POSTED: Wednesday, January 15, 2014 - 5:30pm
UPDATED: Thursday, January 16, 2014 - 1:50pm
HARLINGEN, TX — Capt. William “Bill” Gary, USMCR (Ret), the founder of Marine Military Academy (MMA) in Harlingen, Texas, died on Jan. 12 at the age of 89 in a Phoenix hospital.
A native Texan, Gary was a successful rancher, land developer and home builder who lived near Prescott, Ariz. Above all, however, he was a Marine. Gary’s business savvy coupled with his military leadership led to the opening of MMA in 1965, the first school in the United States based on the values and traditions of the U.S. Marine Corps. His son, William “Bill” Gary Jr., was the first cadet enrolled at MMA.
The news was quite a blow to the MMA staff and board of trustees. According to Superintendent Col. R. Glenn Hill, Gary loved his country, family, the Marine Corps and MMA. He remained involved with the school until his demise, serving on the MMA Board of Trustees as the Executive Vice-Chairman and Military Committee Chairman.
“MMA is deeply saddened by the loss of its founder. Capt. Gary’s vision and establishment of this school has changed the lives of countless young men. He was instrumental in paving a path to success and creating professional leaders not only in the United States but around the world,” Hill said. “While we mourn his loss, his legacy will live on in the young men who attend MMA. Our prayers are with his family during their time of grief.”
MMA will hold a memorial service in Gary’s honor on Wednesday, Jan. 22 at 6:30 p.m. in Yeckel Auditorium on the MMA campus.
Born in Dallas on Nov. 21, 1924, Gary graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in Dallas as the commanding officer of the ROTC regiment. He then entered Texas A&M University where he was a member of the Corps of Cadets and majored in Animal Husbandry.
On Dec. 12, 1942, Gary enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps – among the last men to enlist voluntarily during World War II. He was called to active duty in June 1943. After completing the Platoon Leaders Course, he was commissioned on July 4, 1945. During the war, he was assigned to the USS La Salle in the Pacific. Gary was released from active duty in September 1946, but he stayed in the Marine Reserve until 1957.
After his release, Gary’s life as a businessman and family man began. He returned to Texas A&M University and received his master’s degree in Animal Husbandry in January 1948. A few months later, he married Marion Luken, whom he met in 1945 while stationed at Camp Pendleton, Calif. Gary then launched his first ranch in Hunt County, located in the Dallas area, where he raised registered Herefords.
The rancher moved his family and cattle business to Arizona in 1958. Near the city of Prescott, Gary named the land he purchased Smoke Tree Ranch.
In the early 1960s, Gary began looking for a school for his son. He specifically wanted to send his son to a secondary school that embraced the ideology of the Marine Corps. Gary believed the concepts of leadership, discipline and moral values could be successfully applied to a college-preparatory education. He could not find such a school, so he decided to start one. In 1963, he recruited a group of prominent Marines to assist him, including Gen. Vernon McGee, USMC (Ret); Lt. Gen. Edwin Pollack, USMC (Ret); Lt. Gen. Holland Smith, USMC (Ret); Brig. Gen. Walter McIlhenny, USMCR (Ret); and Maj. Orrin Johnson, USMCR (Ret).
MMA’s home was to be in Prescott until Gary and his supporters learned of Harlingen Air Force Base, located in the southernmost part of Texas. The defunct military base was used to train combat navigators during World War II. Gary envisioned the base as a campus, a campus for an all-boys, military boarding school. He began building the educational laboratory that would develop today’s young men into tomorrow’s leaders.
Gary spent two years laying the foundation for MMA, finding financial backers and recruiting staff. On September 9, 1965, MMA opened its doors to 58 cadets; six would comprise the first graduating class of 1966.
To take an active part in the early development of the MMA, Gary sold Smoke Tree Ranch in early 1965 and moved to Harlingen. He served at MMA in several leadership positions for the first two school years, including commandant of cadets. His wife, Marion, also worked at MMA as the first librarian.
Gary moved back to Arizona in 1967 and bought Horner Mountain Ranch outside of Prescott. He and his wife raised Charolais-Hereford cross commercial beef cattle and registered Charolais beef cattle.
At that time, Gary also went into the building business. The business was an offshoot from the sale of Smoke Tree Ranch. A part of his payment, Gary accepted several lots in a Prescott subdivision. To move the lots faster, he decided to build homes on them. He took what he learned and started the company that would become Yavapai Builders, the largest home building company in the Prescott area.
In his free time, Gary collected antique guns. Both his interest and collection started at age eight after receiving an 1860 model Derringer pistol. Gary was particularly interested in military small arms from the American Revolutionary War to the Chinese Boxer Rebellion as well as Confederate small arms. He owned nearly all of the Marine Corps long arms used from the American Revolutionary War to the Chinese Boxer Rebellion. His prized possession was his 1813 Springfield flintlock ship’s musket.
Gary is survived by his wife Marion Gary and his daughter Kathy McCraine. He is preceded in death by his son William “Bill” Gary Jr.
His daughter Kathy graduated from Harlingen High School and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Arizona in 1971. She owns Livestock Communications and is the southwest correspondent for Range magazine. His son Bill Jr. graduated from the University of Wyoming and became a commercial pilot. He died in December 1976 in a plane crash near Sheridan, Wyo.