decade, before serving at the wing level, he filled such positions as chaplain’s assistant, supply officer, and group commander. He also served as deputy commander and commander of the North Central Region and as National Headquarters Group chief of staff.

When he became national commander, he had totaled more than 6,000 hours of flying time. His CAP honors included the Distinguished Service, Memorial Service, and Exceptional Service awards.

Blue Beret founder

BBeretAs Iowa Wing vice commander, in 1967 he founded the Blue Beret program after Col. Allen Towne, wing commander, requested an intensive training program be established to train senior members and cadets in ground search and rescue operations.

Under then-Lt. Col. Cass, the program was designed to prepare participants to function effectively in almost any capacity when called upon. It’s now a CAP National Special Cadet Activity, involving nearly 200 cadets and senior members who provide a variety of services every summer at the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, the world’s largest air show.  

In an article in the October-December 2014 CAP Volunteer on Cass and his role in founding Blue Beret, former cadet David A. Clough recalled participating in two Blue Beret encampments in the fall of 1967 as a member of the Iowa Wing’s Des Moines Composite Squadron. The initial training had begun that April.

“I remember Col. Cass always pressing forward at a brisk pace regardless of the hot or wet weather, always urging everyone forward, but taking the time for water breaks and paying close attention to all the cadets’ physical and mental condition,” Clough said.

Cass, he said, “taught me that hard work, perseverance and more hard work would be its own reward.”