MAJ Billy Joe "Bill" Nave
Major Billy Joe “Bill” Nave
Billy Joe Nave was born in Johnson City, Washington County, Tennessee on 29 November 1933. His father was killed in an accident when he was 10 years old and was raised by his mother. Billy graduated Science Hill High School, Class of 1951. Afterwards he attended East Tennessee State College (ETSC) and majored in History and Literature. He was a member of the Mu Epsilon Nu Fraternity and the Student Senate. Billy was elected Vice President of the newly formed Phi Sigma Kappa Fraternity in 1954. While at ETSC, he completed the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program and was a Cadet Captain in charge of the elite Pershing Rifles. Billy graduated with the Class of 1955 and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army Reserve on 3 June 1955.
2LT Nave was accepted into active service with the United States Army on 27 June 1955 and completed training as an Infantry Officer. He also completed the Army’s Ranger Course, both at Fort Benning, Georgia. After this, Billy met and married the love of his life: Nannie Lee “Nan” Smith on Sunday, 10 June 1956 at the Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He was promoted to First Lieutenant on 27 June 1958 and later transferred to the Army’s Signal Corps on 27 April 1961. At this time after having spent three years in Germany, he applied for flight training and was accepted. 1LT Nave completed flight training at Fort Rucker, Alabama with Class 61-6Q and was certified to fly both fixed wing (airplane) and rotary (helicopter) aircrafts. He was promoted to Captain on 27 June 1962 and spent one year in Korea flying helicopters before being transferred back to Fort Benning, Muscogee County, Georgia.
Captain Nave was assigned to Troop Charlie, 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) as their Commanding Officer. The Division was alerted for deployment to Vietnam in 1965 where they set-up a base of operations at an airbase on Camp Radcliff near An Khe, Gia Lai Province in the Central Highlands at a spot known as Hon Cong Hill/Mountain where they painted their insignia that was visible for miles.
Captain Nave’s Troop, along with Troop Alpha and Bravo, were assigned to Reconnaissance duties. He was promoted to Major on 9 Dec 1965. It was during the Bong Song Campaign in Binh Dịnh Province while flying out of Landing Zone (LZ) Dog that his UH-1B, Iroquois “Huey” Helicopter Gunship was shot down by enemy ground fire. He along with his crew escaped injury and the enemy. He flew nearly 500 combat missions.
On 27 June 1966 at Tuy Hoa Airbase, Phu Yen Province, Major Nave lifted off in his UH-1B on a westerly heading. At the same time, Captain Bryant of the 161st Assault Helicopter Company lifted off in his UH-1B on a northwest heading. Major Nave’s UH-1B made a right bank turn that put their aircraft on a collision course with Captain Bryant which resulted in a mid-air collision. Both helicopters crashed and burned, killing all eight men aboard.
Major Nave rests at the Fort Benning Post Cemetery. His awards include the Bronze Star, Air with numeral 19 device, Army Commendation, National Defense, Vietnam Service, Vietnam Campaign, Gallantry Cross with Palm (Republic of Vietnam) Medals and the Presidential Unit Citation. He also received the award of the Combat Infantryman Badge.
Billy was the only child of Joseph Toney “Joe” Nave and Mary Lucille Archer. He and Nan were blessed with two children: a daughter and a son. Billy was a member of the Central Baptist Church in Johnson City and a Baptist Church in Columbus, Georgia where Nan was the Choir Director.