The oldest living West Point graduate passed away four months after returning to the academy to participate in its alumni review, nearly 85 years after he graduated.
Retired Lt. Gen. William Ely, who was the only remaining grad from the Class of 1933, died on Wednesday at his home in Delray Beach, Florida, according to a West Point Association of Graduates spokeswoman.
Ely, who was 105, will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C., said Kim McDermott, the association’s director of communications. He will be buried with his wife, Helen, who died in 2014.
Originally from Pennsylvania, Ely was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army Corps of Engineers after graduating from West Point in 1933. His assignments included civil works construction, military construction and troop duty with an engineer unit.
In a May interview with Army Times, Ely said he started out on the Mississippi River learning how to build bridges and levees, but then his Army career took him out to the Pacific.
“The most important job that I had was at Midway Island from 1938 to 1940, building an entrance channel into the harbor,” Ely said. “It was one of the most difficult bridging jobs the Corps of Engineers ever had. ... Here I was, a lieutenant in charge of about 300 or 400 civilians. It set the stage for my later assignments.”
The construction of the entrance channel paved the way for the Navy to build Naval Air Station Midway, roughly halfway between North America and Asia. Less than a year after the air station’s commissioning, the U.S. Navy would defeat Japanese forces at Midway in what many consider the pivotal naval battle of World War II.
Ely’s decorations include the Legion of Merit with one oak leaf cluster, the Silver Star and the Bronze Star, according to the Defense Department.
He was honored during West Point’s alumni review on May 23, where he laid a wreath at the academy’s Thayer Statue near the parade field in a ceremony leading up to graduation.
Ely told Army Times before the ceremony that it was going to be a “once-in-a-lifetime event.”